How to Smoke Salmon the Right Way!
I Hate Salmon. OK, I don't really hate it but I certainly prefer many other fish over salmon. Salmon is a very oily and strongly flavored fish and for me can be a bit overwhelming. I do enjoy cold smoked salmon and when forced, the occasional grilled salmon, but when I have a choice I will choose other fish every time. That is until I learned how to smoke salmon the right way!
On a separate but relevant note, I play racquetball with a group of guys and one of them is retired...and an AVID fisherman. He will occasionally ask me if I want some fresh fish fillets and I never turn him down. Last time he asked me he said, "Hey Jack, you want some King Salmon filets?" As I said, I am not a huge salmon lover, but I figured I could do some research, prepare it the best way possible and see how good I could make it turn out.
I Now Love Salmon
My racquetball-buddy Larry gave me the 3 lbs. of King Salmon filets only a few days before I was scheduled to do another smoke. After giving it some thought I decided to smoke salmon fillets instead of grilling them thinking maybe I'd be happier with the results. I spent some time online, searching for the best recipes and processes for smoking salmon, and the recipe below is what I found.
Thank you to Sherry Blizzard (I have no idea who she is, nor does she know me) for what became the reason I could switch from hating salmon to loving salmon. When Sherry says she's never found a better way to smoke salmon, I have to believe her. Admittedly, I've not tried a lot of different ways of brining and smoking salmon, but if Sherry says she's smoked salmon for over 12 years and this is the best recipe she's ever tried, I will look no further.
Dry Brine for Smoked Salmon
(credit: Sherry Blizzard)
"There won't be any leftovers! The smoky-rich tang that comes from your fillets will astound everyone. You and your guests will not be able to stop eating this high-protein, rich in Omega-3 oils delight. You'll find yourself keeping this snappy snack on hand at all times. I've been smoking salmon for 12 years and have never found a better way than using my dry brine recipe. If you love smoked salmon, give my recipe a go. This is a great go-to appetizer served up with crackers and cheese or use it in your next salmon chowder."
The paragraph above is from Sherry. The recipe below is what she shares, plus my additions, notes and comments.
- Prep time: 25 hours
- Cook time: 2 hours (approximately)
- Serves: Depends on how much salmon you are smoking
(I made this amount for 3-5 lbs. of fillets)
- 1 cup Morton's kosher salt (or Morton's tender quick curing salt) I used kosher salt.
- 2 cups dark brown sugar
- 1 TBSP (heaping) coarse ground black pepper
- 1 TBSP garlic salt
- 1 TBSP onion powder
- 1 TBSP celery salt
- REAL maple syrup (*NOTE - this is my addition, not in Sherry's brine recipe and process)
- Mix all ingredients (except maple syrup) together well. I use a fork to make sure everything is stirred together well.
- Can use right away or store in an airtight container.
How to dry brine and smoke salmon
1. Cut salmon into fillet-size pieces (about the size of your hand or palm). Leave the skin on and rinse well under cold water.
2. Drain and pat as dry as possible with paper towels. Place salmon, skin-side-down on a baking rack inside a bake sheet. You'll want something with high sides to hold the moisture that will be drawn out of the fish.
3. Completely cover the salmon with the dry brine mixture. Be sure to pat mix around the sides as well. You want to cover up as much of the meat as possible. Cover the tray/fish with plastic wrap and let sit in the fridge or a very cold place for 24 hours.
4. Remove plastic wrap and thoroughly rinse fish under cold water. Remove as much of the brine as possible from the fish. Dry the fillets with paper towels (you want it as dry as possible).
5. Let sit on a tray for 2-3 hours until a sticky pellicle can be seen/felt on the skin of the fish. This creates a "seal" of sorts to hold in the moisture and help the fillets to absorb smoke.
6. Bring the smoker up to 200 degrees. Use ONLY alder wood chips when smoking fish. Place the fish in the smoker and smoke for 2 hours and allow the temperature to come down to 70 or below.
*MY NOTES - 200-225 degrees is fine, the key being "Temperature x time in smoker = desired end temperature". You will want the fish to hit 150 degrees internally for best results, so use your smoking skills to achieve that. Also, it seems to me that she is saying to start at 200 degrees and then simply let it drop in temperature till it hits 70. Not sure what that means, but I agree that a "soft heat" or lower temp is best for the fish smoking process.
7. Using a soft basting brush glaze the fillets with maple syrup approximately half-way through the smoke (1 hour mark) and then again toward the end. Don't baste it too early, as it may limit the amount of smoke that the fish absorbs. Two or three coatings with real maple syrup will give the salmon a beautiful, shiny glaze (and an AMAZING flavor).
Last Step: Don't forget to share...both the smoked fish and the recipe! Make all your friends drool by posting a picture of your finished recipe on your favorite social network and tag bit.ly/jacksblend.
AMAZING Salmon Dip Recipe - truly the best fish dip I have EVER made or had!!!!
So, I had one large fillet left in the fridge, was hungry, but didn't want to eat it plain. So, I cobbled together a few things and accidentally created the BEST FISH DIP I'VE EVER HAD!!
- 1 - Maple glazed salmon fillet (approximately 1/2 lb.)
- 6 ounces whipped cream cheese
- 1/2 tsp fresh chopped sage
- 1/2 tsp fresh chopped oregano
- 1/2 tsp fresh chopped thyme
- 1/2 tsp fresh chopped basil
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Peel the fish skin from the fillet and mash in a bowl
- Add cream cheese and mix together
- Add herbs and lemon juice and mix together
- Add salt and pepper to the mix, taste and adjust to your preference
I used fresh herbs from pots in my back yard. Although I loved the end result, you can use a variety of fresh herbs as you have available and that accent fish well.
Share your thoughts on this recipe, any changes you made and what herbs you used.
Amount of brine per lb. - I smoked approximately 30 lbs. of lake trout (with a few pieces of salmon mixed in) and made 4 batches of the brine and it was just enough to brine it all.
Substitution - I used crushed celery seed instead of celery salt (couldn't find celery salt anywhere). I cut the amount in half (1/2 TBSP instead of 1 TBSP) and it worked fine.
Pans - I needed more pans...and my wife was not super happy when I keep using her good ones for fish. I bought 3 full size sheet pans for about $40. I also did not purchase racks on purpose to try the process without. Worked fine, just make sure to allow more room between pieces of fish. Also, use paper towel to dry top and bottom of each piece before final few hours of drying.