How to Smoke Salmon
Smoking is one of the oldest culinary methods invented and used by our ancestors to cook and preserve food. As in prehistoric times meat and fish were the nutritious cornerstones of people’s diet, the smoking technique allowed them not only to cook raw flesh, hence making it a much healthier meal, but also to store it for many days.
Although the problem of preserving products stands no longer after kitchen fridges became available for all American families, still smoked fish remains a toothsome and versatile delicacy. One of the most commercially popular smoked fishes is salmon. But what about surprising your family and dear guests by home-smoked salmon treat? Yes, it is absolutely possible! Hobbyists say that except a good smoker and all necessary ingredients, you also need patience, as smoking salmon is a rather long culinary process, but the result is really worth the wait! In addition to its exceptional nutritional value, salmon is a fatty fish. This means that it can be cured and smoked much easier than other fishes, and it has fewer chances to get over-salted or over-dried during the cooking process. Besides, it is simply delicious.
Here are some useful easy-to-follow tips on how to make smoked salmon with your own hands and, of course, smoker. Good luck and bon appétit!
Before you set to smoke salmon, make sure you are done with all these preparations.
Carefully clean and fillet the fish. In case you have purchased salmon fillets, check whether they still have small bones a fishmonger might not notice. Rinse the fillets in clean cool water and cut them in pieces of about the same size (1 inch thick cuts are recommended).
The next step is salting. Kosher salt is considered the best option because it is less likely to add any unpleasant flavors to the fish. You can either rub the salmon pieces with salt, or cure them in brine. We recommend choosing the latter. In the process of making well smoked salmon brine guarantees that all the cuts will be evenly pervaded with salt. For the nice brine also use some brown sugar, bay leaves and your favorite spices. Brining usually takes 6 to 12 hours, depending on the size of the pieces and the cook’s flavor preferences.
Rinse the pieces again, place them uncovered on paper towels and let dry for 6 to 12 hours. The time will depend not only on the size of the cuts, but also on the changes of flesh structure. Watch it getting firmer and tackier. When the fish is drying, the so called pellicle forms. It is a layer of proteins which makes flesh look glossy and prevents it from over-drying in the smoking process.
Now the time for your commercial or homemade smoker has come. Actually, this device must know how to smoke salmon or any other fish, but still it is you who chooses the wood and regulates the temperature, as well as the whole process.
Traditionally, salmon is smoked over oak or birch chips. The wood of fruit trees, such as apple or cherry, is also a good alternative. Almond and pecan woods will bring some interesting nutty flavor.
The temperatures, maintained during the smoking process, determine whether you get your salmon cold or hot smoked.
How to cold smoke salmon?
Keep the temperature at 70-80°F and let the fish smoke for 2 to 4 days. The idea of modern cold smoking technique is not wholesome cooking but adding flavor, so the texture of the salmon pieces will be slightly moist, smooth and silky.
How to hot smoke salmon?
For this you will need higher temperatures, 120°F to 160°F. The whole smoking process will take 6-12 hours. Hot smoked salmon will have firmer and flakier texture, and the taste of well cooked fish.
A Few Words about Storing Smoked Salmon
Cool it to room temperature and wrap it in aluminum foil or a good plastic wrap.
Refrigerate it below 38°F. At such temperature it can be stored for 10 to 14 days.
When properly protected and frozen, the fish will last for 2 to 3 months.