This classic smoked favorite is simple and is delicious in an omelette or a smoked fish dip, or on a bagel with cream cheese and sliced red onion. If you want to get fancy try it on a blini with creme fraiche and caviar. So many options!
Huckleberry Cinders recommends our Maple Wood, Oak Wood or Cherry Wood, chunks, chips or splits for use in your wood smoker or barbecue grill for this Smokin' Hot Smoked Salmon recipe.
5 lbs salmon, trout or Arctic char
2 cups maple syrup or honey for basting
1 quart cool water
1/3 cup kosher salt - must be kosher salt - regular salt will not work with smoking salmon
1 cup brown sugar
1) Mix together the brine ingredients and place your fish in a plastic or glass casserole dish, cover and put in the refrigerator. This curing process eliminates some of the moisture from the inside of the fish while at the same time infusing it with salt, which will help preserve the salmon.
2) You will need to cure your salmon at least 4 hours, even for thin fillets from trout or pink salmon. In my experience pink, sockeye and silver salmon need 8 hours. A really thick piece of king salmon might need as much as 36 hours in the brine. Never go more than 48 hours, however, or your fish will be too salty. Double the brine if it's not enough to cover the fish.
3) Take your fish out of the brine and pat it dry. Set the fillets on your cooling rack, skin side down. Let the fish dry for 2 to 4 hours (or up to overnight in the fridge). You want the surface of the fish to develop a shiny skin called a pellicle.
4) Drying your cured, brined fish in a cool, breezy place is vital to properly smoking it. The pellicle, which is a thin, lacquer-like layer on top of the fish, seals it and offers a sticky surface for the smoke to adhere to. The salt in the brine will protect your fish from spoilage. Once you have your pellicle, you can refrigerate your fish for a few hours and smoke it later if you'd like.
5) Start by slicking the skin of your fish with some oil, so it won't stick to the smoker rack. Know that even though this is hot smoking, you still do not want high temperatures. Start with a small fire and work your way up as you go. It is important to bring the temperature up gradually or you will get that white albumin "bleed" on the meat. Start the process between 140°F and 150°F for up to an hour, then finish at 175°F for a final hour or two. To keep temperatures mild, always put water in your drip pan to keep the temperature down.
6) After an hour in the smoker, baste the fish with maple syrup, or honey; do this every hour. This is a good way to brush away any albumin that might form. In most cases, you will get a little. You just don't want a ton of it. Even if you can't control your temperature this precisely, you get the general idea. You goal should be an internal temperature of about 130°F to 140°F. If you want a lighter smoke, finish the salmon without smoke or in a 200°F oven.
7) The single biggest problem in smoking salmon is too high heat. If you've ever seen salmon "bleed" a white, creamy substance, that's a protein called albumin. If you see lots of it, you've screwed up; a little is normal. If you cook a piece of salmon at too high a heat, the muscle fibers in the meat contract so violently that they extrude albumin, which immediately congeals on the surface of the fish. It's ugly, and it also means your salmon will be dry. You prevent this with a solidly formed pellicle, and by keeping your heat gentle. If you let your heat get away from you and you do get a white mess on your salmon, all is not lost. Just flake it out and make salmon salad with it: The mayonnaise in the salad will mask any dryness.
8) Once your fish is smoked, let it rest on the cooling rack for an hour before you put it in the fridge. Once refrigerated and wrapped in plastic, smoked fish will keep for 10 days. If you vacuum-seal it, the fish will keep for up to 3 weeks. Or freeze your fish for up to a year.