Smoked salmon is easy to make if you know how to approach it. The key is to brine the salmon and then let it completely dry before putting it on the smoker. The drying process forms something called a pellicle on the surface of the fish. The second secret is to smoke it at a very low temperature. The pellicle and low heat prevents the white oozing (albumen) that happens when salmon is cooked too quickly. Albumen is a protein that cooks out of the fish when it is heated too quickly. It’s completely edible but unappetizing.
This brine is good for any kind of fish you would like to smoke. Brining adds flavor to the fish but more importantly, it helps the fish retain moisture so it doesn’t get overly dry as it cooks.
1 qt cold water
1/3 cup kosher salt
1 cup brown sugar
Spices and herbs of your choice. I typically use bay leaves, peppercorns, fresh thyme, fresh rosemary, juniper berries, garlic, and lemon zest. Use whatever you like.
Wood chips. I like to use applewood for fish because it imparts a light, fruity, smoke flavor but use whatever wood you prefer.
Lemon slices for serving
- Heat 3 cups of the water in the microwave then add the rest of the ingredients. The heated water helps dissolve the sugar and salt and pulls flavor from the seasonings.
- Allow the seasonings to steep in the warm water and stir once in a while to help the sugar and salt dissolve.
- Add enough ice to bring the volume up to 4 cups.
- Place the fish in a 9X13 glass baking dish and pour the brine over.
- Place the fish in the fridge for at least 4 hours and up to overnight. Nota bene, the longer it is in the brine, the more salt it will absorb. This is a good time so soak your wood chips in cold water.
- Remove the fish from the brine and rinse under cold water. Preheat the smoker to the lowest setting and place the fish no the middle rack.
- Optional – baste the fish every 30 mins or so with maple syrup or some honey dilluted with a little water. This adds some sweetness to the fish and will help it absorb more flavor from the smoke. Brushing the fish with the sweetener also helps remove any albumen that may accumulate if you can’t get the temp low enough on your smoker.
- The fish is done when the flesh is firm and flakes easily – about 2 to 2.5 hours.
- Serving suggestion: serve with crusty Boule bread.