For many chefs and foodies alike, perfectly smoked salmon is considered a delicacy. Not only is this delicious fish is healthy and nutritious, it serves as a great alternative to red meat, game, pork, or poultry. There is, however, a trick to smoking the perfect salmon. It takes not only the right amount of smoking time, but also the right ingredients, process and smoking equipment.
Preparing Salmon for Smoking
Before a definitive smoking time can be established, first the salmon must be prepared to remove anything on its outside service that might impeded the process. The fish must also be filleted by splitting it from top to bottom vertically, leaving the skin in tact. Remove all of the bones and then cut it into equal pieces or strips that are roughly ¾ to 1 inch in depth.
Brining the Salmon
The salmon must be brined to ensure its natural flavor will be retained while smoking. Basic brine is made up of salt and water, with a ratio of three cups kosher salt to each gallon of bottled water. Other flavors can be introduced into the brine if desired. Make sure there is enough brine to completely cover the salmon.
Curing the Salmon
Lay the salmon in the brine and refrigerate for at least 5 to 8 hours and no longer than 24 hours. Proper curing cuts down on the amount of smoking time required.
Drying the Salmon
Take the salmon fillets out of the brine and rinse them thoroughly. Place them on a drying rack in a cool area between 30 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit for no less than 3 hours and no more than 7. The drying process helps to build a pellicle coating over the fish. It will keep moisture locked inside the salmon during smoking, making it possible to smoke the salmon for a longer period, if desired.
Smoking the Salmon
Choose hard wood chips like alder, cedar, hickory, mesquite and oak for smoking salmon. They give the fish a sweet, smoky flavor. Put the salmon onto a sheet of aluminum foil with small holes punched throughout. Lay that inside the smoker. Set smoking equipment at a low temperature to begin. Raise the temperature slowly at 50- to 75-degree increments over a 2-hour time frame. Check the salmon periodically to prevent overcooking. It is nearly ready when its internal temperature reaches 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Leave the temperature setting where it is and let the fish cook another 20 to 30 minutes for a maximum smoking time of six to seven hours. Once the fish is smoked you can serve it right away or keep wrap it and keep it refrigerated for up to 3 months in a vacuum-sealed bag.