We finally got around to smoking a side of salmon yesterday, we’ve been aiming to do this for ages but keep missing out on sides of salmon at the fish mongers. Well, yesterday we were in luck, one left, a 2kg side of glorious salmon. Had a friend and his boys over for dinner so the salmon was great along side a slow cooked pork neck and Helen’s famous coleslaw.
Smoking the salmon is different to the other meats I smoke as it is a very quick process compared to the 10 hour beef or pork I usually do. Temperature though is much more vital, it’s so easy to overcook the salmon and dry it out. You need to know your smoker well and have a good meat thermometer to register the internal temp of your fish. Make sure you check your salmon for pin bones, if there is a bone in the fish the I can guarantee I’ll be the one the get it!
For this recipe you will need;
1 side of salmon of 2 large fillets
Zest and juice of 2 to 3 fresh limes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves or whatever takes your fancy
1 teaspoon coarsely-ground black pepper
1 teaspoon coarse or sea salt
1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (depending on size of fillets)
Juice of 1 lime for finish
Coarse salt, sea salt
Brine Formula: 2 1/2 tablespoons plain salt (without iodine) to 1 litre (4 cups) water.
Using approximately 1 Litre of water; heat water to just lukewarm. Add salt to the lukewarm water to make the brine; stir until dissolved. Add warm salt water to approximately an additional 4L cold water (I use my sink as a bowl for this step).
I am using approximately 5L of total water. Sometimes I use more. Just figure salt for the 5L (even if you use more water). 5L water x 2.5 tablespoons salt = 12.5 tablespoons of salt. So – I am using approximately 3/4 cup of salt total. I’m also adding green tea to the brine to help impart the flavour through the salmon.
Rinse the salmon in cold water. Place salmon, skin side down, in brine at for 20 minutes (make sure the fish is entirely covered by the brine).
After 20 minutes, gently remove salmon from brine and lightly rinse both sides with cold water to remove all traces of salt. Gently pat dry with paper towels.
Let salmon air dry on wire racks for at least 2 hours (this causes a “pellicle” – a tacky glaze on the fish to form. This indicates that it is ready for the smoking process).
Prepare your smoker according to manufacturer’s directions:
I have a Gas Smoker and I like to use cherry wood for most of my smoking(but any hard wood will work just fine), today though I’m using green tea leaves for the smoke. The temperature of your smoker should be between 95 and 110C. (no higher).
The easiest way to help keep the temperature low, is to control temp with the vents if you can’t set the burners low without it going out. Keep the top vents wide open, and use the bottom vents to adjust the temperature.
If you have a smoker that does not have any vents, cock the lid of the smoker so there will be a small gap (keep the gap small enough to maintain the correct smoker temperature, while large enough to allow adequate airflow).
Do not open or raise the lid of the smoker any more than you absolutely need to (it reduces the temperature inside every time you do). Monitor your temperature of your smoker during the smoke time.
Smoking the Salmon:
Place salmon fillets (skin side down) on sheets of aluminium foil and cut the foil around the fillets approximately 1/4-inch bigger (this keeps the fillets from sticking to the racks in the smoker). I also spray the racks with vegetable oil spray (makes for easier cleaning).
Grate the zest from the limes then squeeze the juice. In a small bowl, combine lime zest, lime juice, thyme (or other herbs), pepper, salt and olive oil; stir to mix. Rub the seasoning mix on the salmon fillets; coating them well.
Place salmon fillets (with the aluminium foil) on the oiled smoker rack. Smoke until a meat thermometer registers an internal temperature of 60C in thickest part of salmon (salmon will be slightly opaque in thickest part).
Avoid Over Cooking Smoked Salmon! Remember the salmon continues to cook after it is removed from the smoker (You don’t want an overcooked and dried out salmon. I prefer a moist salmon and not dried out.)
The biggest mistake most people make in cooking salmon is to over cook it. Resist the temptation to over cook your salmon until it “flakes.” Flaking indicates the salmon is becoming dry and overcooked. If you do not have a good cooking or meat thermometer, please purchase one and use it for cooking all your meats and fish! You will not be sorry!
Remove salmon fillets from smoker.
Cut extra limes in half and squeeze the juice over the cooked salmon fillets. Sprinkle lightly with more coarse salt. Serve salmon either warm, cool, or chilled (refrigerate until ready to serve). If making ahead, cover airtight and refrigerate up to 3 days.