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The Chef’s Table

July 14, 2008

Q: I would like to smoke salmon fillets on my barbecue grill. What, if anything, do I need to do to the salmon beforehand? Also, how long should it smoke and over how much heat? Also, what kind of wood chips do you recommend? Looking forward to your tips and recipes._John D.

P.S. Would another fish work better?

A: First let’s remember that there are two types of smoked fish: cold smoked fish (for which the temperature never exceeds 90 degrees) and hot smoked fish (still using relatively low temperature ranging between 140-180 degrees. P.S. By the way, any fish can be smoked, but those that are high in fat _ the ones that pack the most Omega 3 and 6 nutrients _ are the best because they are less likely to dry out. Salmon is a terrific choice.

These days we smoke fish and meats for flavor. But you can bet that shortly after early man discovered how to use fire, he learned that by smoking or curing meat and seafood he was preserving food that could be used during winters when fishing and hunting were hard to do. Historians believe all cultures had some form of curing and smoking, but the earliest “fish smoking factory” was discovered in Poland and it dates back to the seventh century.

I’m sure those who smoked meat and fish in ancient times used whatever wood they found nearby, and actually just about anything will work. But we have more choices these days and I do have my favorites. Personally, I like fruit woods like apple, cherry, peach, and pear. Oak and alderwood also go nicely with salmon. You certainly can use harder woods like mesquite, hickory, and maple, but you may want to mix them with other varieties because they can give a bitter taste. You want to be able to taste the salmon more than the smoke.

You’re probably wondering why I’ve been throwing around the term “curing” since it wasn’t part of your question. Curing (we’ll talk about how to deal with my mental state later) actually goes hand in hand with smoking seafood or meat and it does many things, some of which need large scientific words that are lost on me two seconds into the explanation. On a simple level, curing seals the fish or meat by removing some moisture and preventing the natural fats from rising to the surface, which would cause spoilage. Sealing the fish or meat also keeps the remaining moisture in. The bottom line is that curing is easy and it makes a difference.

Curing is done two ways. You almost always use a dry salt and sugar cure when cold smoking, and a wet cure or brine for hot smoking _ which is what we are going to do. Almost every brine for this purpose includes salt, sugar, and water. You can add your own spices to create various flavors. If you are preparing eight-ounce salmon fillets, you should plan to keep them in brine about an hour before smoking. Use approximately half a gallon of brine for every two pounds of fish. I hope you enjoy the recipe, John. I doubt you’ll get any negative feedback, but if you do _ just tell them to stuff it in their pie … and smoke it.

JOHN’S “HOT SMOKED” SALMON

2 pounds salmon fillets

{ cup kosher salt

\ cup brown sugar

{ gallon water

Optional spices to taste: fennel seeds, cumin, dill, garlic, ginger, black pepper, etc.

Place salmon in a shallow baking dish, or resealable bag. Place water in a saucepan and add the salt and sugar. Heat just until salt is dissolved. Completely cool and pour over salmon. Brine in the refrigerator 1 to 1{ hours. Remove salmon from brine and place salmon on wire racks to dry for about 30 minutes. Prepare smoker. When the smoker is ready, place the salmon on the top rack and smoke for about 1 to 2 hours. Salmon is done when it no longer appears wet, flakes easily, but is still moist.

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