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Smoking fish - An old dog can still learn new tricks

Discussion in 'UK Smokers' started by wade, Nov 5, 2015.

  1. wade

    wade Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    During my visit to Forman's salmon smokery on London last week (http://www.smokingmeatforums.com/t/236394/smoked-salmon-slicing#post_1479725) - I managed to spend some time with Darren Matson and discussed in detail the various techniques they use for smoking their salmon. They specialise in producing a mild "London Cure" salmon and the end result is exceptional (well it has to be for them to supply the likes of Harrods and Fortnum & Masons) - however several of the steps they used were somewhat different to mine. In the continuous process of refining my own technique I decided to try to incorporate some of their methods with mine at home.

    As it happens the Smoking Gods were with me and later Friday evening I got a call from one of my regular fisherman to ask if I could do something with the 10 large trout that he and a couple of friends had caught that day. This was an opportunity I could not refuse. He brought them round and they went in the fridge overnight.

    The next morning I started to prepare them.

    Variation 1. Whereas I would usually fillet and pinbone the fish before curing, they simply split the fish and removed the backbone. The fish is cured with the rib cage and other bones sill in.

    Variation 2, They cut away a number of small patches of skin along the thickest part of the body to help the cure penetrate evenly through the fish

    Variation 3. I usually cure my fish singly in the cure however they stack their fish up to 3 high. This saved a lot of space.

    For the cure they use crystalised rock salt as they say the type of salt (rock or sea salt) makes little difference to the end result - and they do not use any sugar in their cure. Here I stuck to my own cure combination of 50% Dead Sea salt and 50% sugar. By stacking the fish as they do I only needed to use about 1/3 of the amount of cure that I would usually use when curing them individually.

    They were left in the cure for 24 hours in the fridge before being thoroughly rinsed with cold running tap water to remove all remaining traces of the cure mixture. They were then patted dry with paper towel and stringed.

    Variation 4. Usually I smoke my large fish horizontally as I found that they distorted under their own weight when hanging. They showed me how the addition of a simple skewer placed at the top of the fish supports the weight during the drying and smoking. In the photo below you can see that I have used Weber kebab skewers to achieve the same result - my new skewers are now on order though.

    The fish were then smoked for 36 hours <<edit - I subsequently found that 24 hours is more than sufficient >>. Formans only smoke for 24 hours for their London Cure.

    Variation 5. Whereas I usually smoke at a low temperature for longer, Formans smoke their salmon at 25-28 C (77-82 F) to help speed up the drying process. I set the smoker to 26 C (79 F) for the smoke.

    <<Edit: I have subsequently found that a 24 hour smoke is sufficient to give the required water loss and smoke flavour>>

    When I took them out of the smoker they looked and smelled very good. A great colour, nice firm oily flesh and the skewers had really helped them to keep their shape.

    They were then put into the fridge overnight to rest.

    Slicing next day was really straightforward. The rib cage was easy to remove, with no wasted flesh, and the pinbones came out easily too,

    Variation 6. Where I would usually cure and smoke mine filleted I would leave the outer pellicle on when I slice. Formans always remove the pellicle before slicing - so I did too. The photo below was taken part way through the smoky pellicle being removed.

     The pellicle trimmings are not wasted though. These they use in their smoked salmon pate.

    I then sliced the trout using the traditional "D" cut.

    Slip the knife along the skin and the slices are removed leaving no waste.

    The slices were then weighed onto boards and vac packed.

    We all often get used to doing things in the same way time after time. My trip to Formans though gave me some great ideas to tweak and improve my method - and I will now be incorporating these changes into my standard smoking technique.
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2016
    Bearcarver likes this.
  2. smokin monkey

    smokin monkey Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Hi Wade, looks like you learned a lot from your trip to the Big Smoke!

    The cost saving on curing and be able to smoke vertically, could save a considerable amount of money!
  3. tombirmingham

    tombirmingham Fire Starter

    Awesome Wade ! So awesome, forgets a lot of the mainstream smoking philosophy which is great.

    I am fly-fishing next weekend in a trout river, maybe this could be the one !!
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2015
  4. chef jimmyj

    chef jimmyj Epic Pitmaster Staff Member Moderator Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Interesting concept, removing the pellicle! I can see where the remaining meat would be uniformily tender without the slightly dry tough edge. Plus you get a nice Pate to snack on!...JJ
  5. wade

    wade Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    They do leave the pellicle on for things like their herb crusted salmon however it is removed from all of their "premium" smoked salmon products.

    A particularly nice one they made was a Gin & Tonic smoked salmon - that was actually flavoured with Juniper berries and white wine.
  6. red robbo 69

    red robbo 69 Fire Starter

    That looks fantastic Wade. Did you find that removing the pellicle improved the flavour?
  7. wade

    wade Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    More the overall texture and overall appearance I think - though it did help to give a much rounder smoke flavour throughout the trout slices.
  8. Variation 5. Whereas I usually smoke at a low temperature for longer, Formans smoke their salmon at 25-28 C (77-82 F) to help speed up the drying process. I set the smoker to 26 C (79 F) for the 36 hour smoke.

    This information troubles me. I can't believe actual smokers would classify a cold smoke at 77-82* F. That's not really cold smoking.Anything over 24 hours should be maintained under 50* F.
  9. wade

    wade Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Hi SmokeTheFish

    The precise definition of "cold" smoking will vary slightly depending on where you are but generally the definitions are accepted to be:

    Cold smoking: Smokehouse temperatures for cold smoking are typically done between 20 to 30 °C (68 to 86 °F). In this temperature range, foods take on a smoked flavor, but remain relatively moist. Cold smoking does not cook foods. Meats should be cured before cold smoking.

    Hot Smoking: Hot smoking occurs within the range of 52 to 80 °C (126 to 176 °F). Within this temperature range, foods are fully cooked, moist, and flavorful

    Smoke Roasting:  Smoke roasting or smoke baking refers to any process that has the attributes of smoking combined with either roasting or baking. This smoking method is commonly referred to as "barbecuing", "pit baking", or "pit roasting". It may be done in a smoke roaster, closed wood-fired masonry oven or barbecue pit, any smoker that can reach above 250 °F (121 °C)
    This is not an accurate statement. Things like cheese, nuts, salt, vegetables etc. are commonly smoked above 50 F. Certainly uncured meats and fish would need to be smoked for only short periods of time at a cool temperature, however when smoking the salmon or trout the fish has been partially cured prior to going into the smoker and then the smoking completes the curing process. Commercially most/(all the ones I know) traditional smoked salmon producers smoke above 50 F

    However, since the trial I have found that the fish does only need 24 hours in the smoker to lose the required amount of water and take on sufficient flavour. This is what I now use use routinely. Lab tests have confirmed that both methods are safe.

    The purpose of curing is to prevent spoilage of the food - primarily by inhibiting the growth of spoilage bacteria. In the case of the smoked salmon/trout the control of bacterial growth is being achieved in 3 ways
    • By increasing the salt content of the fish
    • By reducing the free water. This is started during the initial salting process where the salt draws out up to 10% of the weight of the fish in water. This is completed during the smoke where the combination of the temperature and the air flow over the fish reduces the water content by ~18% of the initial weight of the fish.
    • By smoking. Wood smoke contains a number of chemicals that have antibacterial properties. Phenol and other phenolic compounds are both antioxidants, which slow rancidification  of animal fats, and are antimicrobials, which slow bacterial growth. 
    • By increasing the acidity. Formaldehyde, acetic acid, and other organic acids that are present in wood smoke have a low pH  (about 2.5).
    One hazard that is not removed by curing in this way however is botulinum. The reduction of free water and lowering of the pH will help to inhibit its growth however it can still be active. The time required for botiulinum spores to produce sufficient levels of toxin to be harmful is measured in days (10+) rather than hours and this is why smoked salmon is stored chilled or frozen once it has been produced - and why it usually has a use by date of less than 10 days. Some smokeries do process the salmon further, which enables the smoked cold salmon to be stored indefinitely at room temperature but I am not sure precisely how they do this.
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2016
  10. wade

    wade Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    I see from other posts that you do a lot of immersion brined fish. As the immersion brining actually results in the water content of the fish increasing and you are primarily relying on the increase in salt for the cure, I can understand that your smoking technique would be different.
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2016
  11. jakester

    jakester Meat Mopper

    so Forman's salmon smokery or yourself don't use curing salt #1?
  12. wade

    wade Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    The Nitrite would only be needed to protect the salmon from the spores like Botulinum and only then if it was to be stored for longer periods without being frozen. No there is no need to use any cure #1 as the end result is classed as, and treated like, a fresh product. It will have a shelf life of up to 10 days in the fridge at <40 F or will be frozen if kept longer. I do not know of many commercial smoked salmon producers that do use Nitrite in their production. Take a look at the ingredients of the commercial smoked salmon in your supermarkets and online and you will be hard pressed to find any that use Nitrite in their production.

    . There are several antibacterial steps that inhibit bacterial growth when making traditional smoked salmon:
    1. The addition of salt through the brine. Salt is an effective antibacterial agent in relatively low concentrations
    2. The addition of salt and sugar. The combination of these helps both remove water from the fish and also tie up available water that is still inside the fish.
    3. The removal of water from the fish. With traditional smoked salmon you are looking for an ~15-18% weight loss during the curing and smoking process due to the loss of water
    4. Smoke. Smoke is a mild antibacterial agent, although the amounts that are involved here are really more just for flavouring.
    If you were making something like a salmon jerky then you would need to add Nitrite/Nitrate
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2016
  13. Bearcarver

    Bearcarver SMF Hall of Fame Pitmaster Group Lead OTBS Member

    Very Interesting, Wade!! Looks Tasty!![​IMG]---[​IMG]

    Great Thread!![​IMG]

    Couldn't resist invading your Forum on this one![​IMG]

    Last edited: Nov 7, 2016
  14. wade

    wade Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Thanks Bear. You are not invading in the slightest - you are an honored guest [​IMG]  
  15. jakester

    jakester Meat Mopper

    I always under the impression that you are safe to cold smoke salmon that was cured without Nitrite if the fish was flash frozen when first caught but other wise you have a risk of getting sick since salmon has parasites. Salt alone doesn't kill parasites or am I wrong?
  16. wade

    wade Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Nitrite is used as an antibacterial agent and to my knowledge is not usually used for the control of parasites in smoked fish. Commercially wild caught salmon is classed as being a parasite risk however farmed Atlantic salmon is usually not. I did ask this question to Formans while I was there and they do not pre-freeze their salmon before processing.
  17. Hello Folks.  My buddy Wade knows WAY more about this than I do.  I just wanted to say Don't follow old wives tales.  "Rules"; are they really RULES?  Rules we follow for food safety IF they are correct.  Do your research or ask the questions.  Many folks here who can help with food safety.  When talking food safety; Wade has taken the time to explain his choices and explain the safety aspects.  Food safety MUST NOT be ignored.  Other "rules"/myths MAY be; such as this cut of meat must be smoked at X temp..  Just make sure you understand the difference between food safety and a "possible" myth.  And I only say "possible"; it may very well be true.

    GREAT thread Wade.  Very informative.  I need to get into this cold smoking.  You know Annette LOVES your salmon.  FISH in my smoker??  Do you promise not to tell anyone? Keep Smokin buddy.

  18. jakester

    jakester Meat Mopper

    For the cure they use crystalised rock salt as they say the type of salt (rock or sea salt) makes little difference to the end result - and they do not use any sugar in their cure

    I would like to try their smoked salmon because I NEVER heard anyone using straight salt (no sugar in their cure). Most cures that i have read call for about 70% sugar 30% salt and that equals out the saltness / sweetness so I just don't understand how 100% salt can be used and it's not salty. What am i missing here or what don't i understand?
  19. wade

    wade Master of the Pit Group Lead OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Theirs is a method called "London Cure" which has now achieved EU protected name status. It is a salt only cure with a very light smoke. When you taste it you actually taste more of the salmon than the smoke. Before I visited Forman's I had already developed a cure mix (50% salt: 50% sugar) that I liked and so continued to use that, even though I adopted some of their other techniques. I also use more smoke during the smoking stages than they do.

    During the visit they mentioned that the type of salt did not matter - and they use a fine grain salt - however when I first came back and tried it I found it ended up too salty for my taste. I therefore stayed with the coarse Dead Sea Salt that I usually used.

    Take a look at the video at the bottom of the page here. It shows you just how much/little salt they use. The also cure the salmon on racks that allow the extracted water/brine to drain off rather than remain in contact with the fillets.


    They do export a lot of their salmon to the USA and so you should be able to get hold of it.
  20. jakester

    jakester Meat Mopper

    Wade - First off I want to thank you for taking the time to answer my questions and explain in details. I absolutely love cold smoked salmon and really want to make same but i want to make sure my food safety is covered because I know consuming raw fish can be very dangerous.

    So any salmon fresh or frozen is safe to make cold smoked salmon? What wood do you use?