Salmon has always been one of my favorite items to smoke. All types of salmon have been in my smokers at one time or another. From the Kings and hard to find Sable Fish or Black Cod to the small Blue Backs always in search of that one recipe and technique that people would crave for. After over 20 years of experiments expressly working with salmon, they now say “Don’t screw with the recipe anymore” and yes I am going to share the very sought after recipe for the first time.
My favorite salmon to smoke is the Sockeye. Its deep red color and texture seem to do well canned or kept in fridge. Although the Kings and Sable have a wonderful flavor the Sockeye is well accepted and more economical.
You will find that I do not get deeply into the specifics, science or safety issues of curing. It is your responsibility to make your food safe.
In order to adjust the salinity while insuring my brines are within the safe zone for extended storage and consistent results, I use a salimeter like the following.
Question: Should I use fresh or frozen salmon?
Answer: Frozen, the ice crystals formed in the fish while frozen seem to aid in the brine absorption after thawing.
Question: Should I get salmon with or without the skin?
Answer: The salmon with the skin on works best. The fish has a tendency to fall apart more readily without the skin.
How long do you brine?
Answer: Some will tell you that 30 minutes to 2 hours will be sufficient. The shorter time is fine if you are going to cold smoke for sushi but that would be another thread. I brine from 16 to 24 hours depending on the size of fish mostly for convenience, but I find the texture is more firm with the longer brine.
Question: Does it go into the smoker after coming out of the brine?
Answer: No. Give it a quick rinse and pat dry. Place on a wire rack and allow to air dry until a pellicle has formed on the entire surface. This will take two or more hours depending on the humidity in your area. A fan blowing across the fish will aid in the time needed to form the pellicle. The pellicle will cause your fish or meat to have a shiny surface which will assist in smoke retention and also will help retain the fat in the fish.
Question: What are the cream colored blotches I see on some smoked salmon?
Answer: That would be fat that has seeped through the pellicle. No harm in eating it but for cosmetic purposes you may want to scrape it off after the fish has cooled.
Question: Should I hot or cold smoke?
Answer: Hot smoke for the ready to eat. Cold smoke for sushi or if it is to be canned, again that would be another thread.
Question: How long do you smoke?
Answer: It’s not the length of time but the desired temperature we are looking for. Smoke at 200° to an minimum internal temp of 145° in the thickest piece for a period of 30 minutes minimum (FDA,2001). Cooking temp may be lowered once fish has reached 145°. Store at a temperature of 38° or less ( FDA,2001).
Question: What kind of wood should I use?
Answer: Any of the light woods work well. The preferred wood I use is Alder.
Question: How much wood should I use for one fillet?
Answer: It’s always been my opinion that the smoker doesn’t know how much it’s holding. I use Approx. 3 oz. full or not.
Question: What will the end result be and how can I use it?
Answer: The salmon will be moist, neither dry nor juicy. It is not intended to be served as a main course. It's intended to be used as a finger food eaten alone or as a snack on crackers and creamed cheese or as a mouse. It also has endless uses as a appetizer. Will definitely be a hit at any pot luck. Try different appetizer recipes and enjoy. It can easily be packed in a saddle bag or back pack and taken into the mountains. WARNING: Grizzly bears like both fresh and smoked salmon.
Question: Would you share your brine recipe?
Answer: Yes and I would be proud if you used it, and then let me know the results.
Mr. T’s Smoked fish Brine
½ cup canning salt, Kosher salt or Tender Quick (preferred) 3.0 oz. by weight.
½ tsp. Paprika
1 ½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ tsp. cayenne
1 quart water
1 Tbs. garlic powder
2 cups brown sugar
4 bay leaves
Combine all ingredients and stir until sugar has dissolved.
Place fish in non reactive container with brine and completely cover. A zip bag works well at this point. If using a bag I overhaul or move the fish around two or three times during the brining period.
That’s it. Any questions just ask. Have fun and enjoy.
Salmon Filets Halved
Cut Into Sections
Ready for Packaging