Grill Week: Hot smoked salmon

photo (4)With the 4th of July coming up this week, in backyards across the metro area, we will be firing up our grills and smokers to celebrate with friends. As an avid Big Green Egg enthusiast, I’ve found that a nice hot smoked salmon makes for a great appetizer to snack on while you and your guests wait for the main event to come off the coals.

This isn’t as much of a recipe as some basic guidelines to follow when trying your own smoked salmon at home. I’m a big advocate of making every recipe your own, so feel free to improvise on everything from the brine to the dipping sauce, and find a combination that you like the best.

Do REALLY do this right, this process can take up to four days, and if you can take the time to do it, then you will notice a difference. However, don’t get too hung up on that – you can buy this fish the same day and still turn out a tasty smoked salmon.

Step 1 – Choosing the fish

Selecting the piece of fish for your smoked salmon is arguably the most important part of this process, and one that may run counter to your usual criteria for picking out salmon. Usually, I’m drawn to the sexy wild-caught salmon on display, and you might be too, but for this dish, that may not be the best choice. Since this is a hot smoke, you should look for the fattier, farm-raised fish, as that will withstand the heat better than the leaner wild-caught variety.

Step 2 – Brine the fish

I file this step under “optional”, especially if you have a fattier piece. However, if you have the time to do it, by all means, go for it…it helps to retain moisture, as well as gives you the opportunity to inject a little extra flavor into the fish.

For your brine, I like to keep things simple, but you can gussy this up as much as you like. Here is the brine that I use:

1 cup water

2 cups soy sauce

¼ cup salt

½ cup brown sugar

That recipe can be scaled according to the amount of brine needed, depending on the size of the fish. Once you have your brine mixed and the salt and sugar fully dissolved FULLY submerse the fish in the brine and soak for as long as you have, up to 24 hours. After brining, pat the salmon until dry to get it ready for your smoker.

Step 3 – Smoke the fish

Ok, this is where things can get a little tricky, and where a good smoker is crucial. Heat control is very important here, because if you let your smoker run too hot you will find up with a slightly smoky, over-cooked, roasted fish. You want to keep your temperature as low as you can get it without putting out the coals, ideally around 180-200 degrees. The difference between 200 and 225 is large, so make sure you have your temp under control before putting the fill into the smoker.

As you can see from the picture, I used some alder wood planks, but there were not the source of my smoke, I simply used them to make pulling the fish off the egg easier. While I looked for alder wood chips, I couldn’t find any on short notice, so any MILD wood is an acceptable substitute. I used apple wood chips for this particular batch, and it turned out nicely. Hickory or mesquite will overpower the mild salmon.

Depending on your temp, smoke the fish for around 6 hours…if you are running hot, this could be finished in as little as an hour or two, so you will want to periodically check on the fish. Also, it depends on the texture you prefer…I like to let mine run a little long, resulting in a firmer, flakier salmon.

If you notice that the meat is “sweating” or “oozing” fat, that means that your smoker is running too hot, and you will want to dial it back a little. If this happens – which it usually does when I’m making a smoked salmon – don’t panic. It isn’t ideal, but it is by no means a disaster. Wipe off the globs of extra fat, and your guests will never notice.

Step 4 – Serve and enjoy!

If you have the time, chill the fish in the fridge before serving. However, if you don’t, this is just as good once it has rested at room temp for 30 min or so.

I like to pair this with a basic dill cream sauce and some capers and shaved red onions, but how you serve the fish is totally up to you.

Dill cream sauce:

1 cup sour cream

2-3 tablespoons of freshly chopped dill

1 lemon, juiced

Salt/pepper to taste

- By Jon Watson, Food & More blog

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