Russell's Smoked Salmon Tutorial
©2006, The Naked Whiz and Russell Smallwood

This "tutorial" was written and provided to The Naked Whiz by Russell Smallwood, a long-time Big Green Egg owner who posts on the BGE forum as "SeeRockCity." This is his method for preparing true smoked salmon on a ceramic cooker. If you have any questions or comments regarding this information, please contact Russell via the Big Green Egg forum. This information is posted with Russell's permission.


Background
First, some clarification for the salmonly challenged. (Note - I may be salmonly challenged as I haven’t done a ton of research on the topic. The following is just what I’ve picked up here and there. Please feel free to jump on in.)

There are two basic types of smoked salmon; lox and.... well.... smoked salmon. Lox are those mushy, disgustingly slimy, pre-packaged sheets of "cold-smoked" fish and are typically made by hanging thin strips of salmon in a shed somewhere and blowing cold (80 degrees or so) smoke over them to give them some flavor, but basically the fish is pretty much raw (eeeewwww).

Smoked salmon is what we're interested in. Smoked salmon is fish that is "hot-smoked" or cooked in a smoker for a long time at a (slightly lower than) traditional smoking temperature (180-200 degrees).

In both cases, the salmon is usually brined (soaked in salt water) for a time before cooked. In the former case, this acts as a preservative and in the latter, acts as a flavoring method (okay, its not that black and white but it gives you the general idea).

It is common to hear grilled salmon erroneously referred to as "smoked" salmon so don't be fooled. If it takes less than 3 days to make your salmon, it is not "smoked".


The Fish
To make smoked salmon, you'll need some salmon.

Okay that's a bit vague. You'll want a decent amount of salmon, preferably farm raised (yes farm raised) which is usually fattier and has better marbling. This is the opposite of what you want when you grill salmon; hence the fact that wild-caught salmon is usually preferred for that purpose. I tend to buy a whole Salmon (usually around 15-25 lbs) which barely fits on my large BGE. There's no reason why you can't just buy some fillets (with the skin on) and smoke those but the whole fish is more....errr... festive. If you can find a smaller fish, you can even smoke it with the head attached which definitely kicks up the wow factor but the smaller fish are harder to find.

My preferred fish is a 15-20 lb farm-raised Atlantic salmon without the head, butterflied and boned, which usually costs about $80-$100 at the local fish market. Yes, that's a lot but its worth it to me. As I said, you'll get the same results (taste-wise) with a few fillets (skin on please) or half a salmon or whatever.


The Methods
As stated above, this is labor intensive but well worth the trouble. A well smoked salmon is as festive as a fruitcake (but tastes a lot better). In fact, smoked salmon is our traditional Christmas morning breakfast but, I digress.

To do it right, you'll need at least 4 days as follows:

Day 1 - Brine the Salmon
Day 2 - Dry the Salmon
Day 3 - Smoke the Salmon
Day 3/4 - Chill the Salmon
Day 4 - Eat the Salmon
So here goes.


Day 1 - Brine The Salmon
Brining is simply the process of soaking something in saltwater, therefore, if you want really bland-tasting salmon, simply soak your fish in salt water for a day and you’re done. Of course, if you did this, you would miss the opportunity to engage in the black art of salmon brine brewing which is similar but not quite like the black art of BBQ rub mixing.

You can use any brine recipe as long as it is salty enough (tastes like the ocean). I keep a library, however, since I use a new recipe every time; I'm not sure why. I usually search Google groups for "Salmon Brine" until I find something that looks interesting. Most brine recipes have similar ingredients - water, salt, sugar, spices - so their composition is very similar but the spices/herbs that you use will have a dramatic impact on the final product. Here's an old standard that is great starting point:

Salmon Brine
(Courtesy - Little Chief Smokers)

1/3 cup sugar (or 1/2 cup brown sugar)
1/4 cup non-iodized salt
2 cups soy sauce
1 cup water
1/2 t. onion powder
1/2 t. garlic powder
1/2 t. pepper
1/2 t. Tabasco sauce
1 cup dry white wine

This, by the way is a fine example of a brine recipe that requires some math. This results in about 4 cups (I think that's a quart) of liquid. Depending on how much fish you have, you'll need to make more (you want to completely submerse the salmon). A lot of brine recipes start with something like: 1 gallon water....

Okay, so you've got a bucket-full of brine. Now rinse your fish then submerse it entirely in the brine. Remember, this is not "marinating," this is “soaking” which is why you need a lot.

Sidebar: finding a vessel in which to soak your salmon can be a daunting talk. Get something too big and you’ll need a 5 gallon bucket full of brine. Something too small and you’ll never get the fish fully submersed. I use a plastic storage container (WalMart) which fits a whole salmon that has been rolled up (skin inside) lengthwise. This is perfectly legal, as long as you maintain the fish to liquid contact.
Once you have your fish completely immersed, stick it in the fridge, grab a beer, get some sleep, watch some football, whatever.


Day 2 - Dry The Salmon
Good news: day 2 is very easy. After brining for around 12-24 hours, remove the salmon from the brine, and place it UNCOVERERED in your beer fridge. Grab a beer, get some sleep, watch some football, whatever.

For those of you who are interested, you are now drying your salmon. This is why you leave it uncovered. You want it to get tacky to the touch. Interestingly enough, some brine recipes suggest you rinse the salmon off before drying. Its your call, experiment. I rarely rinse, but I like salt…a lot.

Note - You may discard the brine (I wouldn't recommend drinking it).


Day 3 - Smoke The Salmon
Okay, now you're ready for the hard(ish) part. I guess I should start by pointing out that the process of smoking salmon is different from that of say....smoking a pork shoulder. You have to remember that the salmon is actually “done” or safely edible within an hour of starting the cooking process. Unlike bbq’ing other meats you’re cooking for texture, not for doneness.

You’re also cooking at very low temperatures by bbq standards. I like to keep the dial on 180-200 (closer to 180 if I can) for the entire process which is just about the perfect burn. In order to do this, however, you’ll need to make sure your egg is in tip top shape. Make sure your gasket is in good shape, your vent is well sealed, your charcoal is clean and dry, ashes cleaned, etc. If there are any unwanted air gaps (okay, I don’t mean it should be hermetically sealed) then it may be difficult to keep the temp down. I’ve had to close the vent entirely to keep the temps down when I’ve had an air gap in my gasket.

As far as fuel goes, it goes without saying that you’ll need some quality lump, plus some alder chips or chunks to give some flavor. What’s that? Okay, fine, you can use whatever you want but Alder is the traditional wood used for smoking fish. You definitely want something mild, as it is easy to overpower fish. If you use hickory or mesquite, you might as well chuck the fish and just eat the wood.

Once you’ve stabilized your dome temp to 180-200, simply stick your salmon in the smoker (skin down) on some kind of tray. I’ve used cookie sheets, porcelain dishes, a rib rack, whatever. If you’ve opted for the whole salmon, you may have to be creative to get the whole thing in. Whatever you do, try to keep the juices from flowing into the fire.

Now that you’ve stuffed that thing in the smoker, you’ll want to smoke it for at least 6 hours, but I like to leave it in for 12. The longer you smoke it, the firmer the texture when you’re done. I like a nice, firm flakey texture (yes that means a little drier). My philosophy is that if I wanted moist, tender fish, I’d have grilled it. Besides, its salmon. Even if its jerky, it’s a delicacy.

I’ve never done this, but I think it might be fun to brush on some kind of glaze toward the end of the cooking time much like some pit masters do with ribs. I think some kind of teriyaki glaze might be really, really, interesting.


Day 3/4 (after cooking) - Chill the Salmon
After you’ve smoked the fish to your preferred texture, take it out and put it back (covered… or not) in your beer fridge. Grab a beer, get some sleep, watch some football, whatever.

Okay, you don’t HAVE to do this but it makes the whole experience much more enjoyable. Hot smoked salmon is not my bag, but hey, everybody’s different.


Day 4 - Eat the Salmon
Yum. If you really want to gain favor with your neighbors, relatives, co-workers, etc., grab a hunk and take it to them. Unless they’re just odd, they’ll look at you like you’ve just delivered a pound of Russian Caviar. If you’ve done a good job on the fish, you may also notice them lurking around your shrubs in a few days looking for more handouts.

Question: What can I do with 15 pounds of smoked salmon?
Eat it. Believe me, if it’s good, it will go fast. If you truly have too much, you can freeze it, but I prefer to distribute it for later favors ;)

Question: How do I eat the salmon?
Stick it in your mouth and chew. Watch for bones. One of my favorite ways to eat it is in the traditional, fancy restaurant way: Take a cracker or a slice of toasted baguette, stick some salmon on it, then some minced red onion, then some capers and finally some salmon sauce (I don’t know what else to call it).

Salmon Sauce

¼ Cup real mayonnaise
½ tsp (or more) Grated Horseradish (pure horseradish, no additives or mayonnaise products)
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
pinch of salt
fresh ground pepper to taste

If you like the taste of the above concoction, make a dip:
Salmon Dip

4 oz (or so) smoked salmon (without bones)
1 package cream cheese
2 Tbsp capers
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp (or more) horseradish (the kind your buy In the deli case without any mayo in it - pure grated horseradish).
salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste

Mix all this in a blender or food processor until it’s nice and creamy. Eat it on crackers or use it for ravioli filling.


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