Cold smoked foods are either already cooked, are intended to be cooked, or are in the process of being cured. This cold smoked salmon recipe is for fresh fish that is cured with a Kosher salt and brown sugar rub. The reason Kosher salt is used in cold curing recipes is that it is coarse grained and has no added iodine like table salt. Kosher salt is also a low cost salt, which is good since you use a lot. Cold smoked salmon is a partially cured meat, which means after smoking you need to keep it refrigerated or frozen. The good news is that it will last for weeks in the refrigerator and indefinitely in the freezer.
At this point I’m sure you saying to yourself, “I’ve seen smoked salmon that is not refrigerated?” All I can say is yes it is possible, with the right combination of chemicals and flavor destroying techniques but both sort of defeat the purpose of eating salmon in the first place. This recipe provides you a chemical-free way of making smoked salmon for a fraction of the price you’d pay in the store. Anther important recommendation is don’t cheap out and buy farm raised salmon, not only is it not healthy (wrong omega fats), it’s dyed, and here’s the show stopper, farm raised salmon is literally feed chicken shit. Wild salmon is naturally pink because of their diet of shrimp. If shrimp turns wild salmon pink, imagine what chicken shit does to farm raised salmon.
The farm raised fish industry has devised all kinds of ways to deceive you, for example, labeling their fish as Pacific Salomon or Atlantic salmon, or ocean salmon. If you think about it, salmon are not native to the Atlantic, so an Atlantic salmon is obviously farm raised. You are looking for “Wild Caught” salmon. The two ways you’ll know is first, wild caught salmon has a rich red color and stronger fiber that frame raised can’t match, and second is the price, which can be from 25% to 75% higher than farm raised salmon.
You want the skin on your fish, it not only helps during the smoking process, but has natural oils that help keep the meat moist. Also, when it comes time to slice your smoked salmon into thin slices, having the skin on makes it easier. If possible, get fillets that have not been previously frozen, they have a better post-curing texture and taste but it’s only a slight advancement so don’t get too crazy trying to find fresh salmon.
I’m providing the recipe for one pound of salmon to make scaling up to the weight of your fillets easier. The important part of the recipe is that it’s one part salt to one part brown sugar. You can substitute table sugar for the brown sugar but I think you loose a lot in final product doing so.
There are three steps to curing fish. First, you salt cure the fish. This helps reduce the bacteria that can cause spoilage and illness. Second, is aging process where you allow the meat to develop a tacky protein coating called pellicle that helps the meat absorb the cold smoke. The final step in the fish curing process is cold smoking, which is a process where the fish is exposed to wood smoke away from the heat of the smoke generation. There are many cold smoking devices. I converted my hot smoker into a cold smoker by adding a smoke generator I built using an old Hibachi grill I picked up at a garage sale for two dollars.
- 680 g Salmon – skin on (1 lb)
- 255 g Kosher salt (0.75 cups)
- 255 g Brown sugar (0.75 cups)
- 4 g Coriander powder (*2 for crushed seeds) ~1 tsp powder or ~1 TBL crushed seeds
- 2 g Dill powder (*3 for fresh) ~1 tsp dry or ~1 TBL fresh
- Mise en Place – measure and prepare your ingredients prior to starting.
- Lay out a large piece of film ~2* the size of your fillet.
- Combine the dry ingredients an sprinkle 1 cup on film, 1″ beyond the size of your fillet.
- Place salmon, skin side down on cure.
- Sprinkle remaining cure on flesh side of fillet.
- Wrap tightly and refrigerate on a tray 24 hours, flipping after 12 hours.
- Lightly brush excess cure from fillet then soak fish in cold water for 20 mins. in the frig.
- Place fillet on a drying rack and let salmon rest in frig for 8 hours to develop the tacky coating called pellicle. This coating opens the fillets texture allowing the cold smoke to better be absorbed.
- Cold smoke your fillet under 80 deg F. 18 – 24 hours (see my blog on 2 cold smoking techniques). You want an even color and firm texture.
- If not eaten within three days, vacuum seal the fillets. The sealed bags are good for 3 weeks in the fridge and indefinitely in the freezer.
NOTE 1: Keep the skin on when you store the fillets. You want to slice the salmon thinly against the grain at a ~ 30 deg angle and the skin helps you keep the shaved slices together and it makes a nice way to wrap the unsliced portion.
NOTE 2: Cold smoking is an ancient method for preserving fresh food. The smoke has antibacterial properties that kill those little bacterial bastards in your fresh food that lead to spoilage and illness.