With the summer smoking season half way through, I thought it was a good time for another guest blog post on my latest adventure — this time about delicious, low, slow cooking. After diving into the world of pork and beef products it was time to change things up and try my hand at smoking fish. The first type of fish that naturally came to mind was salmon; I could already taste the briny, salty goodness melting in my mouth on a bagel with tangy capers and smooth cream cheese.
Since acquiring my smoker I’ve had hesitations about smoking fish. Not because I don’t enjoy it, quite the contrary. It was the temperature of the smoking that worried me; fish needs to be smoked at a much lower temperature than pork or beef products (almost 100 degrees less in some cases). I was concerned that my smoker would just get too hot and I’ve have trouble maintaining such a low temperature. Also, the fact that my rudimentary smoker’s temperature is devoid of numerical values, and uses a “Warm, Ideal, Hot” for its descriptive system can be a bit tricky. I settled on the notion that 140 degrees (the temperature required to smoke salmon) was in the “Warm” range.
Now with most smoking ventures, there is a multistage preparation process that usually involves day. For smoking fish, this is the brining step. I didn’t want to overcomplicate things so I found one of the easiest brines to make. Simply combine the following ingredients in a large mixing bowl or container of your choice:
- 4 cups water
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 stalk sliced celery
- 1/2 cup chopped fennel
- 1/2 chopped onion
- 2 smashed garlic cloves
After these are mixed well, place your salmon pieces into the bowl, cover and refrigerate. I’ve read that there is no specific amount of time you need to brine, but the thicker the cut of fish, the longer you will want to brine. I was dealing with some fairly hearty cuts of salmon so I brined it overnight for a total of 12-14 hours (can’t remember exactly).
Once the brining is complete it is important to dry out the fish. This is done by placing the fish on a rack, plate, or other item and letting it sit in a cool room for 2-3 hours. The desired room temperature is apparently 65 degrees but if you don’t want to run up a giant electric bill, just run a fan over the salmon in an air-conditioned room to help keep the room cooler. It was also critical to close the door of the room where I was drying the fish, or else our cat would have had a feast of epic proportions (so mind those pets!).
After the drying out process you are ready to smoke. I got my charcoal going and chose to use a combination of apple and hickory wood chips. I read that both, among others, are good for smoking fish, so I figured why not get a little crazy and see what happens? Once the smoker was ready, I placed the cuts of salmon on there and by some beginner’s luck, was able to keep the temperature low enough to not overcook the fish. Smoking times will vary depending on the size and type of fish but it actually only took a little over an hour for these guys to cook to perfection. The tell is that the salmon will easily flake off, as a good smoked fish should.
I served the salmon to a small group of people. We lathered up some pumpernickel bread with cream cheese, the salmon, and some capers and went to town. The first attempt in smoking something new has tended to be a hit or miss venture with me, but this one was a direct hit. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed it and I’ve already done it a second time with equally good results. The second round is pictured here.
Guest Post Blogger Bryan