A little bit fishy – first attempt at smoked salmon

Time: 15 minutes – Patience: 24 hours – Difficulty: Easy – Knackyness: Low

As the smoker build was progressing well, my mind of course turned to what to put in for the first experimental firing along with the piece of bacon I’ve been curing this week.

I’ve never smoked or even cured fish before but there were a couple of tail-piece salmon fillets in the Co-op this afternoon.  Opinions seem to vary incredibly widely on how long one should cure the salmon for (and indeed whether table salt or curing salt are required), whether to dry cure or brine, and then how long a smoke is required (with opinions ranging from 6 to 36 hours!).  Since I planned to run the smoker the next morning, and the fillet is small and thin (and has also been robbed of it’s skin – something I didn’t notice when I bought it) I went for the lowest of all the estimations, and the simplest of approaches.

I used:

  • A 125g farmed Atlantic salmon tail fillet (skinless – not ideal)
  • Very simple dry cure made from 30g of sea salt and 15g of golden caster sugar

Salmon, with cure appliedWeighed down with tinRub the cure generously into both sides of the fish with some extra under the fillet.  Then weigh the fillet down with a plate and a can of tomatoes to encourage the water to come out of it.  Leave the fillet like this in the fridge for six hours.

Salmon fillet after curingAfter six hours the fillet should be flatter, firmer, darker in colour and lighter in weight.  The photograph is the same fillet as above.  After six hours of curing there was lots of salt still left in the bowl, along with quite a bit of pickle (the liquid which has oozed out of the fish).  The fillet, rinsed and dried weighed 111g, a 14g weight loss in water in six hours.

Now put the fish, uncovered, on a rack in the fridge overnight.  In the morning it will have formed a shiny pellicle, and lost a bit more weight (mine was 109g by this time).  Time now to load my home-built cold smoker for it’s maiden voyage…

Salmon after smoking - skinned sideSalmon fillet after smokingAfter ten hours of cold oak smoke, the fillet is 106g (a 19g total weight loss which is about 16% – not far off the 17-18% I’ve seen recommended).  It has a glossy, slightly oily surface, a firm texture, and smells more of smoke than it does of fish.    I would describe it as ‘lightly smoked’, for reasons I’ll discuss further in the write-up of the first (rather experimental!) burn in the smoker.  Because I don’t know enough about the storage conditions of the fillet before I bought it, I plan to cook with it instead of eating it raw – probably tomorrow night. Expect a post-sampling update!


6 thoughts on “A little bit fishy – first attempt at smoked salmon

  1. Pingback: Creamy home-smoked salmon pasta | Country Skills for Modern Life

  2. Pingback: First smoke! Testing the DIY cold smoker | Country Skills for Modern Life

  3. Surprised you would bother to cook the salmon if you cure and smoke the salmon first. If you were going to cook it anyway, then you would have been better off to just marinade and grill the salmon which is also very tasty. My guess is that after cooking the cured and smoked salmon it was hard and rubbery and only good for the dog to chew…

    • Of course I’d much rather eat lovely raw smoked salmon – but while I’ve been experimenting, and when I’ve been not entirely confident of the quality of the outcome, I’ve tended to err on the side of food safety! Actually the smoked salmon cooks really well and the flavour is gorgeous – absolutely no chance of the dog getting his paws on any!

  4. How do you prevent smoked salmon from becoming rubbery? Does rubbery salmon mean too much head. Heat that was too high?

    • I’m not entirely sure – with the technique I’ve been using it’s not a problem I’ve encountered. Certainly high temperatures during smoking may be a factor, though commercial smokers operate warmer than I do.

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