I often joke that with a last name of “Salmon” I had two choices as a young man for a career path: 1) to become a fisherman or 2) to become a chef. There’s not a lot of commercial fishing in my hometown of Rochester, Minnesota, so here I am. At the Inn we smoke a lot of salmon. Generally when I refer to smoked salmon, I am referring to cold smoked salmon which is a cured side of salmon that is gently smoked at low temperatures. With cold smoking, the salmon is “cooked” by the curing process and exposed to smoke for flavor. The distinctive texture of cold smoked salmon comes from curing, and makes the flesh firm, but not crumbly like salmon exposed to heat. Hot smoked salmon, on the other hand is seasoned fresh salmon that is smoked at high temperatures (350 degrees) and the fish actually cooks through while smoking. Below is a recipe for a cure mix that I use at the Inn and a brief description on how to cold and hot smoke salmon.
Dry Cure Mix
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup kosher salt
1 Tablespoon dried dill
Mix all of the ingredients together.
Cold Smoked Salmon
Coat both sides of a one pound salmon fillet (skin on, pin bones removed) with 1/4 cup of the dry cure mix. Place the salmon in a small container with a lid and refrigerate for 24 hours. This process is known as curing. The salt will draw out a great deal of liquid from the salmon and preserve it, actually “cooking” the flesh. After 24 hours, gently rinse both sides of the salmon under cold water and place skin side down on the smoking rack. Cold smoke the salmon (at a maximum of 90 degrees) for 2 hours with cherry chips. This is a delicate process in the stovetop smoker. The best technique is to get the smoker going, add the salmon, close the cover and remove from the heat. Allow the smoke to be exposed to the salmon for 10 minutes off the heat then remove it from the pan and continue the process over and over for a full 2 hours. Add new cherry chips as necessary. Cold smoked salmon is best if allowed to rest for 24 hours and sliced very thinly.
Hot Smoked Salmon (or other firm fleshed fish)
Squeeze a little fresh lemon juice over 6 ounce salmon fillets (skin off, pin bones removed) and lightly coat with seasoning rub of your choice (see rubs and sauces section below). Place them on the lightly oiled smoking rack and smoke for 15 minutes with 2 Tablespoons apple, cherry or alder chips. Serve with a fruit salsa, herbed sour cream, mustard or chimi churri sauce.