Smoking Salmon: the Basic Steps
There are countless recipes and ways to smoke salmon, but the most common methods all include a few basic steps. Read the steps below and then go ahead and try one of the recipes listed at the bottom.
This first step is primarily the process of salting the fish to remove moisture, firm the flesh, and impart a salty flavor to the fish… but the brine may also include additional flavors and colorings. Brines can either be liquid or dry, and all of them include salt in some form… in some recipes this is granular salt, in other recipes it might be soy sauce or something similar. Brine recipes may also include sugar in some form… white sugar, brown sugar, honey, fruit juice, etc. Still other recipes call for addtional flavorings, like garlic, pepper, rosemary, dill, etc.
After the fish comes out of the brine, it must be air-dried. This removes even more moisture from the fish, and this is the step in which the “pellicle” forms on the surface of the fish. The pellicle is the slightly tacky glaze that forms on the surface of the flesh. It absorbs some of the smoke and it is where a lot of the flavor comes from. Air-drying is done at a relatively low temperature room temperature, or outdoor temperature, depending upon where you’re doing the drying.
This next step involves the smoldering of wood to create smoke, and the imparting of the smokey flavor into the fish. The smoking is done in a smoker or a larger smokehouse. Many smaller commercial-made smokers are available, they range from small electric-powered all-in-one units to bigger charcoal and wood-fired units with separate fireboxes.
In this last step, even more moisture is removed from the fish, and this is the step in which you make sure you get the fish up to at least 145°F, to kill off any bacterias and other critters in the fish. The heat-drying process is normally done in the smoker, but some people smoke their fish in a smoker to get the smokey flavor, then move the fish to an oven to do the heat-drying.
So now that you know the basics, try it yourself!