After being inspired by Alton Brown to make a cardboard cold smoker to make bacon I started to think of what else I could cold smoke. One of the first suggestions I got was to make lox (cold smoked salmon).
I have had lox from grocery stores, Einstein's Brothers, as well as the local Katz's deli but my version turned out as good or better and costs a fraction of all the above.
Best of all you know exactly what's in it and how fresh it is when you get it.
Important Note: It seems that uncooked, yet cured foods may be regarded as safe, as long as the preparation and sanitation directions are strictly followed. That said, any animal product that in uncooked could be hazardous for the young, elderly, and those with compromised immune systems.
Step 1: Materials
1/2 sheet pan (2)
Cooling rack (2)
5lbs of weight
This is based off of a Gravlachs recipe from food network, with some modification.
I used frozen, unseasoned salmon fillets. You can use fresh but note that the recipe calls for freezing the salmon for minimum of one week before starting the cure process. These fillets already had the skin and any pin bones removed so there was no further prepwork.
2 parts kosher salt
1 part sugar
1 part ground black pepper
In a bowl combine the above ingredients and blend together with a fork.
Step 2: Dry Fillets
One of the main things you are doing with the cure is to remove as much moisture as possible from the salmon. Since I'm using packaged frozen fillets I let them thaw slowly in the fridge before using. When opening the package I drain off as much moisture as possible.
After opening up the individual fillets put them one at a time on a double up paper towel and blot dry.
Step 3: Add Cure
Place the fillet on top of the cure and then cover with more cure.
Place fillet onto cooling rack. Repeat with as many fillets as you have. Press each one against the other so that the edges are touching.
After you have placed all your pieces add another layer of cure on top.
Step 4: Wrap Fillets and Weigh Down
Fold down the plastic wrap from the top to cover the first fold of plastic wrap.
Note: Do not fold the sides as this is to allow the liquid that will be pulled out by the cure to escape and fall onto the towels down in the pan.
Place second sheet pan on top of folded plastic wrap. Find something flat but with about 5lbs of weight. I used some plates but you can use anything that will fit in your fridge.
Place in fridge and allow to cure. You will check on these about every 12 hours.
Step 5: Drain Liquid
After about 12 hours take the trays out of the fridge and drain off the liquid. In the pictures I showed just tilting the tray. However, I found that draining it over the sink will use up less paper towels, so you can use either method.
You do not need to unwrap the fillets at this point since the sides are open. Just tilt the tray until all the liquid is gone.
Step 6: Flip and More Cure
Rewrap the fillets as they were before and weigh them down the same way.
Place in fridge for another 12 hours. Repeat this action for as long as you want to cure the fish. Some recipes call for 24 hrs, some call for 5 days. I have found that 48hrs seems to give a good product.
Note: I drain liquid and add more cure each 12 hour period. If the cure from 12hrs before did not dissolve all the way I do not add any more as the amount of liquid to be removed is reaching the maximum.
Step 7: Rinse
Blot dry with paper towels as you did before. I added more black pepper after this, but I really like pepper. You can skip this if you like.
Step 8: Dry
By doing this a pellicle will form on the surface. This is our smoke magnet.
Step 9: Prepare for Smoke
You will need some hooks to hang the the fillets in the smoker. I used some cheap metal skewers and bent them into hooks.
To do this I used the upright (pipe) on my prep table as a guide for bending. Using this makes for a very even and consistent bend.
Take a second cooling rack and with a couple of twist ties make a cage by sandwiching the dried fillets inside.
You want some compression on the fillets but no so much that you mash them. Make it tight enough to just hold them in place while hanging.
I used three hooks, to give adequate support.
Chip up your wood into about 1/2" thickness pieces and soak for at least 30 min before putting in the smoking pan. if you use large chunks you will not get enough heat to the wood end up with some burned and some unburned wood.
Step 10: Smoke
Turn the burner to high for about 5 min, with the empty skillet on it. After this take the skillet out with an oven glove and add a full layer of wood. Place the pie pan back on top and place it back on the skillet.
Turn the burner to med high and you will start getting smoke in about 5-10 more min. But keep an eye on it. At this point turn on the fan and close the access door.
Open up the cold side and you should be able to smell the smoke coming through the conduit.
At this point hang your fillets and close the door.
Check on it at least once an hour for the duration of smoking.
I smoked the fillets for 6 hours and only had to add additional wood once because I found the minimum heat setting that would produce smoke but not burn up the wood too quickly.
Step 11: Remove, and Rest
Take them out of the cage and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. I used a vacuum bag as it is much easier. Place in the fridge for at least 12 hours to allow the smoke on the surface to distribute throughout the fillet.
Step 12: Cut and Eat
Find your sharpest knife and cut against the grain as thinly as possible without ripping the fillet. From here you have many options. Eat it plain, make some kind of cold dill salmon dip, put some on a small ball of rice and call it sushi, or make up some bagels, cream cheese, capers and dill and call it breakfast.
Step 13: Footnote
At my current utility rate (0.0602000/KWH) that is $0.14.
The salmon cost $22 for 3 lbs or about $7.33/lb.
The salt, sugar, pepper and wood were only pennies each. I made about a 1/3 cup of cure and still had about half of it left.
The amount prepared was 1.5lbs. The smoker can accommodate many times this amount and will not use any more wood or electricity than this time. It's just a matter of putting more in the cold box.
So let's call the cost $7.50/lb just to put a number on it. See if you can find something this good at your grocery or bagel shop for anywhere near this price.