Home Smoked Salmon
I’m a great fan of the simplest of techniques, and it couldn’t get simpler than this. I use a dry curing technique; some people brine salmon, but I prefer the firmness that comes from the dry cure.
I pack the fresh fish in equal parts salt and sugar and leave it in the refrigerator uncovered for a day.
The dry cure draws moisture out of the fish and firms it up before smoking.
I’m using the simplest of techniques here—no elaborate smoker setup, just a garden-variety Kettle and some wood pellets.
Technically this is a warm smoke, as the ambient temperature here first thing in the morning when I do it is already 26 degrees C (79 degrees F), and the smouldering wood pellets add another 6 degrees C (10.8 degrees F) to that, so I’m really smoking at 32 degrees C (90 degrees F).
Because it’s so warm, I load the smoke up and get on with it fast so my fish does not spend more than an hour or so at that temperature.
If it is cold where you are, this won’t be so much of a problem.
Ideally you should cold smoke under 20 degrees C (68 degrees F).
If temperature is an issue place a tray of ice covered with a couple of handfuls of ice in the bottom of the kettle.
The Ice and Salt mix will drop to -18°C (-.4°F)
This will compensate for the heat generated by the smouldering wood pellets
Mix equal quantities of salt and sugar, place a layer of the mixture in a nonreactive container, place the salmon on top, sprinkle the rest of the mixture over the salmon, and put the container in the refrigerator uncovered.
After 24–36 hours, remove the container from the refrigerator and wash the sugar and salt mixture off the salmon; you will notice the salmon is now quite firm.
After that, I wash mine in a splash of gin (whiskey, bourbon, and rum also work well), which removes the surface water. I place it on a rack, still glistening with gin, and put it uncovered into the fridge to dry overnight.
In the morning, the surface of the fish has a shiny, almost sticky finish; this is the pellicle, a thin outer layer of proteins that help the smoke stick.
Place the salmon in the kettle; I’m using Teflon-coated mesh to stop the salmon sticking to the cooking grill. I can’t resist doing some cheese at the same time!
I’ve put a cup of local red gum pellets in my smoke mug; you could use a smoke tube or tray. I use a gas torch to light just the top few pellets. Red gum is a heavy smoke flavour similar to hickory, but you can use something lighter like a fruit wood.
Place the lid on the Kettle and let the magic begin. I have the top vent set to half and the lower vent set to fully open.
The cup of pellets will provide a dense smoke for roughly two hours—plenty to get a good smoke flavour going.
Remove the salmon from the smoker. You’ll see the smoke has turned the pellicle a dull colour.
I dribble a thimbleful of gin over the fish and place it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for a day to mature—two days is even better.