Author Topic: Smoking Salmon  (Read 6819 times)

Offline piratey

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Smoking Salmon
« on: March 03, 2015, 04:04:33 pm »
I've been looking at different recipes for smoked salmon and I'm seeing several different types.

1) Gradual increase in temperature over time, like Kummok's recipe.

2) Cook at 200 degrees for several hours

What differences should I expect between the two?

The best smoked salmon I ever ate was a whole smoked fillet, served cold for dinner when visiting an old friend's uncle.  The surface was very soft, no hard pellicle at all, and the inside flaked easily with a fork.  Any idea what I need to do to reproduce that?

I tried something similar to #1, but the surface was hard, and I didn't get any salt flavor despite letting it sit in a wet brine for 24 hours.  In that same smoke, I also did a dry cure and that piece did have a pleasantly salty flavor.  I probably have to tinker with my wet brine, since that failed completely, but I'm also trying to figure out if I need to change my cooking style.


Offline Grouperman941

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Re: Smoking Salmon
« Reply #1 on: March 03, 2015, 07:57:01 pm »
I do not have enough experience to really answer your question, but following Kummok's recipe to the letter produced the best smoked salmon I have ever had by far. I have done it a few times.

(Of course, Spyguy's lox recipe is a different story altogether. Food of the gods.)
I just spent $12 K on this Honda Accord! Why can't it tow my boat?!?

Offline pmmpete

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Re: Smoking Salmon
« Reply #2 on: March 04, 2015, 07:13:23 am »
The reason that Kummok recommends that you start smoking salmon at a low temperature and step up to a higher temperature over time is that if you start at a high temperature such as 200 degrees, you'll cook curds of white fat (sometimes called "boogers") out of the meat.  Boogers can be wiped off, and are only an aesthetic problem.  But you can avoid them by following Kummok's temperature schedule.  When the fish reaches the level of dryness and flakiness which you like, take it out of the smoker.

The smoked salmon you ate which had a soft exterior and an even amount of dryness and flakiness through its thickness was probably smoked at a moderate temperature.  If you crank the temperature up too high while smoking, the outside of the fish will get a harder crust.

If you soaked fish in a brine for 24 hours and didn't get any salt flavor, your brine must have had an extremely low salt concentration.  The salt concentrations produced by brine recipes vary greatly.  The first time you use a particular brine recipe, soak the fish for the length of time recommended by the recipe, and see whether it produces smoked fish which is too salty, not salty enough, or just right. On subsequent batches, adjust the soaking time to produce the degree of saltiness which you prefer.

You can avoid or greatly shorten this trial and error process by adjusting each brine recipe which you use to a standard salt concentration. See my suggestions at http://forum.bradleysmoker.com/index.php?topic=33157.msg387368#msg387368 .
« Last Edit: March 04, 2015, 07:23:24 am by pmmpete »

Offline tskeeter

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Re: Smoking Salmon
« Reply #3 on: March 04, 2015, 09:47:58 am »
pmmpete, what do you consider a moderate temperature for smoking fish?  I've encountered a tough surface when I've done salmon, and have never quite figured out how to avoid this.  Your suggestion to reduce the temperature makes sense.  Another possibility that I've toyed with is that it's taking too long to get the fish up to cooked temperature (I'm obviously hot smoking).  I've got a brother-in-law in AK who sends down salmon, and those fillets are usually an inch or more thick.  So I'm spending about 7 hours to get them up to temp.  Should I be considering wrapping the fish in foil after smoking to accelerate the cooking process or reduce the surface moisture losses?

Your advice would be appreciated!

Tskeeter

Offline piratey

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Re: Smoking Salmon
« Reply #4 on: March 04, 2015, 10:50:55 am »
The brine I used was recommended by a friend who smokes a lot of fish.  He told me to double the brine recipe given the amount of salmon I was smoking but be careful about the salt and cut down on salt.  That advice didn't lend itself to scientific measuring, so I will definitely be tinkering with it.

The difficulty I had with Kummok's recipe was the cooking times.  Saying 1-2 hours at this temperature and 2-4 hours at this temperature makes it hard for me to know when to increase the temperature during the cooking process.  Something like, when the IT of the thickest piece gets to xx degrees, then increase to xx degrees until the IT gets to xx degrees, then increase to xx degrees would probably be better for me, as the original leaves some room for interpretation.  I cooked as best as I could according to Kummok's cooking schedule.  We've enjoyed the salmon, don't get me wrong, and we'll enjoy it more when I get the brine correct.  However, it is hard to use the same schedule, since it is so open to interpretation. 

The other thing I'd like to do is reproduce that salmon that I ate years ago, which had the soft exterior.  That was delicious.

Offline pmmpete

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Re: Smoking Salmon
« Reply #5 on: March 04, 2015, 09:16:48 pm »
I've encountered a tough surface when I've done salmon, and have never quite figured out how to avoid this.  Your suggestion to reduce the temperature makes sense.  Another possibility that I've toyed with is that it's taking too long to get the fish up to cooked temperature (I'm obviously hot smoking).  I've got a brother-in-law in AK who sends down salmon, and those fillets are usually an inch or more thick.  So I'm spending about 7 hours to get them up to temp.

Kummock has excellent advice about smoking times and temperatures for salmon in his Smoked Wild Alaskan Salmon thread at the beginning of this fishing sub-forum.  This is what he says:

Step 5: SMOKING
Smoke using the following Bradley Smoking guideline:
100°-120°F for 1-2 hours, then increase to
140° for 2-4 hours, then increase to
175° for 1-2 hours to finish

Use the longer times given for thicker/higher oil content fish. As a general rule, the higher temp you use or the longer you hot smoke, the more the meat cooks the oils out, HOWEVER, the meat becomes dryer/tougher in the process. I've "accidently" left meat (silver salmon) at the 140-150°F range for up to 8 hours and it still turned out great. I personally believe that you'd have to try REAL hard to make a batch of smoke salmon unpalatable by over smoking/cooking. If you get white “boogers” on the meat, you’re cooking too high/too fast.


I suspect that the reason the surface of your smoked salmon is getting tough is that you're leaving it in the smoker too long at a temperature which dries it out, but which is too low to produce the internal temperature necessary for the fish to be safe to eat.  The objectives of smoking fish are to get smoke flavor into the fish, to produce a desirable amount of dryness and flakiness, and to get the internal temperature of the fish high enough so that the fish will be safe to eat.  For some thoughts about the internal temperature required to produce safe smoked fish, see http://forum.bradleysmoker.com/index.php?topic=30863.msg364765#msg364765 .  The trick is to get the fish to the necessary internal temperature before it gets too dry overall and/or before it gets too hard on the outside. The seven hours you are smoking your salmon is drying it out before it reaches a sufficient internal temperature.

When cooking fish, you aren't trying to dry it out.  In fact, you usually want it to be nice and moist when it reaches the internal temperature of 145 degrees which is required to produce safe cooked fish.  So fish is cooked at higher temperatures for shorter periods of time.  Salmon is typically baked at 350-425 degrees, and broiled at higher temperatures for shorter periods of time.  And those temperatures don't make the outside of the fish get hard, because the fish isn't being cooked for long enough to dry it out.

So here's my suggestion, which is a little different from Kummok's recommendations: take the fish out of the brine and put it on your smoker racks in front of a fan for an hour to dry the surface a bit, which is called forming a pedicle.  Then put it in the smoker for half an hour at 100 degrees with no smoke to finish drying off its surface, and to start raising the temperature of the fish.  Then smoke it for an hour at 130 and an hour at 150, which I usually find is enough to produce a nice smoked fish flavor.  Then quit smoking, and raise the temperature in the smoker to a moderate temperature, say 170-200 degrees, and leave it there until it reaches what you consider to be a desirable level of dryness and flakiness.  How long this takes will depend on the kind of fish you are smoking, the thickness of the fish, and whether there is skin on the fish.  If you find that when the fish has reached a nice level of dryness and flakiness, it still hasn't reached the necessary internal temperature, you didn't have the temperature high enough towards the end of your schedule.  So next time you smoke that kind of fish, crank up the temperature higher towards the end of the schedule.

One thing to keep in mind is that different kinds of fish respond differently to being smoked.  If I use the same brine and smoking schedule on kokanee salmon, rainbow trout, and mountain whitefish, they come out differently.  And different kinds of salmon also smoke up differently.  So another possibility is that the salmon you liked so much was a different kind of salmon from the salmon which you are currently trying to smoke.

Here's some kokanee, rainbow trout, and mountain whitefish which I smoked up recently, using Kummok's brine recipe and other recipes.  These thin fillets can be smoked quite a bit faster than the thick salmon fillets which you are smoking, but the objective of my smoking schedule is the same: to get the fish to an internal temperature of at least 145 degrees before it gets too dry.



« Last Edit: March 04, 2015, 09:42:51 pm by pmmpete »

Offline piratey

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Re: Smoking Salmon
« Reply #6 on: March 05, 2015, 09:06:25 am »
Thank you for the advice.  One more question.  Does the ambient temperature matter for when trying to form a pellicle?  A friend here in Sacramento who smokes a lot of his fish says he leaves his fish to dry overnight with a fan.  Our temperature of around 60 degrees is a lot warmer than some places which are around 10 degrees.  Could that be why he tells me to dry longer?  That's what I did the first smoke, and the skin was definitely dry when I started smoking.  I knew the pellicle had formed, and I think maybe too much of a pellicle formed, if that makes sense.

Offline pmmpete

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Re: Smoking Salmon
« Reply #7 on: March 05, 2015, 02:05:29 pm »
Because you're trying to dry off the surface of the fish, the air temperature, the air humidity, and the wind speed from your fan all affect how fast the surface of the fish dries off.  I live in Montana, where the humidity is usually quite low, and I dry my fish off at room temperature in front of a pretty big fan, so I can form a satisfactory pedicle in an hour.  And I just pull my fish out of the brine and plop them on the racks, without blotting off any of the brine.  If you live in a humid area and set your fish out to dry on racks in a 55 degree garage with no fan, it will take longer to form a pedicle.  I leave my fish at room temperature for as short a time as possible before starting the smoking process, because the longer you leave fish at room temperature, the more likely you are to get bacterial growth and spoilage, or to get flies crawling on it.  I don't think it's a good idea to leave fish out overnight at room temperature.

The reason it's a good idea to dry off the surface of fish or sausage before smoking it is because wet meat doesn't take up smoke as well as dry meat.  Try an experiment: smoke a piece of fish which is still wet from the brine and a piece of fish which has a pedicle side by side, and see how they come out.  The surface of the fish doesn't need to be completely dry, just tacky enough so your finger doesn't get wet when you touch the fish.
« Last Edit: March 05, 2015, 03:30:28 pm by pmmpete »

Offline piratey

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Re: Smoking Salmon
« Reply #8 on: March 05, 2015, 03:58:59 pm »
Thanks for the advice and all the explanations.  My first smoke was last weekend, so I'm definitely learning a lot.  I'll try to incorporate your advice the next time I do salmon, which is probably going to be in 2 weeks, given how fast we are going through the salmon from last weekend.

Offline tsquared

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Re: Smoking Salmon
« Reply #9 on: March 09, 2015, 07:51:17 am »
If I'm doing strips and using kummoks brine recipe, I dry them on the Bradley racks with chopsticks underneath the racks so air can get to the underside of the strips. I use a large fan and leave them for several hours. Once the surface gets tacky, I sprinkle my spices on. (Usually a mix of coarse ground pepper, crushed dried juniper berries and fresh chopped rosemary) if you have left your strips in the brine for the 12 hours (as per his recipe) then bacteria build up is not a concern. I start cold and raise the temp gradually but I don't ever take my smoking temp above about 150 or 160 at the most. As pmmpete says, it really depends on what species of fish you are smoking. For me, my preferred choice is spring or sockeye salmon--love it when you need a napkin to wipe the oil off your fingers after eating the strips before you grab your IPA.  ;D
T2

Offline newsmoker22

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Re: Smoking Salmon
« Reply #10 on: May 23, 2015, 12:32:28 pm »
Here is a few things I do when I brine fish,I got these from my dad who has smoked tons of fish over the years,some guy's like doing it this way some don't but here they are, use a bowl,pot what ever you have big enough to hold your fish in brine, put water in the pot enough that will cover your fish, now that your water is in the pot add enough salt to float a Potato. then add what ever else you want brown sugar etc. the amount of time the fish needs  in the brine depends on size of filets how thick,and fresh or frozen, frozen filets that has been thawed will take salt faster then fresh filets, frozen filets in this brine about 45 minutes to and hour 15 minutes depending on how thick and how much salt you like fresh could be up to 2 hours, mark down the amount of time you brined the first time and then adjust from there more or less.
avid bow hunter, smoke everything i harvest