There are a lot of recipes and techniques for smoking fish, but this reduced salt cure is my hands-down favorite for salmon. Turn your fresh salmon into a real flavor treat for the family with this age-old method of smoking fish.
- 1 cup brown sugar
- ½ cup white sugar
- ¼ cup salt
- 1 tablespoon garlic powder
- ½ tablespoon onion powder
- ½ tablespoon smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- Salmon fillets
- Wood chips for smoking
Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Depending on how much fish you are going to smoke, you may have to double or triple the batch. You will need enough of the mixture to cover the fish completely.
Rinse your fillets and pat dry with a paper toweling. Skin on fillets are the best for smoking. Portion the fish into the size you want to smoke. I usually will cut each fillet in half for the smaller fish or in thirds to quarters for the larger fish.
You will need a glass or plastic container to brine the fillets in that will hold all the fish and still fit in the refrigerator. Start with a layer of the cure on the bottom. Place a layer of fish, skin side down and cover completely with the cure. Repeat with the remaining fillets and add what remaining mixture is left over the top. Seal the container with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 8-hours. If your fish is really thick, you may want to go a few more hours. Remove the container from the refrigerator and check the progress. The cure will have drawn moisture out of the fish and made a slurry in the container.
Rinse each piece under cold water to remove the cure and pat dry. At this point you can add some cracked black pepper, some dill or a touch of cayenne pepper as additional flavoring. Let the fillets sit out in the open air for at least ½ hour until a glossy sheen or pellicle develops. This pellicle is a protein film that will help the smoke flavor absorb into the fish.
Now it is time to smoke! What type of wood to smoke with is the next question. I love alder wood for salmon. Apple or cherry woods also work well, but I have had the best results with alder. The ideal temperature for this recipe is 190 degrees Fahrenheit. Bring your smoker up to temperature. Add your wood chips and get them smoking well before putting the fish in the smoker. Place the fish, skin side down on the racks, leaving space between the fillets. The fish will smoke quickly, so monitor it closely. Check the meat in a half hour and every 10 minutes after. By separating a piece at its thickest point you can check the process to achieve the texture you like. Do not smoke it too long or it will dry out. Usually, 40 to 60 minutes is sufficient. Thinner fillets will be done the soonest. Remove all the fish from the smoker when done and let cool.
There is nothing like fresh smoked salmon right out of the smoker. It is an outstanding appetizer and can be used in many other recipes. Smoked salmon pasta is incredible and it can really add a delicious flavor to a casserole. It is phenomenal with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc or an ice cold beer. My advice is to go out and catch some salmon and smoke it!