Of all traditional food preservation methods, smoking is certainly one of the most interesting. Apart from being most effective, it also adds a unique and personal twist to whatever ingredient it is applied to. And, in view of the winter season, that ingredient answers to the name of salmon.
We had already focused on how to smoke salmon, but, in the meantime, new studies have been carried out and new techniques developed, enabling us to make a home-made smoked salmon that is even tastier and more natural.
In particular, we are going to see how to prepare a prime quality salmon, ideal for making a most elegant Christmas gift.
How to smoke salmon at home
The most important step is the choice of the basic ingredient. One of the best, thought to be the best by some, is Sockeye salmon, or red salmon, which is preferred by those who love “wild” fish, that is to say caught and not farmed. It has a much more assertive flavour than the farmed counterpart we are accustomed to, which is particularly well suited to the aromas of smoking.
Apart from its cost, it is somewhat lean and dry, but we shall soon be learning how to deal with this. At this point, the next question that immediately springs to mind is: whole or filleted? If you are not used to filleting fish, choose the second (I assure you it is not difficult to learn), otherwise filleting a whole fish allows you to reduce the surface oxidation processes and preserve flavour and colour more effectively.
Immediately after filleting, it is time for the marinating process to start. In the past, sugar was almost invariably used but the latest school of thought recommends a reduction in the number of ingredients and the sole use of salt. In this case, dissolve about 50 grams of salt in approximately 300 millimetres of cold water. Do you prefer to offset the saltiness with some sugar? Then add 50 grams of brown sugar.
Now place the salmon fillet in an aluminium or plastic box skin side down and cover it with the marinade. Leave the salmon to marinate for about eight hours. Now, if you can, hang your lovely fillet in a cool place. It would be fine to do so in the open air but, if you have nowhere suitable, place it on a tray and look for somewhere cool and dry. What matters most is that the salmon becomes nice and dry and this takes at least four to five hours. Avoid using the fridge for this purpose, where the drying process would only be partial.
At the end of this phase it should form a fine skin, which means that it is now time for the smoking process. If you have a food smoker, all you have to do is to set a temperature of 60 to 65 °C, for approximately two to three hours. Approximately is the operative word, because smoking is far from being an exact science (as I have discovered the hard way!).
After one hour, you need to brush the surface with maple syrup or honey. Yes, I know, we had promised not to use sugar. So, if you prefer, you may brush it with olive oil. So much for tradition, olive oil also does the trick, especially if you are using wild salmon that is on the lean side.
How to smoke salmon at home without a food smoker
Two things to remember: first of all, use a brush so as not to overdo the oil or sugar. Secondly, never exceed the recommended temperature which would cause the muscular fibres of the flesh to contract and release a white substance, which is actually albumin: a sign that your fillet would only be good for playing a game of squash with.
If you do not have a food smoker, use the method frequently seen at Scandinavian fairs: lay out the fillet and attach it to a thick wood plank, then stand it almost vertically with a bowl of wood underneath which, when you go to burn it, will cook the fish in the heat of the smoke.
This will take a few hours longer, but will be amply repaid in terms of satisfaction. The wood used for smoking salmon, 99% of the time, is that of apple trees. Once the operation is over, leave the salmon to cool for a couple of hours, then wrap it in cling film and place in the fridge: your fantastic smoked salmon will keep for two to three weeks.