Fishing for a good smoked salmon recipe?
“Food is so primal, so essentially a part of our lives, often the mere sharing of recipes with strangers turns them into good friends.” Jasmine Heiler
I am going to reveal to you my husband’s, Paul Jones, famous smoked salmon recipe. Anyone who has had the pleasure of eating Paul’s smoked fish knows what I’m talking about. It melts in your mouth and overwhelms your senses. It is perfect.
Paul started commercial fishing at 16 years old in Northern California and that is about when he started smoking fish. He tried this and that recipe and was never satisfied. Every summer Paul would go up to Bristol Bay to commercially fish sock-eye salmon. He would make a point to taste everybody’s smoked salmon to see which one was the best. All the recipes were pretty good till he tasted this one, and he knew this one was the top dog. The set netter, who graciously shared his family recipe, said it was born from lots of trial and error, and was, hands down, the best one so far. And it is.
This recipe uses a dry brine opposed to a wet brine. Now a dry brine is like a dry rub, no fluid is used in the brining process.
Bristol Bay Smoked Salmon
The things you will need;
Wild caught salmon
(if you are using frozen fish, thaw first)
Dark brown sugar
Fresh cracked black pepper
A big bowl
(Paul prefers a “Big Chief Smoker” made by Luhr Jensen, that you can pick up at any sporting goods store for about $100. They also have smaller sizes to try out.)
Bag of alder wood chips
(You can get these at a sporting goods store)
Cut up the fish, leaving the skin on, into roughly 2” by 4” strips. Place a layer of fish into the chosen big bowl skin side down. Measure out 1 part salt and 2 parts brown sugar, so something like 1/3 cup salt and 2/3 cup brown sugar. Sprinkle the sugar first over the fish first then add the salt.
Pack it down firmly over the fish, then add another layer of the salmon, skin side down. Repeat the process with the sugar and salt with each layer of fish till the fish is all packed up like a bride’s suitcase. Cover the bowl and tuck in the fridge.
Now here is the tricky part; brine the fish in the refrigerator, for 12 hours for fresh fish and 6 hours for frozen fish. Frozen fish is slightly broken down so it absorbs the brine faster. This is the place most people ruin their fish, they over brine. DO NOT OVER BRINE! There are lots of places in this recipe to play with your creativity, but this is not the place.
Take out the fish from the fridge and remove it from the brine. You will be amazed because the brine has now turned to syrup! As you remove the fish, rub off any surplus of syrupy brine with your fingers. Place your fish in a cleaned sink or on a cutting board and dap off the excess moisture with some paper towels. Get out your sparkling clean racks from the smoker and spray them with cooking spray. (Very important or the fish really sticks!) Layer the fish on the racks about an ½ inch apart for good circulation then crack fresh black pepper over it to your liking.
Cover and let it rest at room temperature for about one hour to prevent a film forming on the fish when you smoke it. The film doesn’t hurt the fish, just looks unappetizing.
Now for the big show! Place the fish in the smoker and fill the little pan provided with chips and turn on your smoker. Let it smoke for about an hour and a half till all the wood is used up. Unplug it and let rest for 1 hour, then plug it back in and fill the pan again, and smoke for another hour and a half. Do this procedure three times, then check your fish to see if it is to your liking.
The top shelf gets done first, so sometimes you’ll need to remove that, and run the fish through one more batch of smoke. The more salmon you have in the smoker the more batches of wood you will have to burn to get it all smoked to perfection. The time you let the fish rest is very important for the flavor and texture, so don’t forget it. The smoked salmon is good in the fridge for about a week or two and it freezes well vacuum sealed. We often give smoked salmon for Christmas presents. Most of all have fun and enjoy this beautiful delicacy.