The results are in... Sorry for the delay
We had a grand taste-in where all of the salmon cure types were cooked in an identical way 180 C (350 F) for 14 minutes. These were then laid out and the tasting panel were asked to rate all batches for the following:
- Texture - from 1-10, where 1 is worse and 10 is best
- Saltiness - from 1-10 where 1 is less salty and 10 is more salty. Ideal saltiness was to be rated as 5
- Flavour - From 1-10 where 1 had the least flavour and 10 had the most.
- Other comments if applicable
I did also add in a 10th sample which was from the freezer which was Sugar:Salt 1:1 dry brine for 2 hours. Unfortunately I dont have cure weight loss data for this sample.
Each taster was encouraged to taste the batches in a random order and also to taste as much as they needed in order to rate then. When complete the score sheets were then collected and the ratings for each section averaged and rounded to the nearest whole number. The results are as follows...
All of the textures were deemed to be good and there was little to choose between them. There was a marked physical difference between the textures of the wet brined fillets compared with the dried brine, however both of these textures were deemed to be good. There was some spread of data however the differences in average scores between 6 and 7 were often as a result of rounding.
Salt tolerance is a very individual thing and there was quite a bit of spread in the data. What we are testing here though is the relative perception of the saltiness and not the actual salt content. This will have been affected both by the moisture content of the salmon and also its relative sweetness
The flavour of each was determined by the balance of texture, salt and sweetness. Each sample also had a good smoke flavour.
Both of the wet brines came out well (average or above) however the lower sugar dry brines seemed to have a better balanced flavour than the higher sugar dry brines. Howeverthis may be influenced by food culture, as the US pallet tends to have a greater preference for sweeter foods than the UK pallet.
Most just ticked the comment box however there were some comments left beside certain batches.
1 - Dave Omak wet brine - "Good flavour and nice texture"
3 - Smoking 101 Dry brine - "Much too sweet!", "Almost sickly", "I think the cats will get most of this one"
4 - 2:1 Dry brine - 2 hours (fresh) - "A little sweet"
6 - 4:1 Dry brine - 2 hours (fresh) - "A little sweet"
8 - 2:1 Dry brine - 4 hours (fresh) - "Too sweet"
10 - 1:1 Dry brine - 2 hours - "Best overall balanced flavour"
I must concur with the comment on batch 3. It was unpleasantly sweet.
Frankly I was surprised how well all (bar one) of the curing methods fared and how generally similar they all were. Most of the cures though resulted in fish that was deemed to be too sweet - although still edible. Most of these recipes were from American posts and so the sweeter preferences may be cultural.
The Smoking 101 dry brine salmon was unpleasantly sweet even after the specified 14 hours. It was suggested that you could leave the salmon in the brine for days (or even weeks) but I think this would have only made it taste even sweeter.
If you like a slightly wetter textured fish then Dave Omaks cure fared well in all of the categories and I enjoyed eating it. The prolonged smoking that Dave then uses to hot smoke the finished product would likely reduce the moisture content further and result in a firmer end texture.
In general the lower the Sugar:Salt ratio the better the end balance of flavour reported. The 1:1 ratio cured for 2 hours was given the best flavour rating - however this had been cured a month or so ago and had been subsequently frozen. It is possible that the freezing process may have had an additional effect on the flavours. This was my favourite too.
There was a major difference in the texture of the fish immediately following the cure. The wet brines resulted in a significantly softer texture than the dry brines however these did firm up a little through moisture loss during smoking - however they never reached the firmer textures of the dry cured fish.
Freezing the fish prior to curing resulted in a consistent additional ~2% greater moisture loss than the fresh cured fillet. If you are looking to produce a traditionally cold smoked salmon then freezing prior to curing would assist the process.
I hope some of you found this comparison interesting and informative. I certainly have.