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How to: make cold smoked salmon

You don’t need much heat to prepare this iconic smoked delicacy.

  • 1–2 pounds salmon fillet
  • ¾ cup kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 bunch dill, chopped
  • 1 ounce Aquavit, gin or vodka (optional)
  • Prep time: 48 ½ hours
  • Cook time: 6 hours
  • Servings: 6

Have you ever wondered if you can cook fish without the heat? If your taste buds are slightly adventurous, the answer is yes, with this cold smoked salmon recipe.

Safely making cold-smoked salmon means getting the technique right, and that requires practice. The USDA recommends that the thickest part of the fish should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145°F. Since cold-smoked salmon is technically cured rather than cooked, it’s up to you to take food safety into consideration.

Cold Smoked Salmon Instructions:

  1. 1

    First, remove any bones.

  2. Prepare the salmon for curing by running your fingers along the flesh side of the fish, feeling for pin bones. Using kitchen pliers or tweezers, remove any pin bones and discard. Rinse the salmon in cold water and pat dry.
  3. 2

    Pour a shot of alcohol on the fish.

  4. Line a large tray with a double or triple layer of plastic wrap large enough to wrap the salmon fillet tightly. Place the fillet skin-side down on the plastic wrap. Spread about a tablespoon of the alcohol on the flesh side of the fish to coat evenly.
  5. Flip the fish over and pour the remaining alcohol on the skin side, spreading it evenly across the skin. The alcohol will pool somewhat. Allow the fish to rest for 5 minutes, fillet-side down in the alcohol bath.
  6. 3

    Add the brine seasoning.

  7. Mix the salt, white sugar, and brown sugar. Sprinkle about 25% of the brine seasoning on the skin side of the fish. Flip the fish and sprinkle the remaining brine seasoning on the flesh side of the fillet.
  8. 4

    Cure and chill.

  9. Evenly spread your chopped dill along the flesh side of the salmon fillet. Wrap the fish tightly in the plastic wrap, taking care to retain any seasoning and liquids. Place the wrapped fish in the refrigerator between two plates to weigh the fish down. Allow the fish to cure for 24-48 hours, turning every 8 hours or so.
  10. 5

    Clean and rest the fish.

  11. Remove the salmon from the refrigerator, and rinse the cure and dill completely from the fish. Pat the fish dry, and place it on a cooling rack above a cookie sheet. Allow it to rest uncovered in the refrigerator for 12–24 hours.
  12. 6

    Bring the smoke.

  13. Fill a smoking tube with Kingsford® Cherrywood Pellets. Ignite the smoking tube and place it in your smoker, and allow the cherry smoke to permeate the salmon for 6 hours.
  14. 7

    Slice and serve.

  15. Chill the salmon in the refrigerator for a minimum of 4 hours to make it easier to slice. Place the salmon skin-side down on a cutting board, make slices across the fillet as thin as possible and remove any strips of skin. Serve immediately.
  16. Remember, making cold-smoked salmon at home is not an exact science and you should always err on the side of caution when preparing this dish.
  17. Adding a little extra salt to the cure and allowing it to cure longer is safer than less curing time.
  18. Make sure the refrigerator temperature is at or slightly below 40°F and work to keep the internal temperature of the smoker less than 80°F. After you cure and rinse the salmon, be sure to dry it before returning it to the refrigerator. Allowing it to rest uncovered in the refrigerator will form a sticky film or pellicle, sealing the fish and encouraging its natural juices and oils to stay inside the fish during the cold smoking.

How to cold smoke salmon?

It’s important to understand how it’s different from warm-smoked salmon.

Cold-smoked salmon is fish that has been cured and then smoked. The curing handles the cooking and smoke is added for flavor.

On the other hand, warm-smoked salmon is soaked in a wet brine before smoking. Wet brines are similar to marinades. Think of a wet brine as a flavorful seasoned bath that will make the salmon more delicious after smoking.

What’s the difference between cold and hot smoked salmon?

The difference between cold-smoked salmon and warm-smoked salmon is the way the fish is treated prior to smoking.

Cold-smoked salmon is seasoned with a cure or dry brine.

A cure is typically a mixture of dry seasonings consisting of salt, sugar, and dried or fresh herbs. The dry brine will pull moisture from the salmon and make the flesh firmer. It will also help to absorb flavors from the herbs without being overpowering.

Cold-smoking salmon adds flavor to the fish but doesn’t technically cook the fish. Instead, it cures the meat, making it safer to eat than raw.

Hot-smoked salmon, on the other hand, is cooking the fish while adding smoke flavor.

Cold-smoked salmon is soft, slightly velvety, and supple. It’s most commonly served on a bagel with cream cheese or atop a cracker. Warm-smoked salmon is much flakier.

How long to cold smoke salmon?

You can get away with cold-smoking salmon for a few hours. Commercial salmon smokers recommend to cold smoke at no more than 80°F for 18-24 hours, based on personal preference and the thickness of the fillet.

Cold smoking for that long can be challenging for home cooks because most residential smokers cannot maintain a low temperature for this long, so 4-6 hours will typically suffice.

What to serve with cold smoked salmon?

Many foods pair well with cold smoked salmon. Because people enjoy using it as an alternative to smoked meat, it’s quite popular on smaller bites of food like a canape with capers on cucumber, or for adding flavor to eggs benedict.

Smoked salmon can also bring an interesting depth of flavor to risotto, and it adds an unctuous flavor to Asian rolls, like a salmon and avocado roll or a smoked salmon California roll.

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