Smoked Salmon on a Pellet Smoker
Smoked Salmon on a Pellet Smoker - What you need to know
Smoked salmon is one of the most expensive, and yet most delicious, food products on the market today. People love it for a whole host of reasons, from the delicate texture to the complex aroma. The most common reason that people truly adore smoked salmon, however, is that beautiful, decadent flavor that you only get from high-quality produce.
In today’s article, we’re going to talk about everything that you might need to know about smoked salmon, from what it actually is, to where it’s from, and even how you can make some spectacular smoked salmon in the comfort of your own home.
What is smoked salmon?
Well, the answer to this question isn’t a terribly surprising one - it’s a fillet of salmon that has been cured and then hot or cold smoked.
Throughout North America, smoked salmon is typically served as extremely thin slices. Since it’s expensive, it’s treated as a delicacy, and a little goes a long way.
In Europe, smoked salmon is often also served in these thin slices, though it can also be served in thicker fillets, or as chopped ‘scraps’. These scraps are often used as a general flavoring for a larger broth or sauce - such as soup or pasta sauce.
You may have also heard of ‘lox’ - this is a type of smoked salmon, which is typically very heavily salted during the brining process, followed by (usually) being smoked. Gravlax is something similar - typically cured in sugar, salt, and dill. Gravlax is often not smoked, leading to a more delicate flavor.
Where is smoked salmon from?
Smoking fish really evolved as a way to store and preserve fish for a time in the year when there are fewer fish readily available. The salting, curing, and smoking process typically kills the bacteria during at least one of the steps - the salting and curing dry the fish, impeding bacterial activity, and then the high heat of the smoking totally kills any remaining bacteria in the fish.
With this knowledge, we can consider some of the places that smoked fish, and smoked salmon more specifically might have come from: a place where fish is a common food source, but not all year round.
Typically, this is considered to be North America, and some of the more northern parts of Europe. In these locations, fish were typically plentiful during warmer months, before cold weather froze lakes and rivers, drying up the supply. Therefore, to ensure that there was enough food to go around, people would often dry and preserve fish however they could. While pickling and fermentation took off in Japan (leading to sushi), smoking took off in Native American cultures, as well as in Europe.
There are written records documenting smoked salmon in Greek and Roman culture throughout history, with the fish typically being involved during large parties and gatherings. During the middle ages, smoked salmon became a bit more widespread, and became a fairly commonplace part of people’s diets.
The first time that smoked salmon was made on a large scale was in Poland, during the 7th century - this is considered the first smoked salmon factory, though it wouldn’t be a factory as you and I might consider one.
With smoked salmon being very popular in continental Europe, the general consensus is that it was bought to the US by Jewish European immigrants during the 19th century. They also bought the tradition of lox, and smoked salmon was rapidly adopted by many people!
How is smoked salmon traditionally made?
Typically, the process of smoking salmon involves three real steps: brining, resting, and smoking.
‘Curing’ fish can include a lot of different steps, depending on the flavors that you’re aiming for, and a number of other factors. In this case, however, the curing process typically involves dry-brining the salmon fillet with different types of salt and spices. In most cases, salt is used as the main ingredient, which might then be combined with sugar and herbs, often dill.
This dry mixture is then rubbed on the salmon, being massaged into the meat itself, and allowed to sit for four to six hours. This process is dry brining, which is why we only refer to brining in the list above, rather than curing overall.
After the fish has been brined, it will then be rested. Typically, this involves removing the brine or dry brine from the salmon itself, and allowing it to sit, totally uncovered in the fridge. This resting process can take anywhere between four and twenty-four hours.
We rest the salmon in order to allow pellicle to form on the outside surface of the salmon - this is the same reason that any smoked meat will be rested for a while before being smoked.
The pellicle is a thin layer to which the smoke adheres, so ensuring that you’ve got a good rest and, therefore, more pellicle, will ensure you get a better smoke flavor.
Finally, the smoking itself! Bring your smoker to 160˚F, and high smoke. Then, simply place the salmon within the smoker, and allow it to sit and absurd all of that flavor over the course of two to three hours.
In theory, you can allow the salmon to sit for longer, but it will begin to overheat in the center of the salmon, leading to overcooked fish, which will have an unpleasant, chewy texture.
What is smoked salmon typically used for?
Smoked salmon is most commonly used in very small quantities, as it’s quite expensive, and is considered something of a delicacy.
This means that, most commonly, it is served as finger food, being served on small crackers or pieces of bread, and intended to be snacked on very lightly over the period of several hours at a party.
It can also be used in this same method to make a more substantial meal. Typically, it tops a bagel which has been toasted and spread with cream cheese. Even though there’s not a lot of it, compared to the other ingredients, it’s intense flavor can enhance the whole dish.
A fairly uncommon way to prepare smoked salmon is to use it to flavor broth, soups, or pasta sauces. It may be added at the start of a short period of simmering, in order to allow the flavor to penetrate throughout the dish.
This is quite similar to the most common use of salmon during the Middle Ages - as something of a seasoning, added to larger quantities of liquid and allowed to flavor everything.
How to make smoked salmon on a pellet smoker
Making smoked salmon in your home is a really easy process to follow. While it might seem a bit over facing, it’s very straightforward but just requires a little planning ahead.
What type of salmon to use
The specific type of salmon that you use might not impact the final flavor of the dish very much, but it’s always wise to buy line-caught, dolphin-safe salmon.
The reason for this is that wild fish have more space and ability to move around, developing larger, stronger, and more tender muscles over time. In turn, this leads to a more tender and delicate smoked salmon!
On top of this, it’s always nice to know that the food you’re eating is as sustainable as possible - line-caught, dolphin-safe fish is the most sustainable way to eat fish.
What type of pellets to use
While you can technically use any pellets that you might like, there are two schools of thought: apple or cherry.
If you have a very powerful preference between those two choices, then we would urge you to go for it, otherwise, either will work well.
- 230g salmon fillets
- 100g sugar
- 96g salt
- 80ml maple syrup
- Place the salmon fillets into an airtight container - be sure to use one that allows for the fish to lie flat.
- Add roughly 1 liter of water to a measuring jug, and then add in the sugar and salt. Stir this repeatedly until all the salt and sugar have dissolved. You can heat the water to help the sugar and salt dissolve, but make sure that the water is totally cool before you move on to the next step.
- Pour the cooled water over the salmon, and seal the container tightly. Store the container in the fridge for four to eight hours.
- Drain the brine, and then place the salmon on a plate or something similar. Store, uncovered, in the fridge overnight.
- Preheat your pellet smoker to 70˚C, and lay the rested salmon into it. Brush the fish with some of the maple syrup and close the smoker.
- Continue to smoke, brushing the salmon with the syrup every thirty minutes or so. Continue this process until the internal temperature of the salmon is 60˚C.
- Remove the salmon from the smoker, and then serve it immediately. Alternatively, allow it to cool to room temperature, wrap it in cling film, and store it in the fridge for up to three weeks while sealed, or up to one week after you’ve opened it.