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How to Smoke a Whole Side of Salmon

Gordon loves cooking and experimenting with food. He loves making new dishes, particularly with unusual or underused ingredients.

Fresh Scottish salmon side ready for smoking

Fresh Scottish salmon side ready for smoking

Scottish smoked salmon is considered to be a great delicacy and can be fairly expensive to buy. If smoked salmon is something for which you have a great fondness, investing in a home smoker and learning how to smoke salmon can represent considerable long-term cost savings.

The salmon can either be cold smoked or hot smoked, each giving the fish a very different appearance and texture. When the salmon is cold smoked, its appearance and texture are very similar as to when it is raw. When it is hot smoked, there is heat involved in the process, which cooks the fish as well as smokes it. The procedures in this article relate to hot smoking salmon, although the brining is an essential part of both procedures.

Preparing the Salmon

Whether you have bought the salmon or caught it yourself, remember that even after it has been filleted, there are still likely to be pin bones, which will have to be removed. Your fishmonger may take care of this for you if you ask him nicely, but failing that, it is far better to attend to this task prior to smoking than afterwards. These pin bones are found by running your hand along the flesh, against the grain. A pair of tweezers is the ideal tool with which to remove them.

You should also take care to ensure that the piece of salmon you have will fit in to your smoker. In this instance, the whole fillet was just shy of 20 inches in length and weighed three and a half pounds. It was, therefore, slightly too long for the smoker. Instead of just trimming a little bit off, a third of the fillet was cut away at the tail (narrow) end and used for an alternative purpose. This still provided enough smoked salmon for four generous or six decent portions.

The brining solution is added to a dish capable of holding the salmon and solution

The brining solution is added to a dish capable of holding the salmon and solution

The salmon fillet is added to the brining solution

The salmon fillet is added to the brining solution

The salmon fillet is covered and left to steep in the solution

The salmon fillet is covered and left to steep in the solution

Brining the Salmon

It is necessary to season the salmon before it is smoked. There are some who do this simply by rubbing salt and other seasoning ingredients in to the flesh of the salmon but soaking it in a brining solution gives the seasoning a much more even distribution. There are any number of brine recipes that you can find from books or from Google, but why not experiment to find the one you prefer? The brining solution recipe featured here is one that came about simply through experimentation.

Ingredients

  • 3 pints of cold water (UK measurement, 3 pints = 60 fluid ounces)
  • 3 tablespoon sea salt
  • 2 teaspoon juniper berries
  • 2 bay leaves, roughly torn
  • 1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds

Instructions

  1. Measure out the cold water into a large bowl or basin. Add all the other ingredients and stir well to dissolve the salt.
  2. Pour into a dish that is big enough and deep enough to hold the salmon and brining solution. Carefully lay the salmon in the dish and ensure it is completely covered by the brining solution.
  3. Cover the dish and leave the salmon to soak for 30 minutes, while you turn your attention to preparing your smoker.

Tips on Choosing the Right Home Smoker for You

The type of smoker you buy will depend on a number of factors. It will depend on your budget and your own personal preferences, but it will also depend very much on the availability of space (outdoors or indoors) in which to use it. There are some smokers that are obviously only for use outdoors, but equally, there are other, smaller-scale types that can be used in some indoor situations.

Be very careful when selecting a smoker that, if you are intending using it indoors, you select one designed for this purpose and take careful account of all safety procedures at all times.

Top Tip for Learning How to Smoke Salmon

The biggest problem in providing instructions for smoking fish is that there are so many variables attached to the procedure, which makes a precise list of the steps and timescales nigh on impossible to provide. One of those variables is the difference in smokers.

When you buy a smoker, after you have read the instructions, do not immediately rush out and buy an expensive piece of salmon. Instead, experiment with cheaper fillets of fish until you get to know your own device. The types of fish that you consider will obviously vary both by geographical location and time of year, but mackerel is an excellent choice if you can get it. Mackerel is similar to salmon in that it is an oily fish, making it ideal for smoking, and smoked mackerel is absolutely delicious to eat in many ways.

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Smoker burners in this instance are fuelled by metholated spirits

Smoker burners in this instance are fuelled by metholated spirits

Oak chips are placed in the base of the smoking compartment

Oak chips are placed in the base of the smoking compartment

The lid is clipped on to the smoking compartment and it is laid on top of the burners

The lid is clipped on to the smoking compartment and it is laid on top of the burners

Preparing Your Smoker

It is necessary to get the smoker on to preheat and get the smoke circulating prior to adding the salmon. This is the point in the procedures where different smokers will require different levels of preparation time, and different actions will be required. Reading the instructions carefully for your particular smoker and any experience you have with cheaper types of fish is really what it is all about.

This smoker works by having three meths-fuelled burners underneath the smoking compartment. The wood chips (oak in this instance) are added to the base of the smoking compartment, which is sat on top of the lighted burners. Each burner can be adjusted, and a valve on the top of the smoking compartment allows the smoke levels to be controlled. This valve should be closed at the stage of preparing your smoker.

This smoker takes about 15 minutes from the point of lighting the burners to create sufficient smoke for the salmon to be added. This means that starting to assemble and fire up the smoker after the salmon is in the brining solution is nigh on perfect timing.

Do always remember that the main body of the smoking compartment will get very hot and that heat protecting gloves should be used at all stages of the procedure.

The brined salmon fillet is rinsed in cold water and patted dry

The brined salmon fillet is rinsed in cold water and patted dry

Using a sharp knife to cut in to the salmon allows you to tell when it is ready

Using a sharp knife to cut in to the salmon allows you to tell when it is ready

Smoking the Salmon

When your salmon has been in the brining solution for half an hour, remove it and rinse it briefly under running cold water to remove excess salt crystals and perhaps any pieces of seed, berry or leaf. Pat it gently dry with kitchen paper. Lay it on your smoker rack, skin side down, and carefully into the smoking compartment.

Experience will fairly quickly teach you how long salmon takes to smoke in your smoker, and the eye will quickly learn how to tell when it is done. At first, follow the instructions for the smoker and check for doneness by carefully easing a sharp pointed knife into the thickest part of the salmon and looking to see whether it is cooked right through. Remember, salmon should never be overcooked or it will dry out.

This piece of salmon, in this smoker, took just 20 minutes to cook to perfection.

The smoked salmon can be served immediately while still hot or left to cool and served cold. This piece of smoked salmon was served hot with clapshot and broccoli.

Hot smoked Scottish salmon with clapshot and broccoli

Hot smoked Scottish salmon with clapshot and broccoli

Are You a Fan of Smoked Salmon?

Thank you for visiting this page, and I hope that you have found it interesting. It is amazing how much fun can be had with a smoker, and as well as smoking salmon and other fish, you could try smoking beef, chicken, duck and a great deal more.

Any comments or feedback that you have may be left in the space below.

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