This cold smoked salmon is delicious on salads, on toast, or off the fork! Here's everything you need to know about how to smoke salmon.
Remove pin bones: Run fingers down the top of the salmon fillet and remove any pin bones with tweezers or pliers if you encounter any sharp ends.
Cure the salmon: In a bowl mix sugar and salt. Then in a rimmed baking dish the size of the salmon fillet lay half of the prepared mixture. Place the fillet skin side down on top of the mixture and cover with the other half of the sugar-salt mixture making sure to cover the fish completely. Cover the container with plastic wrap or foil and refrigerate for 24-48 hours, rotating the salmon fillet as needed to keep both sides submerged in the salt-sugar mixture. The cure will help to kill any bad bacteria and draw out moisture from the salmon fillet.
Alternatively, place the salmon with the salt mixture into a FoodSaver bag and vacuum seal it. This will allow the salmon fillet to be submerged in the salt/sugar mixture at all times. Rotate the bag as needed to keep both sides of the fillet covered in the cure.
Dry out the fish:
Remove the salmon from the cure and gently rinse. Then, soak in cold water for about 30-45 minutes to remove excess salinity. To see if the fish is salted to your liking or needs more soaking time, slice off a small piece from the fillet and taste it. Once it is at your desired salinity level move on to the next step.
Pat dry the salmon with a paper towel. Set a cooling rack on top of a baking sheet and place the fish on top, skin side down. Refrigerate uncovered in the coldest part of the fridge overnight (minimum 4 hours recommended) or up to 24 hours to form a dry outer layer to help the smoke adhere otherwise known as the pellicle.
Pro Tip: A mesh drying cage can also be a good option to give you the ability to dry lots of fish at once outdoors with a fan set in front of it. The fan will help to dry the fish faster. The mesh material will allow for airflow from the fan to go around the fish, while not letting any critters in.
Drying with a fan also helps to draw out more moisture out of the fish than just drying the fish in the fridge, so this option is good for speeding up the process.
Preheat oven to 200F with the baking rack in the middle. In a large bowl combine 4 cups of smoking pellets (Apple and Alder pellets in 1:1 ratio is best) and 3 cups of hot water. Allow the water to be completely absorbed, tossing and breaking the pellet as needed to help absorption.
Then, transfer to a rimmed baking sheet. Spread the sawdust into an even layer and dry in the oven for about 4 hours, stirring occasionally until completely dry.
Generate the cold smoke:
Once completely dry, fill the smoke generator with the dried saw dust. Use the edge of a knife or ruler to scrape off excess saw dust. Transfer the filled smoke generator to the smoker or the grill. Any large, enclosed, nonflamable space like the grill or the smoker will work for this.
Set a lit tea candle at the beginning of the spiraling trail. This will start the smoking process of the saw dust. To speed up the process you can use a blow torch at the same time and point the flame towards the top of the saw dust at the beginning of the spiral. Once the tea light goes out (about 15 minutes later), and the saw dust is consistency producing smoke/smoldering add the salmon fillet to the rack about 12 inches away from the smoke generator. Close the lid of the smoker and open the vent to help the oxygen get inside the smoker.
Keep it cool: The inside of the smoker should not rise higher than 80F. A probe thermometer is a good tool to help you keep it in check (Note 1). If it's warmer outside, fill a baking dish with ice and set it about 1-2 inches below the fish. Keep replacing the dish with ice throughout smoking to keep the temperature inside the smoker down.
Smoke the salmon: Let the fish smoke for around 12 - 24 hours (more or less depending on the thickness of the salmon), checking occasionally to make sure that the smoke is still being produced. The salmon is properly smoked if it is darker in color, firm with not a lot of give when pressed on and somewhat translucent. You can cut a small piece and taste it and decide if it's smoked to your liking.
Chill: Once the smoked salmon is finished smoking refrigerate it for several hours until it is well chilled. Then, slice and serve.
I use this thermometer. Having the probe part inserted in the fillet and by the smoker while keeping the other one inside the house in my view allows me to monitor the temperature from the inside without having to constantly run to the smoker and check on it. It's an investment, but very worth the money.
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