Friday, 10 February 2012

How to smoke your own salmon at home! mmMMmm!

For Christmas I wanted to do a whole baked salmon as the food centrepiece for a cold seafood buffet. Whole salmon are not cheap and I didn't want to stuff it up on Christmas Eve and have no amazing centrepiece on the day. So I called my little brother, who at 6' something isn't quite so little anymore, but happens to be an ex-chef and a seafood lover. I figured he'd  know the best way to cook it.

"Smoke it," he said. "Oh for goodness sake," I replied, " I'm a home cook not a trained professional like you". "Its easy and I guarantee even you can do it" (He lucky he lives on the other side of the country is all I have to say about that!) "I'll email you the instructions" and in due course a list of instructions arrived filled with expletive's - You'd think he taken his apprenticeship with Gordon Ramsey from that email - and I gave it a go. Its a GREAT way to cook salmon and I'm telling you, any home cook can do this successfully. I know. I've done it. Twice!

Here's what I did...

First purchase your salmon. I get mine from a family owned seafood house that is open 7days a week, smells like fish, is wet underfoot and has really friendly staff who take the time to talk me through what I'm buying and what I'm going to do with it. I have started buying whole fish as these guys cut it up, scale it, gut it and what ever else you do to fish and present me with the fillets or steaks at a much cheaper price than the already cut ones on display. I don't understand the logic but I do understand the economics - its cheaper to buy the whole fish that fillets! For this method, I use fillets but I suspect you could smoke the fish  as a steak - I just haven't tried it.

If  you have to buy more fish than you need for this meal, simply pop it in the freezer and feed your family another fish dish or entertain some other friends next week. Obviously we can't eat a whole 4 kilo salmon in one hit but we do in a month!

Next - remove all the little bones from the fillets. You'll need a pair of tweezers (pliers don't work, I tried it) and if you run your finger along the white dots you can see on the fillet you will find the bones. They take a bit of getting out (once you get the right angle they slide out) but it will make the eating nicer (you can take bigger mouthfuls - and you'll want to!) if you can get them all out now.

Sorry - the one handed lowlight pictures arent the best... but Im sure you get the idea!

Then we need to marinate the salmon for at least 4 hours. The marinade that my brother recommended, as both easy and the best, is a 60/40 mix of brown sugar (60%) and salt (40%). Rub it on the all sides of the fillet/s, cover and pop in the fridge for as long as you can. Overnight is good.
I had to cut this fillet up to fit both in the dish and on the "smoker".

It will leak fluid (I think that's a reaction to the salt) but as you will need to dry the fillets anyway don't worry to much about it. Turn it a few times to get the marinade well and truly into the fish.

When you are ready to smoke your salmon - and I do this as part of the entertainment now cause its much nicer hot than cold - grab a wine or a cold beer and start smoking!

Warning: Although this is easy to do on your stove top - DON'T. It smokes out your house and you spend the next week living in a house that smells like a burnt out shell. Its the hardest scent to get rid of! (I know, cause I did it!)

We use our camping gas burner and an old frying pan out on the verandah with the house well and truly shut up. This is going to almost ruin your frying pan so choose it carefully. Line your frying pan with a layer of alfoil to help with the cleaning up process. If you are anti alfoil cause it gives you Alzheimer's - buy an old pan from a second hand shop. It will be worth the investment.

Add to the bottom of the pan, a couple of handfuls of rice (any kind) and about 5 green tea bag contents any flavor) (throw the bags out) or spoon in 5 teaspoons if you have it loose. This is what is going to smoke and flavor your fish. Throw in rosemary sprigs or whatever herbs take your fancy at this point too.

Next put an oven rack across the pan for the fish to rest on. The fish doesn't go in the pan.

Dry your fish with paper towel or old tea towels. The first time I did this I didn't dry the fish enough and the sugar melted, driped and burnt to the bottom of the pan. It makes a hell of a mess and took my husband about a week to get it off. The pan was ruined for anything but smoking after the first go (Oh well silver linings and all that stuff!) 

Place the fish on the rack. You are best to do this all before you turn on the gas - especially the first time. Its easier to get it all set up the first time when everything is cold rather than blistering hot!

See the rice and geen tea in the bottom of the pan?

Then cover the whole thing with a wok. This is to keep the smoke in and circulating around the salmon.

Turn on the gas and light it. As long as you can see a little bit of smoke - its doing the right thing. You don't need billowing smoke to get this to work. You'll also have the neighbours calling the Fire Brigade if you have too much smoke. (And you wont want to share this with seven hungry fire men and a dozen neighbours!)

It takes about 15 minutes to cook through. Its not going to be like the smoked salmon on the little gold trays in the supermarket. Its going to be a indirect heat cooked fish with a smoky salty sweet flavor that is very addictive! If its quite a thick piece, turn it part way through the process to make sure you smoke it all the way through.

Poke it with a fork to see if its cooked the way you like it and when its ready, serve immediately!

Sorry... bad photo again. Fairly dark and maybe a champagne or two by this time!

I serve this verandah smoked salmon with a spinach, dried cranberry, cracked almond and feta salad with berry vinaigrette, fresh plain bread and baked sweet potato's with a honey glaze...

Does it for me! Happy smoking!

Score card:
  4/5 Local sustainable fish - good green karma! (Is Tasmania local to Brisbane?)Frugal-ness: 5/5 for buying in bulk, freezing it and saving money!
Time cost: 10 minutes to make the marinade, 4 hours fridge time and 15 - 25 minutes to cook. One week to soak and clean the pan...
Skill level: Much easier than you think - Honest!
Fun -ness: Spectacular way to cook for friends - Excellent way to entertain - Much fun-ness all round!

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