Cafeteria / Smokin’ Salmon
5/29/13: Since I’m sort of a pescatarian now (mainly a vegetarian, but will also eat fish), I was looking for ways to get fancy with some salmon, since salmon is supposed to be high in omega 3s and really good not only for those with MS, but also just on GP (“general principle”). So I Googled and searched many different recipes, and I settled on one by someone named Hank Shaw1 for starters. (You know I have to put my own spin on things after I get the starter recipe…) Turns out that I used this recipe for smoking salmon AND oysters. And let me tell you: the smoked oysters are GOOD!
Yes: smoking your own fish takes more time than going to Walmart and buying a package of already-smoked fish. But by doing it yourself, it brings so much pleasure to say “I did that!”
1. Prepare a brine
Brining saturates the fish basically with salt, sugar, and some flavor. Brining gets the fish ready for smoking.
– 4 cups of water
– ¼ cup of kosher salt
– ¼ cup of agave nectar (OR, if you’re not on a refined sugar restriction like I am, you can use brown sugar)
– 2 bay leaves
– 1 stalk of sliced celery
– ½ cup of chopped fennel
– ½ of a onion, chopped
– 2 smashed cloves of garlic
– Put everything in a large glass or ceramic pot (I used an old, previously unused crock pot, which has now been deemed as my brining pot).
2. Cure the fish
“Curing eliminates some of the moisture from inside the fish, while at the same time infusing it with salt, which will help preserve the fish”1.
– Salmon (or oysters). How much salmon? Dunno. How much do you want? I usually do about 2 – 4 big pieces of salmon. If I’m doing oysters, I will use 1 jar of fresh oysters.
– Put the fish (or oysters) inside the pot with the brine, then put the pot in the fridge. (The fridge part isn’t absolutely necessary, but I do it anyway.)
– Let the fish sit in the brine for at least 8 – 12 hours; though, I usually let mine sit for about 20 hours. E.g., I’ll prepare the brine on a Friday afternoon/evening, then take it out Saturday morning. So, that’s 8-12 hours minimum, and 3 days maximum.
3. Dry the fish
Air drying the fish helps it form a “pellicle, which is a thin, lacquer-like layer on top of the fish that seals it and offers a sticky surface for the smoke to adhere to”1.
a. Ingredients / Tools
– The cured fish from the brining pot
– A rack or grate to set the fish on for drying
– A small fan
– Optional/helpful: little ice packs
– Optional: Seasoning (e.g., Mrs. Dash Fiesta Lime)
– Put the fish on the rack, and place in it a cool place (less than 65o) that has good air circulation. You need the air circulation, so just laying it in the fridge won’t cut it.
- This is when I put an extra little seasoning on my fish. What do I use? Whatever I’m feeling at the time. Most often, I will use some Mrs. Dash (because you don’t need anything with salt in it). My favorite Mrs. Dash for this process is Fiesta Lime because it gives the fish some bright, smooth, peppery taste to it without being overbearing.
– What I do is set the rack on the counter (with some wax paper underneath the rack), set the fan in front of the rack, and set some little ice packs between the fan and the rack so that cool air blows on the fish.
– Let the fish dry this way for between 2 – 3 hours.
4. Smoke the fish
I sort of use a hybrid of smoking / steaming when I smoke my fish. Whatever the case, it’s a low-heat (140o max), slow-cooked (1-4 hours, depending on the thickness of the fish) sort of thing.
a. Ingredients / Tools
– The fish you just dried
– A smoker or BBQ grill that has an upper and lower rack. I use my BBQ grill because I don’t have a fancy Green Egg yet. Yet.
– An old pot or a smoking chip box. –I- use an old pot because I smoke-slash-steam my fish and oysters, and I want a pot that can hold the chips AND some water to create steam.
– Wood/charcoal. I use lump charcoal or wood chips to heat my grill.
– Smoking chips. I use either apple or cherry smoking chips, but any other fruit or nut wood should do.
– Optional: A fish grate/cage for the BBQ grill.
– Put on the wood/charcoal and crank up the grill. Note, though, that you don’t want the grill too hot. This is a low-heat kinda thing, remember? If your grill has a temperature gauge on it, 140o-150o max is good.
– I put the cherry smoking chips in the old pot, add some water, and set the pot on the lower grate of the grill.
– Put the fish in a BBQ fish grate/cage/pan (if you have one), and then set that on the top rack of the grill. The point is that the fish is not sitting on the hot grill at the bottom where the smoking chips are. It’s at the top where it’s just warm, and the smoke/steam from the chips can waft up and caress your fish.
– How long? You have to gauge it. Depends on how thick your cuts of fish are. It’s takes about 1 hour for thin fillets, and up to 4 hours for really thick cuts. The more you do this, the better you’ll be able to tell. In any case, the fish should be done when it can flake easily.
5. You’re Done!
If you have any left over, you can wrap it up and store it in the fridge for up to 10 days, or you can freeze it for up to 6 months.
1Shaw, H. (20xx). How to smoke salmon. Retrieved May 14, 2013 from http://fishcooking.about.com/od/smokebrine/ss/smokingfish_all.htm