Intro: How to Smoke Salmon
These instructions are for smoking salmon in a smokehouse.
My dad's sister in Alaska is the queen of smoked salmon. They grew up on a Southeast Alaska beach, fishing and eating salmon, so they know what good salmon tastes like, and everybody in town goes to her for salmon smoking.
This is her recipe, which we use for smoking salmon in the smokehouse we built down here in Washington.
Step 1: You Need
- A smokehouse and firewood
- Good, fresh, oily fish- king (Chinook) and sockeye (red) salmon are good for smoking.
- Brown sugar
- Russet potato
- Oil or cooking spray
- Really sharp knives
Step 2: Preparing the Fire
Green wood makes a lot of smoke, so it's nice if you can cut down a tree. We have a profusion of alders, so that's what we used.
Light a fire in the base of the smokehouse and get the temperature up to 100F.
Step 3: Preparing the Racks
Clean your smoking racks and brush or spray them with oil so that the fish won't stick.
Step 4: Preparing the Brine
We use a 5-gallon bucket.
Put some cold water in it, then add salt and stir until a russet potato with a nail in it floats to the top.
Note: Add your salt a little at a time, and make sure that it dissolves fully! Otherwise your brine could be too salty at the bottom.
Add about 1/3 cup of brown sugar. This will cause the fish to glaze during the smoking process.
Step 5: Preparing the Fish
Remember to handle salmon delicately throughout this process; it tears easily.
Clean out the fish- gut it if yours is fresh; even if it's storebought, open up the belly and make sure to wash out the blood and guts under cold water.
Wipe down the outside and clean off the scales.
Step 6: Cutting the Salmon
Cut open the belly upwards from the little hole at its base to the gills.
Sever the head and gills; these go in the scraps bucket.
Fillet from where the head used to be to the tail. Keep your knife flat against the spine and slide it along to the tail, leaving the fins (top and bottom) attached to the vertebrae.
Remove fillet, flip fish, and repeat on the other side.
You should be left with very little meat attached to the bones and two beautiful fillets.
You have some options with your slicing up of the fillets; you can section it off into serving-size portions, or if you want to smoke the whole fillet, that's good too. You need a lot of (or a few hungry) people to eat a whole fillet.
If you're sectioning it up: the belly pieces are fattiest and therefore delicious. Slice thickly. The thinner the slices, the saltier.
Chop the tail off of the spine; add to scraps.
If there's much meat left on the spine, you can chop it up and smoke it with the rest; this bit comes out salty and is traditionally eaten with beer.
Step 7: Brining the Salmon
Brining time is dependent on taste- the longer you brine (and the smaller your chunks), the saltier your fish will get.
I don't like mine too salty, so I do ten minutes or so. Be careful with this timing; fourteen or fifteen minutes is MUCH saltier.
Start your timer as you begin to put your fish chunks (carefully cradled in your hands) in the brine.
The fish float, so an upside-down pot lid on top does a good job of keeping the fish in the brine.
Step 8: Racking the Salmon
Carefully pull the pieces of salmon out of the brine and place them, skin down, on the oiled racks.
Leave a little space between them so that they don't stick together while they're smoking.
Pick up your full racks and carry them to the smokehouse.
Step 9: Smoking the Salmon
With the smokehouse at 100-110F, place racks in the smokehouse.
The lower racks (closer to the fire) are hotter.
Close the door. Check on the temperature regularly, adjusting the fire or cracking open the door as necessary.
Every once in a while, reach in and rock each piece by hand so that it doesn't stick to the racks.
For the first two hours, smoke at about 100F.
For the next two, 100-120F.
For the next two or so after that, 120-140 until the fish is done.
Taste it to see if it's done.
Step 10: Scraps
Remember that bowl of scraps? Might as well eat them while you're waiting for the salmon to smoke.
Throw them all in a pot of water and boil for a while.
Be sure to eat the eyes and cheeks of the fish; they're the best part.
Save the water; it's great soup stock.
Step 11: Mmmmm, Smoked Salmon.
My aunt leaves a tote out in front of her house. She calls it her "magic fish box" because it's always full of fish that somebody left for her to smoke.
It's a long process to smoke fish, so we tend to do it in big batches. Pictured here, we have three big kings' worth of fish.
We bought a vacuum sealer so that it would keep longer. Sealed properly, we can put it in the fridge. (It helps with the smell, too).
Since it has a high fat content and smoking is a preservative process, it lasts for months.