Fish Preparation: How To Smoke Salmon

A step by step guide for beginners on how to prepare and smoke your own salmon.

I. Buy the Necessary Supplies

You will need the following items in order to smoke a salmon:

A smoker. There are many different types of smokers available on the market. They range in price from fifty dollars to over five hundred dollars. If this is your first time smoking a salmon then I would recommend that you get a low end smoker. After you become proficient at smoking salmon, you can decide whether you want to invest in a more expensive smoker. A Little Chief brand smoker is a great smoker for those who are learning how to smoke fish. They work well and are fairly inexpensive. These smokers cost between $50 and $100 depending on the size. You can buy these smokers at most department stores. When you buy a smoker they usually come with supplies and direction on how to smoke a fish. This can be extremely helpful if you have never smoked a salmon before. There are many different kinds of smokers available. A lot of people make their own smokers so that they can smoke larger amounts of meat at once. Get to know the market and ask a lot of questions before you invest in a high end smoker so that you know that it will produce the quality of smoked salmon that you are looking for.

Brine. You can find pre-packaged brine at most grocery stores and sporting goods stores. You can also make your own brine. The simplest way to make brine is to mix three and a half cups of table salt with 1 gallon of water. You will want to make 1 gallon of brine for every 4 pounds of salmon that you are preparing. To change the taste of the brine you can substitute wine for all or a portion of the water, or you can add any mixture of spices to change the taste. A lot of people will also add 1/4 cup of sugar for every gallon of brine to produce a sweeter taste. There are many recipes for brine mixtures available online if you want to use homemade brine without making up your own mixture.

Wood Chips. When you smoke your fish you will want to purchase wood chips. You can buy prepackaged chips at almost any grocery store or department store. There are many different types of wood chips used. Hickory, apple, alder, and cherry are the most common. Of course, the taste of the salmon will vary depending on the type of chip used. Experiment with the different types of chips to find the taste that best suits your individual preferences. You can also use a mixture of different types of chips to produce your own unique taste.

II. Prepare the Salmon

Before you begin the smoking process you need to prepare the fish. First, clean the fish by removing all of the internal organs. Then you remove the head, the tail, and all of the fins. When you have done all of this, scale the fish.

Salmon are one of the easiest fish to scale because they have very delicate scales. Hold the salmon by the tale and then scrape away from you with a knife. The knife will catch the scales and lift them from the body of the fish. After you have scraped the fish several times, wash the loose scales off of the body of the fish and repeat the process until all of the scales have been removed.

After the scaling of the fish is complete, fillet the fish. You may want to take the fish to a meat store or the local grocery store and pay to have someone fillet it since it is difficult to fillet a salmon without leaving bones in the fillets. If you are going to fillet it yourself, you will need the following tools:

A razor sharp filleting knife. Buy a specialized filleting knife at a sporting goods store.

A large chef's knife. This will enable you to cut through the bones.

Needle-nose pliers. These will allow you to remove any bones left in the fillets.

Heavy-duty kitchen scissors. These are needed to remove the fins.

After you have your tools assembled, lay the fish on one side. Press down on the fish with your free hand. Position the knife at the tail of the fish and begin cutting the meat.

It takes a lot of practice to cut the meat without cutting through the bone. So do not worry if you get a lot of bone the first couple of times you fillet a fish yourself. The trick is to cut right along the top of the bone without cutting into the bone itself. After you have filleted the fish, use the needle nose pliers to remove any bone left in the fillets.

III. Soak the Salmon in Brine

After you mix up your brine mixture, soak your fish in the brine. In order to soak the fish you will need an appropriate container. When choosing a container you should make sure that the fish is completely submerged in the brine at all times. To accomplish this I would recommend two different containers. One of the best containers is a simple plastic zip lock bag. Simply place the fish in the bag and then pour the brine on top. Remove as much air from the bag as possible and then seal the bag. Another container that works well is a plastic container, the type used for storing left over food. If you are using this type of container simply place the fish in the container, fill it to the top with brine, and then seal the container with a lid.

After you have placed the fish into the container, put the container into the refrigerator. The length of soaking time depends on how thick the fillets are. For every 1/2 inch of fish you should add an hour of soaking time. After soaking the fish, remove it from the brine. Let it sit for about an hour before beginning the smoking process. It is important that you soak the fish for the proper amount of time so that it is adequately cured before smoking.

III. Place the Salmon in the Smoker

After you have soaked the salmon in the brine, prepare your smoker. Follow the directions that came with your smoker for set up. Place the fish on the smoking racks that came with your smoker and put the fish into the smoker. This is the longest part of the smoking process. The length of smoking time will depend on how thick your fillets are. Smoking a salmon will require three to four days of smoking for it to be completely cooked. If you store your fish in a freezer for more than a couple of weeks then you will need to smoke it a least five days. Your fillets will be done when they turn a deep golden brown color. Use a thermometer to check the temperature in the middle of the smoker to be sure that the smoker stays around 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

For the first twenty four hours you will not need a lot of smoke. Replace the wood chips every three or four hours. After the first day gradually increase the amount of smoke by replacing the wood chips more frequently. Do not turn up the heat. When the salmon is completely smoked, it should be kept in the refrigerator. If you are planning on vacuum packing the fillets for storage, then the fish should be kept in the refrigerator for several months before packaging.

VI. Alternatives

If you love smoked salmon but you are not interested in smoking your own fish, there are alternatives. Most meat stores will smoke your fish for you. The cost depends on the amount of fish that you need smoked. There are many advantages in having your fish smoked at a meat store. First, they have been smoking fish for years and they know what they are doing. Second, they will almost always have very nice professional smokers that will produce a better flavor in the fish. Third, it is a lot easier because they will prepare the fish, fillet the fish, and smoke the fish. If you have a large amount of salmon to smoke it is a great alternative to smoking the fish yourself and you will be guaranteed to get a good tasting product.

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