With all this lovely fresh wild salmon being bandied about in BC, many of the chefs guesting at the supper club have been smoking up a storm. Here are some tips on how to make you own lightly smoked salmon as a main.
Buying the fish
Your smoked salmon is only as good as the fish itself, you can't fake freshness. Frozen is fine to buy though. Just make sure you bring the frozen fish back to room temperature slowly, run some cold water over it first and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours to defrost. The meat will stay firm this way. Fresh fish is best though, for texture. In Vancouver, buy it at Stevenson Warf or at Granville Island right off the docks for the best price and quality. Organic Ocean is a great boat at Fishermans Warf, call them to check what time they will be at the dock. (604) 862-7192
If you have to buy it from a fish shop, make sure you smell the fish to make sure it doesn't smell fishy... sounds weird, I know. I never buy farmed salmon... it tastes like crap.
Preparing the fish
Here's a video on one way to fillet a salmon if you want to learn, otherwise, buy fillets. For this recipe, take the skin off the fillets and remove any pin bones with tweezers.
Curing the fish
Let the fillets sit at room temperature for a couple of hours covered well in a 50/50 mix of kosher salt and sugar, you can add other ingredients (cilantro, parsley, onion) as well to the mix. Don't cure or brine in metal dishes ever. Have fun experimenting. Rinse the mix off the fish and pat dry after. Air dry for 30 min.
Smoking the fish
1. Let's talk about wood first - hardwood is what you want for smoking. Fruit tree wood is the best, also, alder, maple or oak. Hickory and mesquite flavour is too strong for salmon. Soak the wood chips or small pieces for 1 hour in water before using.
2. Generally, you need to build a fire in one side of your BBQ with charcoal or wood. Wait till it produces good coals. Put the wet chips on the coals to get them smoking, then add the fish on the other side of the BBQ - so that it smokes, but only cooks minimally. Position the grill as far away from the flames as possible. Close the lid and let the smoke do it's work.
3. Leave the fish on for 15-40 minutes, depending on how much smoke flavour you want and how hot your fire is. Flip the fish at around the half time mark. Taste the fish at intervals to check the level of smoke flavour. Once you've reached the desired smoke level, remove the fish and finish cooking in the oven if necessary. Cook at 350F covered with foil until the fish is ready to eat at 140F, check with a meat thermometer (should be only a few minutes).
Tips for the truly dedicated smoker: Look on craigslist for "free fire wood", often you will find lots of fruit woods there (you have to season it then though - let it dry).
Buy a real smoker - with a separate smoke compartment away from the fire.