What a great year for the Fraser River Sockeye Salmon. If you live anywhere near the Fraser River system in British Columbia, Canada you cannot avoid the buzz about the massive volume of Sockeye making their way to the spawning grounds. The last projection I heard was over 30 million fish. Huge!!!
The reason for this blog is of course smoked salmon, more importantly, the handling of fresh fish. No one expects to get food poisoning, and improper handling of any protein has the potential for serious illness. The alarm bells for me start with the acquisition of the fish. Sockeye is being sold out of the back of pickup trucks, carted home in plastic bags in the trunk of cars, and is being handled anyway possible. Everyone tries their best to properly handle the fish. Catch, clean, and ice the fish as soon as possible. If there is a chance the fish might not have been handled properly, or you are concerned about the handling in the least, do not buy it period. #1 rule applies, when in doubt, there is no doubt.
You got your fish home; there is a lot of it. Nothing changes; you have to clean your work station, knives, packing material, etc etc. The best way to ensure there are no bacteria that can contaminate your food is to properly clean with bleach or hydrogen peroxide. Forget about the fancy branded earth friendly kitchen cleansers, you need bleach!
Smoking your salmon; if you are planning to cold smoke your fish, great, do it in November when it is a lot colder and far less humidity. So, freeze it, (whole is best as there is less freezer burn) I like to dip my frozen salmon in water a second time after it is frozen and then put back in the freezer. This gives a 2nd coat of liquid to help prevent freezer burn. Cold smoking requires more drying time in cool temperatures than most people think. Cures are simple enough and I do recommend using a sodium nitrate based cure for cold smoking. The fat in salmon will liquefy around 90 degree F. after that you are hot smoking. So the smoker temperature must remain well below 90 F. The big issue is humidity, the less, the better.
Hot smoking is more appropriate for this time of year but do not overdo it. Your salmon is cooked when the internal temperature reaches 140 degrees F and remains there for 40 minutes. The smoke and seasoning will determine whether or not you are master of the smoker. Almost forgot, you need salt, but not too much. If your family and friends say it tastes good but it is too salty, you blew it, hope you got a good deal on the fish….
Enjoy this rare bounty, but please remember to properly prepare and handle the fish.