It's there in the seafood department calling your name: smoked salmon, sliced thin and oozing with flavor. It's decadent and feels oddly rustic and fancy at the same time. And, it's rarely on sale, so why not grab that fresh salmon on sale and smoke your own at home?
Why Smoke Salmon
The question is really why not? But, since you asked let's dish.
Smoking salmon transforms the taste and the texture. If you hate overcooked salmon but don't like sushi, this is your solution. The fish becomes silky smooth and delicate, and the flavor is that perfect blend of richness - sweet, salty, and wonderfully umami.
The Method: Cold-Smoked versus Hot-Smoked
There are two basic ways to smoke salmon at home - cold or hot. Each yields a very different result with its own advantages. Due to the temperature difference, hot-smoked tends to be flakier, whereas cold-smoked yields a smooth, almost creamy texture.
We cover tips and the basic process for each below, along with our favorite dishes and the best ways to enjoy them. In either case, you want to clean your salmon well before smoking, leaving the skin on and taking care to remove any pin bones.
Pro Tip: Your local fishmonger should be able to cut and remove pin bones when ordering fresh salmon.
Prepping the Salmon
To make, start with a high-quality, fresh (skin-on) salmon filet that weighs at least 8 oz. The type of salmon also matters, with Atlantic salmon, king salmon, and coho salmon as the best options.
Clean your salmon well, leaving the skin on and taking care to remove any pin bones. An even thickness will produce the best result, so you may want to cut your filet into equal pieces with an even thickness.
The Basics of Cold-Smoked Salmon
Due to the lack of heat, cold-smoked salmon is silky and delicate. The process relies heavily on the brine, which can lend a saltier result (so taste before pairing with other ingredients or adding salt).
What You Will Need - this method requires simple ingredients and is (generally less messy). Simply gather your brine ingredients and liquid smoke.
Steps - Make a dry rub (3 tbsp salt, 3 tbsp sugar, and 2 drops of liquid smoke) mixing well to fully distribute. Line a container with plastic wrap, with excess on all sides, and add half of the dry rub in an even layer. Place salmon on top, then add the remaining dry rub to the salmon. Spread evenly to coat the salmon. Gather plastic wrap and twist to tightly seal and encase the salmon. Cover the container and refrigerate for 24 hours. Remove the salmon, pat dry, and enjoy or store in a clean container in the refrigerator.
Tips & Tricks - if the salmon is too salty, you can pat dry and gently submerge in warm water for 15-20 minutes.
Our Favorite Ways to Enjoy - with its silky texture and smooth flavor, cold-smoked salmon is the perfect protein atop bread (hello, bagel with lox) and salads. Sliced thin, it's an elegant garnish for party appetizers and also pairs very well with red onions and dill.
The Basics of Hot-Smoked Salmon
As you might guess, this method combines heat and slow cook to yield a delicately flaky smoked fish. While it takes some time, most of the process is resting time and the result is well worth it!
What You Will Need - aside from a wire rack and an instant-read thermometer, the type of wood you use is very important. The best wood comes from fruit trees, so opt for apple or cherry for the best result. We use an oven and wood chips, but you can also use pellet wood and a pellet smoker.
Steps - Prepare a wet rub (4 cups water, 1/3 cup kosher salt, 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1/3 cup coconut aminos or soy sauce, 2 bay leaves). Pour over the fish in a large bowl, cover, and refrigerate for 12-24 hours. Remove fish from brine and pat dry, then place on a baking tray topped with a rack and store in the refrigerator (uncovered) for 12 hours. Place the oven rack at the bottom and preheat to 250 degrees F. Toast wood chips in a small skillet until they smolder. Place wood chips on the baking tray (under the fish) and wrap the tray with aluminum foil to seal. Place in oven for 1.5 to 2 hours, before raising temperature to 500 degrees F for 15-20 minutes, or until fish is done.
Tips & Tricks - the temperature here is very important. For best results, use an oven thermometer to test the temperature before beginning, and use an instant-read thermometer to test the internal temperature of the salmon fillet after smoking.
Our Favorite Ways to Enjoy - the delicate flake of hot-smoked salmon makes it ideal as a chunkier, more rustic addition. Perfect for dips, it transforms cream cheese into a sophisticated smoked salmon dip, like this recipe for Smoked Salmon Mousse. It also works wonders in pasta (smoked salmon pasta, yes please).
Ready to put that smoked salmon to good use? Try our new Smoked Salmon Mousse Canapés recipe!