My first attempt at smoking salmon came out very well, so it's worth trying to record what I did.
I tend to be very precise in my cooking. I rather like following recipes. But it seems that smoking is much more imprecise than most cooking. The first recipe I got (from Tom McClure, a Facebook friend) involved Johnny's Seasoning, which I'd never heard of knew I didn't have at home.
So I consulted the smoking book I got at Christmas. It says this about smoking time: "Smoke at 170º until flaky." I wanted something a bit more precise.
So I looked at several other recipes, which only magnified my confusion. All the recipes I saw used a mixture of salt and brown sugar as the basis for a rub, with a bit of extra seasoning. But the ratios varied from 3:1 salt:sugar to 1:4 salt:sugar.
Cooking temperatures varied from 170º to 225º, and target temperatures varied from 125º to 145º.
So I was going to end up winging it. Here's what I did:
I had two skin-on filets of about a half pound each. I decided to go for a rub of equal amounts of salt and brown sugar, with four tablespoons of each. Then I discovered that we didn't have salt in the house. (And buying more wasn't an option, because this was after midnight and I needed to let the salmon brine overnight.) I got three tablespoons of salt out of our table shaker, and then made up the other tablespoon with celery salt. I then added a few shakes of garlic powder and ten grinds of lemon pepper.
This was about the right amount of rub; I applied it quite thickly to all sides of the salmon, and didn't have a huge amount left over.
My planned smoking schedule got thrown off by errands that I had to run. The salmon ended up brining in the refrigerator for about twelve hours. The next step was to rinse it off, pat it dry, and let it dry in a cool dry place until it formed a tacky skin called a pellicle. (This was the step that worried me most about the general "wing it" nature of the recipes; if the brining step was too far off, this could be an opportunity for bacteria growth. I'd like to find a resource that explained what is necessary for safety, so I can be sure I'm within the safe zone.) I let it dry for an hour and a half, at which time it had just started to form a pellicle.
I put the salmon filets on aluminum foil and trimmed the foil to match the salmon skin, because one of the recipes I'd read had recommended doing so. I then inserted a meat thermometer and started to smoke it with a smoker temperature of 200º and a handful of hickory chips. I let that run for 20 minutes while I did other chores. When I checked on it after 20 minutes, the smoker was reporting a temperature of 225º, and the salmon's temperature had climbed from 57º to 89ª. I turned the smoker temperature down to 180º and opened the vents.
I then went off on my errands, and didn't manage to return until the salmon had been in the smoker for 2 hours. By that time, the smoker reported an internal temperature for the salmon of 161º, well above the target temperature of 145º I was aiming for. I thought the salmon would be overcooked. But I was planning to serve the salmon in five hours, so I didn't have time for another try. So I put the salmon in resealable bags in the refrigerator and planned on saying "Sorry, it's my first time".
The salmon turned out very nicely, though, with lots of flavor of both salmon and smoke. It was also very moist and tender, more so than any commercially smoked salmon I can recall. (I've had salmon smoked by friends that was as moist and tender, though.)
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