So first and foremost, I have to thank Bearcarver for his amazing step-by-step guides and for helping me almost every time I smoke. I wouldn't have the first clue on how to smoke salmon if it weren't for him. The smoking process is very similar to what he taught me, but I use a different brine/marinade. My process as diverged enough that I thought I would share a slightly different take on his original process.
Here is my marinade. I've come to understand that because of all the citrus fruits/acid used, it is a marinade and not a brine. And even though I call it mine, obviously I started with something I found on the internet and modified it to my liking. Here are the ingredients:
- 6 cups water
- 2 cups apple juice
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- lemon pepper to taste
- 1 (3 ounce) package dry crab and shrimp seasoning mix
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 cloves garlic, crushed or to taste
- 1 dash hot pepper sauce (optional)
- 2 lemons, sliced and crushed
- 1 orange, sliced and crushed
- 1/2 lime, sliced and crushed
- 1/2 large yellow onion, sliced
I think the key here is to not get locked into any particular ingredient or measurement too firmly. I've found that in this recipe, I can never taste the old bay or the lemon pepper. Even adding generous amounts of habanero hot sauce didn't really effect the flavor much. When I haven't had oranges, I've used orange juice. Sometimes I don't have any limes. Sometimes I'll use onion/garlic powder instead of the real stuff. And if I feel like adding a little more of something, I add it :)
I don't typically boil this and cool it off... even with all that sugar and salt, after a minute of stirring it all seems to dissolve just fine. The only thing I notice when I'm all done and dump it out is all the pepper seems to just sink to the bottom.
The fruitiness of this marinade really shines through in the salmon, and in my opinion, is a very good match. I've smoked salmon in more traditional brines with more spicy ingredients, but my wife and I really prefer this one over anything else we've tried.
Anyway, once all of that is mixed together, I'll start cutting up the salmon. First, I cut it long ways down the center:
Next, I just cut it into pieces a few inches wide:
Next, I throw it all in the marinade:
One thing I didn't do this time around but is smart to do, is after you cut and squeeze the lemons/limes/oranges, leave all of the rinds out and add them after you put all of the salmon in. This keeps the salmon submerged.
Since this isn't brine, you can leave it in for quite a while. I think I put my salmon in the marinade around 10-11AM and didn't take it out until about 8AM the next day.
When it's time for the salmon to come out, I just lay down a double layer of paper towels, then take each piece out, pat it off with another paper towel, and lay it out to dry for a couple of hours to allow the pellicle to form. I think I left mine out for 3 1/2 hours. Note that you will go through a lot of paper towels :)
Now it's time for smoke :) I highly recommend using alder wood, although it's perfectly fine to use whatever else you want, including hickory. On this smoke, I actually used about 75% alder 25% hickory mixture. I think next time I'll probably go back to straight alder. The alder wood imparts a sweet, almost buttery richness to the fish that's hard to describe.
I heat my MES40 to 140 degrees, throw the fish on some racks, and throw the racks into the smoke!
The cooking process involves 2 phases.
For the first phase, the salmon stays in the smoke at 140 for 4 hours. For the second phase, it's kind of up to you what to do next. My wife and I love sushi and sashimi. As long as salmon is properly frozen to kill all of the parasites, it can be eaten raw, so I'm perfectly fine with it not being fully cooked through past this point.
The "safe" cooking temp for salmon is 140. To get it up to this temp, leave the smoke rolling and crank the heat up to 180. I would highly recommend making sure no piece goes above 140 as it can dry out very quickly. In fact, I would recommend removing the thicker pieces from the heat around 130 and letting them coast their way up, so the final temp never breaks 140. The very thin pieces can probably be removed right away after the first phase. I always like to grab a piece and take a bite just to test it.
If you don't mind eating your fish a bit on the raw side, I would say crank it to 180 for 1 hour after the first phase and pull it. Obviously, the very thin pieces will cook much faster than the thick pieces, so you might want to take some of those off right after the 1st phase. Again, it's just up to you and your preference.
Once you pull them off the smoker, leave them uncovered for a couple of hours. Some even leave it uncovered in the fridge overnight, but there have been times where I've had to leave and didn't leave it uncovered at all. I've found that it's not that huge of a deal either way.
Moisture can start to appear on the salmon. Whether this is just internal water or actual fish oil that people pay a lot of my for in capsule form, I'm not sure. If you find it displeasing, you can wipe it off, but I like to leave it on for the added moisture and any nutritional and omega-3 fatty acids that might be present.
I personally find that when this comes right off the smoker, the favor is a bit... well... harsh is the wrong word. It's like the flavor isn't smooth. It's "rough". It's hard to describe, but I've found that the day after is when it really comes to life.
And for the really odd part about all of this... when I first followed Bearcarver's instructions, I asked him how to heat it back up without overcooking it. His response was basically "Not sure, I always eat it cold". I think he went on to say that the microwave would probably be fine. I found this very odd... eating salmon cold? Weird. Now, there's no other way I'll eat it. This stuff is so amazing. I'll leave a significant portion in the fridge, and vacuum seal/freeze the rest, then anytime I get hungry, I'll go grab a chunk and eat it.... cold! I can easily do this all day long and never get sick of it. My wife and I were walking through Sam's Club a while back and they were giving out samples of baked salmon. We both tried it and laughed and said we had no desire to eat a baked salmon again. The flavor just doesn't compare and smoked salmon is now my favorite meal in the world!
After the last smoke, I found that pulling the salmon directly after the first phase did result in the texture of the fish being a bit rubbery and I'm finding that I'm starting to like it more a little well done when smoking. So for the 2nd phase I just left them all in for 2 hours at 180. I pulled them when I found the texture a little more favorable, not necessarily when it hit a certain IT.
Edited by turick - 10/15/14 at 6:00am