Alaska is a fishermans paradise, and although my husband loves to go fishing, he is not crazy about the taste of salmon. That is unless I make my famous smoked salmon. He loves it when salmon is smoked in that manner, and the time and effort it takes is well worth the reward.
Many of my friends smoke their own salmon, and I used to be intimidated by the mere thought of doing this, but after I took the plunge and learned how, it was a breeze. Anybody can smoke salmon, or other types of fish. We like red and silver salmon the most, but the dreaded pink salmon are palatable if smoked as well, (but we can’t eat them any other way).
The first step is to fillet your fish so that you have removed all of the bones. Next we cut our salmon fillets into strips about an inch to an inch and a half wide. Now it’s time to let the salmon soak in your favorite brine – and there are many different recipes for brining salmon. The recipe I use was found in a fishing magazine years ago and it calls for water, salt, brown sugar, spices, and hot peppers.
When brining your fish, be sure not to use an aluminum bowl. I use a large plastic Rubbermaid bowl with a lid. During the brining process, the salt tends to fall to the bottom of the bowl, so you need to stir it periodically, or turn it upside down if your bowl has a tight fitting lid. I soak my salmon for 24 hours in the refrigerator, then I rinse the brine off well with clear running water. Failure to do this can result in very salty tasting smoked salmon. Some people only allow their fish to sit in the brine for 6 hours and they say it comes out tasting great. I’ve had the best luck with the 24 hour method.
After the fish has soaked in the brine, you are ready to smoke it. When I take my salmon out of the brine, it usually has turned a darker color, and some of the meat of the fish is almost firm. I always wipe my salmon until it is dry, and if it is brined properly there is a tacky, shiny coat on the fish that looks almost like a glaze.
When smoking, we use a Lil Chief Smoker, and I like to use Hickory Flavored Wood Chips, but you can use Alder, Cherry, or other flavors as well. The Lil Chief Smoker has a small pan that sits in the bottom of the smoker that holds the wood chips. The machine runs on electricity, and when you plug it in a burner heats up which burns the wood chips, causing smoke to rise up through the smoker. The combination of heat and smoke cures the salmon.
Some people like their smoked salmon done very well, some like it almost raw (what we call Lox), but I like it somewhere in the middle. I don’t like raw fish, but I don’t want it cooked so long that the meat gets all dried out. I usually keep my fish in the smoker for about two hours, but the optimal temperature is 140 degrees. I like to remove a piece with my long handled metal tongs and test it to see how it is progressing. Sometimes it is perfect, sometimes it needs a bit more time in the smoker. You will soon get the hang of it and you’ll know just by breaking a piece of salmon off if it is done to your liking.
Smoked salmon is very expensive, and there is no reason why you can’t smoke your own fish and save a bundle of money. I have an amazing smoked salmon dip that calls for cream cheese and horseradish sauce, and this alone makes all the work well worth it.
I always package my smoked salmon in thick plastic freezer bags. We eat some of it when fresh and the rest go into the freezer. We try to eat our smoked salmon within six months, otherwise it takes on some freezer burn and doesn’t taste nearly as good. Smoked salmon makes a fantastic gift, and it is a nice food to have on hand.