I don’t make salmon often since my wife can’t stand it, but when I got my new smoker I knew I had to do a batch of hot smoked salmon, as it is one of my favorite things in the world. I also really like the more traditional cured/cold smoked salmon that often accompanies bagels, but hot smoked salmon just can’t be beat, in my opinion.
As luck would have it, as I was shopping, last weekend, for things to try out in my new smoker, I came across some wild sockeye salmon at my local grocery store. Despite its having been previously frozen (not necessarily a bad thing when it comes to hot smoking salmon), the fish looked great and I knew immediately that I would have to buy a side and smoke it.
Unlike cured/cold smoked salmon, that takes days to make, hot smoked salmon can be done in a single day, and is a rather simple process. One thing to remember though is this salmon is not fully cured to the point of preservation so it should be kept under refrigeration when done and should be eaten within a week.
The brine for this recipe is pretty straight forward. Feel free to add any other flavorings that you feel would go well with salmon. Replace the brown sugar with maple syrup, cane syrup or even plain white sugar. Add coriander and/or various other spices and herbs such as tarragon or dill.
I slightly overcooked my salmon as you will be able to see in one of the photos, but because the wild salmon I used had such a high fat content it still came out nice and moist.
Hot Smoked Salmon
1/2 gallon cold water
3/4 cup kosher salt
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp. freshly cracked pepper
1 side wild caught salmon (use a smaller fish, 1-2 pounds for this recipe. Any larger and you might need to increase the brine)
freshly cracked black pepper
Combine 2 cups of water, the salt, sugar and pepper in a pot and bring to a boil to dissolve the salt and sugar. Once dissolved stir this into the remaining cold water. Make sure the temperature of the brine is 40°F or lower. Pour into a large pan, big enough to accommodate the side of salmon. Weigh down the salmon to ensure it is fully submerged. Brine for 1 hour per inch of thickness of the fish, with a minimum of 1 hour brining.
Once brined removed from liquid and quickly rinse off under cold, running water. Place on an oiled rack, skin side down and gently dry the surface. At this time you can add addtional seasonings such as spices or herbs. I chose to add freshly cracked black pepper. Place in front of a fan and allow to dry for about 1 1/2 – 2 hours, or until the surface is dry and slightly tacky. This is called the pellicle and it is a layer of proteins that will help protect from too much moisture loss during smoking. It also creates the ideal surface for smoke to stick to, and, in instances where smoking is used as a preservation method it also helps to keep the fat from rising to the surface and spoiling. For us, it is the first 2 reasons, for forming the pellicle, that matter.
Once dried place the salmon in the cold smoker. By starting in a cold smoker you run less of a risk of drying out your salmon and will achieve a better flavor. Start your smoker, and if possible set it for 160°F. Once your smoker reaches this temperature, which should take about 20-30 minutes, start monitoring the internal temperature of you salmon and pull it when it hits between 155-160°F
I allowed the temperature of my salmon to get away from me (sorry got caught up in a TV show!), and it cooked a little too far. The white you see on the surface of the fish is protein that is being squeezed out of the fish. This usually results in a dry product, but I caught it just in time, barely, and it turned out fine. Monitor the temperature of your salmon to make sure this doesn’t happen. This can also happen if you are smoking your fish at too high of a temperature so monitor the temperature of your smoker.
From start to finish this project took me approximately 4 hours, with only about 30 minutes worth of actual work, so this can easily be accomplished in an afternoon. Of course, if you don’t have a smoker you can still create great tasting hot smoked salmon on your covered grill, using just enough charcoal to maintain that 160°F temperature.