When it comes to cold smoking, there really is nothing better than making your own smoked salmon. A luxury item that (for a quality product) demands a high price tag, it’s relatively straightforward to make your own given a few ingredients, some simple rules and your own time. Honestly…nothing beats making your own. You can happily bask in your own smugness after a bit of curing, smoking, slicing and face filling!
So far as kit is concerned, you can go as fancy or as low tech as you like. From using a cardboard box and a sieve with the bottom pushed inside out, and the smoking dust sprinkled around the outside lip, to a purpose built smoking cabinet and a cold smoke generator (CSG). The choice is yours so far as the combination of equipment goes. I use a dedicated drum to cold smoke in, but prior to that I used my kettle BBQ with a CSG in the bottom. It did the job really well, and most households have access to a BBQ with a lid, making it a great starting point.
The CSG from ProQ (shown above) is a great bit of kit. It’s basically a wire mesh maze that you fill with your favourite wood dust and light at one end using a tea light (see above images). Once the wood dust begins to smoulder nicely and the embers have set, you remove the tea light, give the embers a gentle blow to encourage them, and then pop it in the smoking chamber of your choice. They come in 2 sizes with the larger Artisan version being suitable for larger smokers. Both sizes are available from Mac’s BBQ, including the Eco Smoker (reusable cardboard box) where you’ll find links for purchasing these nifty bits kit.
Right then, onto the salmon itself. When cold smoking, it’s incredibly important to use produce that is as fresh as possible. Cold smoking has been used to preserve meat and fish since the time of primitive man, however smoking a stale piece of meat or fish will just produce a stale piece of food that tastes of smoke. Ideally speak to your local fishmonger if, like me, you’re lucky enough to still have one. Alternatively, most supermarkets sell whole or filleted salmon, and if they have an in-store fish counter quiz the staff member as to how fresh the fish is. Wild Scottish salmon is incredible (and pricey), but there are some excellent farmed salmon out there too so shop around. The better quality fish you start with, the higher quality your finished product will be.
I like to cold smoke during the cooler months, and personally I don’t cold smoke meat or fish if the ambient temperature is above 10˚C. The cold smoke generator will lift the internal temperature of the smoker by a few degrees, and I prefer to keep well within a safe temperature range to avoid bacterial growth. There are larger commercial smoking operations however, that have an upper limit of 30˚C, but I’m a home smoker, and the lower temperatures work well for me.
The recipe I’ve put together is for a single side of salmon (approximately 1kg). If you are using a smaller or larger piece, alter the amount of cure mix accordingly.
Whole side of salmon, approx 1kg, pin bones removed
1 cup coarse sea salt
1 cup soft brown sugar
2 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp white pepper
2 tsp crushed dried bay leaves
The aromatics can easily be changed to suit your tastes. Experiment with flavours such as crushed juniper berries, peppercorns, lemon and fresh herbs. Keep a note of your cure mix ingredients and quantities so that you can alter or recreate the cure in the future.
Lay down a sheet of cling film, double the length of your salmon fillet.
Sprinkle 1/3 of the cure mix on the bottom of the cling, 1/2 an inch wider than the salmon fillet. Lay the salmon onto the cure mixture, skin side down. Sprinkle on the remaining cure mix, adding slightly more to the thicker end of the fillet.
Wrap the whole thing tightly in cling, place on a tray or in a dish (to catch any leaks) and leave in the fridge for 12 hours.
After this curing time, unwrap the fish, rinse off the cure and thoroughly pat it dry with kitchen paper. Return the fish to the fridge, uncovered, and leave for 24 hours to form a pellicle (tacky layer on the outside of the fish).
Next, set up your smoker or BBQ with whatever method of cold smoking you prefer and use very clean cooking grates for laying the fish on.
Smoke the salmon for 12 hours. On this particular piece I used oak dust from Smokewood Shack. While you’re at it, make the most of the smoke and throw on some cheese (8 hours), salt (12+ hours), garlic (15+ hours), boiled eggs (4 hours) and whatever else you fancy. After smoking, it’s best to allow the fish to rest for 24 hours before slicing and eating. This allows the flavours to equalise and mellow.
Once sliced, I vacuum pack in portions and freeze what I won’t be needing immediately, but the smoked salmon will last perfectly well in the fridge for up to a week.
Give it a go, you won’t be disappointed :)