Brining and smoking salmon is easy and very rewarding. You will need smoking wood, Smoker, tongs and an accurate thermometer. This recipe is not just for salmon; you could use various varieties of salmon, trout and other fatty fish. If you have an electric smoker, it is perfect because you can set the temperature at 185 degrees and forget it for 2-3 hours. Otherwise, you will have pay close attention to the fire and temperature. If the temperature gets too high, the fish will expel it’s liquid and cook very quickly. We want the temperature to come up slowly to retain liquid so the fish has a long time in the smoke.
Start by selecting your fish from a respected fish monger or grocery store. I find some good deals on at my local super market. I bought this salmon for $4.99 a pound; not bad at all.
TIP: Buy your fish during lent and freeze it. Groceries will stock large amounts and have good prices as well as very fresh fish.
Preparing the brine:
1 cup brown or white sugar
1 cup kosher salt
1 gallon of cold water
1 tsp garlic powder (optional)
1 tsp ground black pepper (optional)
Combine all ingredients in a non reactive container; I use a stainless steel stock pot. Stir to combine and add your salmon steaks cut into 2-3 inch sections. see picture above. The thing about brines is this; Brining enables the meat to absorb water because the salt changes the structure of the meat enabling it absorb and retain water. Any flavors added to the brine will be absorbed into the fish. This is an added value as the fish stays moist longer because it can add up to 10% more liquid than non-brined fish.
Preparing the fire and smoking:
In your smoker box start a small fire using hickory, oak or apple wood. Let the fire burn a while creating some nice coals. after about 1/2 hour you can start to regulate the heat. 185-200 degrees is optimal but it’s pretty hard to maintain at the 185 degree range.
Place the fish as far away from the heat source as possible with the smallest pieces being the farthest from the heat. Close the lid and don’t open it for at least an hour. When the fish has been smoking for at least an hour you will need to rotate the middle pieces with the one closest to the fire. The pieces furthest away may not have to be rotated since they are the smallest and take the least amount of time to cook. The salmon will not have changed much in color yet. Close the lid and let smoke for another hour or hour and a half depending on how dry you want your salmon. I’m trying mine a little longer this time to see how it is a little drier.
Removing and storage:
When the salmon is done remove very delicately using your fingers or plastic spatula taking care not to break the skin. Place on a cookie sheet or cutting board and let cool for an hour. If you have room in your refrigerator let cool for an hour or two before you vacuum seal your fish. The oils will solidify and not be sucked out by your sealer. I seal two or three pieces together at a time. Salmon will store in plastic zip lock bags for several weeks and over a month in vacuum sealed bags.
I serve my smoked fish at room temperature by itself or with crackers. I’m sure it would go well with creamy cheeses and a nice Pinot Noir. Smoked salmon can cost as much as $30 a pound or more. This recipe can get you a very high quality Salmon for as little as $5-$7 a pound.