Cold-smoking salmon has been high on my smoker to-do list for quite some time now. But to be honest, it was kind of daunting. Salmon always seems so delicate and fickle. And on the top of that, good Pacific Sockeye is hard to come by, outside of the annual salmon run. Regardless of how good of a run we have, it’s never cheap.
So with salmon season on the horizon, and with a freshly caught sockeye that was literally thrown at me, I have no more excuses. Smoked salmon, here we come!
Cure is the First Step
The first step in cold-smoking salmon (after catching it, of course) is to cure it. The process of curing dehydrates the flesh and kills bacteria that may lead to spoilage.
A cure is simply made with salt & sugar. You can also add any seasoning you may want, such as pepper, fennel, dill, caraway, etc… The great thing about cold-smoking your own salmon is that you can add your own flavours and style to it.
Gravlax is Another Possibility
Once the curing process is done you essentially have gravlax. If you don’t want to smoke all of your salmon and want some gravlax, I would suggest curing the salmon for up to 3 days for increased shelf life and as an extra measure of safety.
However, when we are cold-smoking our salmon, we will further preserve it beyond the curing process, and 24 hours of curing will suffice.
There is a Variety of Wood to Choose From
Oak is the classic wood used for cold-smoking salmon, but some may find this too strong. Particularly if you want to add a delicate smoke flavour, as to not overpower the herbs you added to the cure. If this is your case, go for a lighter wood.
Bradley Smoker’s Pacific Blend works great for this and was my go to choice. Alder would work nicely too, and I have seen some people use apple or pecan to give their salmon a more distinct and nuisance flavour.
A Multi-day Process, but Not a Difficult One
I opted to smoke my salmon for 6 hours, as I definitely wanted to taste the smoke, but didn’t want it to be too overwhelming. In the end, I have a delicious smoked salmon that was so much better than any store bought version.
And despite my fears, it was easy! Sure it was technically a multi-day process, but there was maybe one hour that I actually had to do anything, as the salt and smoke took care of the rest. Such as simple process and the results are well worth the time.
2-3 lb sockeye salmon fillet, deboned
1 cup kosher salt
¾ cup brown sugar
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp dried dill
1 Tbsp black pepper
1. Mix together salt, sugars, dill & pepper.
2. Lay down a sheet of aluminum foil and place a sheet of parchment paper on top.
3. Sprinkle half of mixture on the parchment and place the salmon on top and cover with remaining mixture. Be certain that all of the fish is covered.
4. Wrap the fillet up into a tight package with the foil and place between two baking sheets (cutting boards or something clean and flat). Place it in the refrigerator with a light weight on top.
5. Cure in the refrigerator for 24 hours, flipping after 12 hours.
6. Remove excess cure mixture and rinse thoroughly under cold water.
7. Pat dry with a clean towel and leave in the fridge uncovered to dry for another 3-4 hours.
8. Place the fillet skin-side down on a wire rack in your Bradley Smoker (the Bradley Magic Mats are perfect for smoking salmon).
9. With the cold-smoker attachment in place and using your desired bisquettes (I used Bradley’s Pacific Blend, but oak, pecan or alder would work nicely as well), smoke the salmon to 5-7 hours.
10. Remove from smoker, wrap in plastic wrap & refrigerate for 2-3 days before skinning and thinly slicing.