There are so many ways to serve up smoked salmon: sushi, lox and bagels, salad, sandwiches, you name it! Smoking your own salmon at home can save you so much money and it also allows you the creative freedom to try various rubs and brines to create very diverse dishes!
Wondering how to smoke to smoke salmon at home? Follow these tips for perfect results every time!
What you will need:
- Kosher Salt and seasoning of your choice
- Cooling Rack
- Basting brush
It's all about the brine
A brine is used to preserve and accentuate the natural flavors of the fish. Typically a brine is composed of a few different seasonings. (For sweeter fish, think brown sugar. For more savory, try a rosemary or oregano brine.) The primary seasoning is kosher salt. Table salt will drastically affect the taste of the fish, making it unpleasant, so its best to go with kosher salt, which will naturally bring out the flavor of the fish. You will need to soak the fish in the brine for at least 8 hours, though overnight is preferred, covered in the refrigerator.
A pellicle, what?
Once the salmon has properly soaked, you will discover that the dry rub will draw the moisture out of the fish and you will most likely be surprised as to how much juice will be in the pan after 8+ hours.
Carefully rinse the fish in cold water to remove salt/seasoning mixture from the fish and pat dry. Then, place the fish upon a cooling rack next to a ceiling fan or any fan on high to dry for the next 2 hours. It's important to make sure the room stays at or below room temperature (60 degrees is ideal), as the fish is drying. What's so cool about the brine is that you will not need to worry about the salmon spoiling as the brine naturally preserves the fish. Within the next 2 hours the fish will develop whats called a pellicle, a dry lacquer-type finish, which seals it and offers a sticky surface for the smoke to adhere to.
Smoking at the right temperature is key
Once you've dried the salmon, warm your smoker up to the perfect temperature. The key is the lower and longer, the better. I would recommend anywhere from 100 F to 225 F for around 2 to 4 hours of smoke time. One key thing to remember is not to overheat the salmon.
One way to tell that your salmon is warming up too quickly or is being cooked at too high of a temperature is that the salmon will "bleed"-- this is a white, filmy substance -- a protein called albumin. Basically the salmon begins to contract the muscles from the meat due to the pressure being applied while cooking. A little of the albumin is always expected, but if a lot it could leave your salmon dry and unpleasant in taste.
Its always good to rub your salmon with a nice glaze every hour it's smoking. You can be creative here, but typically salmon absorbs "sweet" well, so maple, citrus, fruit jams or glazes always work great.
The best way to tell your salmon is done is if it flakes easily and smells of delicious smoky salmon heaven. Be sure to have a serving of bagels on hand (bonus points if their homemade bagels!) for this amazing fish-lovers treat.