Expert home-smoker and CSF Member, John Lavery, has kindly shared his cold and hot smoked salmon recipes with us.
Smoked Salmon Recipes
There are a variety of ways to smoke and cure salmon. They run a continuum from what is essentially a cooked product (hot-smoked salmon and candied salmon a.k.a ‘indian candy’) to intermediaries (cold smoked salmon/lox) to a cure-driven product (gravlax).
Hot Smoked Salmon
For 2 kg salmon:
1 kg dark brown sugar
350g diamond kosher salt
5 tbsp minced garlic
Remove skin from salmon and cut into 2-3 inch widths/portions vertically along the side of salmon
Mix sugar, salt and garlic together until evenly distributed. Layer a non-reactive casserole dish or similar large dish with curing mix, then a single layer of salmon (making sure there is zero overlap, and a bit of space around every piece). Then another layer of cure, and another layer of salmon, until the final layer of cure. If you run out of cure – make more. You need a lot of cure. Everything needs to be well covered.
Into the fridge for 3 hours.
During this time prep your smoker – clean your grates and spray them with cooking oil.
Remove the fish from the cure – rinse it off completely. Set on paper towels and pat dry. Transfer it to your grates.
Optional: a thin layer of maple syrup rubbed on by hand or with a basting brush.
Put the grates in a cool, well ventilated place (you may want to force ventilation with a small fan) for 30 minutes. What you are looking to achieve here is the development of a thin layer of skin called a pellicule. This dried, glossy layer will ensure that a lot of the moisture is kept inside your fish while it smokes. If you don’t get a good pellicule, you risk having the fish come out very dry.
Get your wood chip ready and towards the end, get it fired up to a good temperature (250 F is a good start), or smoking.
A note on wood chip here: in the pacific northwest, it is most common to use alder for smoking salmon. It works well, as it is mild and sweet, but don’t be afraid to try some other woods too, like maple or apple. I would shy away from the stronger woods, like hickory or mesquite, as they will impart a very strong, almost sour flavor.
Once you’ve got your pellicule, transfer it to the smoker. The smoker’s temp will drop substantially as you open the door and place the fish. From there, set it to between 150F and 200F, 3 hours.
Remove from the smoker and cool, before putting into vacuum seal or the fridge.
Cold Smoked Salmon
This is what a large proportion of the population thinks about when they think ‘smoked salmon’. Interestingly enough, it isn’t a cooked product, but a cured one. The smoke is only there to impart flavor, and doesn’t really have any cooking properties (other than mild dessication).
The cure drives the process, and continues on internally throughout the smoking. We have to be quite careful handling cold smoked product, as it is essentially a raw-cured product. This is a good place to make a note about fish preparation prior to smoking (especially cold smoking). It is important that you don’t use fresh fish for smoking. The fish should have been cleaned, filleted, and then frozen for at least 48 hours at -20F or colder. This freeze is supposed to neutralize any potential parasites that the fish may have had the misfortune of picking up during its saltwater travels. From the frozen product, do your utmost to keep your fish refrigerated and cold throughout all of your processes, until it hits the cold smoke. Once removed from the cold smoke, ensure that it is quickly sealed and refrigerated again.
For cold smoked, I like to use about 1 kg of salmon. Sockeye’s red flesh is a real eye catcher, but chum, spring, pink can all be used.
I leave skin on. the skin is later used as a guide for thin slicing.
Use even weights of white sugar and diamond kosher salt. 1:1 ratio by weight
Place fish in non reactive dish and coat liberally until no salmon is showing.
Into the fridge. For thinner fillets, 1.5-2 hrs. for thicker fillets, 2-2.5 hrs
In the meantime, set up your cold smoke system and get it producing smoke 30 minutes prior to removal of the fish from the fridge. Again, alder is the wood of choice for pacific salmon, but it’s not the gospel. I made my cold smoke system from some clean tin cans, some galvanized pipe and compression fittings, and an aquarium pump. There are dozens of do-it-yourself cold smokers on you tube, and higher end electronic smokers also have cold smoke settings, or the ProQ system, which originates out of Europe (can be bought online). The concept is that the fish is inundated with smoke at essentially ambient temperature. In electronic smokers that is between 80 and 100F. The benefit of a homebuilt cold smoker is that you can keep the temperature even cooler than that.
Take the fish out of the cure. Wash it all off thoroughly and pat dry with paper towels. Rub or brush with a thin film of maple syrup, and leave in a chilled, well ventilated area for about 20-30 minutes, then put it into the smoke for a minimum of 8 hours. It can stay in smoke for as long as 24 hours. My preference is somewhere between 8 and 12. Try and keep the smoke as consistent as possible.
Once it comes off the smoke, get it into a vacuum sealed bag ASAP. Or eat it!