In New Zealand Christmas is in Summer. We have Christmas in the sun, on the beach, playing sports and having BBQ. I tend to use this time of the year to impress everyone with my smoking skills. Chickens, fish, hams, turkeys.
There is nothing that equals the taste (in the world of fish at least) to that of smoked salmon fresh from the smoker.
Smoking salmon is easy and does not take that long in preparation and execution.
All you need is a simple brine (the night before) and a few hours smoking with your favourite wood smoke.
If you want to give it a go, and find all of the different recipes and methods out there too much, then try this one. It won’t have you pulling your hair out or make you develop a stomach ulcer with worry from confusion. As I write this I have just been out to my parents house, smoked them a nice salmon fillet (as seen in photos) and half of it has already been devoured.
First off you need to choose a good piece of salmon. Look for something that is not discoloured around the edges, is firm to touch and does not have a fishy smell. If you can, get them to cut you a fillet straight from the whole fish. Most places will be more than happy to do this.
I chose this piece from the Auckland Seafood Markets but you should be able to find something as good as this at any Whole Foods store or similar.
Once you have chosen the perfect piece you will then need to make the brine. Brining a piece of fish changes the protein structure of the flesh and makes it better to smoke and also allows for a better texture when eating. I use a basic brine as I like the simple flavour of the smoke and the fish. If you want to get creative (bad idea in most cases) there are plenty of brine recipes out there.
If you use my brine i can assure you that you will not ruin your expensive cut of fish. I can not guarantee that for any of the others out there.
1/4 cup of kosher salt or fine ground sea salt DO NOT Use iodized salt, it will give a metallic taste to your fish
1/2 cup of brown sugar
5 cups of water (purified if possible but no worries if not)
METHOD: Put all ingredients into a pot and bring to the boil. Boil for 3 mins constantly stirring. This enables the sugar and the salt to dissolve perfectly. Allow to cool to room temperature and place in a container in the fridge until it has become chilled.
Once chilled place the fish into the container making sure the entire piece has been covered with the brine.
Leave in brine for 8 hours. Remove and rinse with a gently running tap to remove traces of the brine.
FORMING THE PELLICULE:
Once the fish has been rinsed pat it down with paper towels to remove any excess moisture. This step is called forming the pellicule.
A pellicule is a thin sticky layer that forms on the flesh of the fish when left out in a cool breezy environment.
I place mine on a bench with a fan blowing on it. If you can not do this then just leave it in the fridge for a few hours or overnight if easier. I left mine for 2 hours under the fan and it formed nicely. I then left it in the fridge overnight as I did my brining before bed. I smoked it the next day and everything was fine. Do not be too scared as the fish takes a lot so you will not ruin it.
SMOKING THE SALMON:
You can do this in your kettle BBQ or in a smoker.
For this fish I have used New Zealand native Manuka (Tea tree) wood. If you ever happen to visit New Zealand I would highly recommend trying the Manuka smoked bacon and fish found everywhere. You have tasted nothing like it, seriously.
You can use any hard wood but I would advise woods such as Hickory, Mesquite, Apple or Maple for Salmon.
I use a propane vertical smoker (Gascraft brand) which you can pick up under $150 at places like Walmart or other stores.
METHOD: I have a digital probe that I put in to monitor the internal temperature of the fish. If you do not have one get one. It means the difference between tender perfect juicy meats and over cooked dry meat. I NEVER smoke anything without one.
A regular kitchen meat thermometer will do fine, I just happen to love gadgets.
Put this in the thickest part when cooking.
You want to reach an internal temperature of 140 – 143 degs F. Take it out after this as the fish keeps cooking for 10 mins after.
You can see I have placed some aluminium foil under the fish to prevent it sticking to the rack, it’s a good trick.
Next, heat your smoker to 200 – 250 F and get th smoke going. Once it is rolling place the fish in the middle of the smoker.
Leave it in and keep it at this temp until 140f has been reached internally (1.5 – 2 hours).
Once you get the right internal temp remove the fish and place it on a bench to cool. You want to leave the fish for 30 – 45 mins before eating to let the smoke settle and the fish to rest.
Once that is done, EAT!
Enjoy your delicious homemade smoked salmon that people will talk about for ages.
If you attempt this leave a message below and let me know how you went. I would love to hear about it. Any questions feel free to ask and I will answer asap.