Monday, September 23, 2013

Finally Some Salmon I Really Like: Brown Sugar Brined Smoked Salmon



I make no secret that even though I am quite an adventurous eater, there are certain foods that I just don't like. Oysters, raisins and caviar are at the top of my list of things I'd rather not be served ever again, in this lifetime or the next.

Keeping these foods company on this list is salmon. It seems like everyone in this world loves salmon but me. I can't tell you how many times I've choked down an acceptable amount at a dinner party just not to offend my host.  I guess I could start telling everyone at the time of invitation of my dislike for salmon, but I hate being a pain in the ass, and I must admit that I kind of like to live dangerously. Not knowing what is on the menu gives me some sort of thrill. It's a foodie thing I guess.

I have kind of hung in there with salmon because of its health benefits. As I understand it, salmon is packed full of good stuff that our bodies need, and as I start to get a bit older, I realize how important that is. Not to mention the health benefits are especially important to those of us who would like to lose a pound or twenty before the Pillsbury Bake-Off in a little over a month.

I was reminded of this yesterday while wearing my new, size "wishful thinking" boy short underwear that rolled down my hips and turned into bikinis under the stress of the ten pound spare tire that I just can't get rid of. Oh I have been really trying and walking my legs off every morning, but it just won't shift, and to add insult to injury, I have another birthday coming up in less than a week. Ugh. Is it just me, or does it seem like I've written a post like this before?

OK, after saying that I dislike salmon I am going to contradict myself and admit that there is one type that I have kind of grown to like.  It is a local product that is marinated in a sugary, salty brine and slowly smoked.  It is really good with a bagel that is slathered with cream cheese. I know, I know, that's not exactly low-cal, but I'm taking baby steps here.  Anyway, not only is it pretty expensive, it is also made with farm raised salmon that I personally am not really crazy about, so I don't buy much of it.

A few days ago a very generous neighbor brought some of his own smoked salmon down for us to try. It was love at first bite I tell you.  Just as good as that farm raised high dollar stuff, his salmon was sweet, smoky, and just the right texture which is firm and flaky, but not dry. Perfect for my morning bagel or a nice low-cal salad.

After picking his brain and doing some internet surfing, Mr. H and I came up with just the right ratio of sugar to salt to garlic that produces a piece of salmon just as good as the store bought stuff. The only inexact part of this recipe is the cooking.

Our neighbor said that he cooked his in his propane smoker at 150 degrees for about an hour.  Our fillet was 1/2" at one end and almost 1-1/2" at the thickest. We set our electric smoker (loaded with apple wood) at 150 degrees and our fillet took almost 2 hours, so your cooking time will vary depending on the size of your fillet and your smoker's temperature setting and accuracy.

Knowing that not everyone has an outdoor smoker, I did a little research and found Saveur's instructions for a little makeshift indoor smoker that anyone can put together. Since this is very different from the one I used, you will have to watch your salmon carefully to get the desired doneness.  I do have to say that even though the folks at Saveur say they ordered their wood chips online, I buy mine at Lowe's and Home Depot. They are not as fine as the ones they use in the video but I would try them first before ordering any online.

Brown sugar, kosher salt, Gilroy garlic and $18.00 worth of wild king salmon. An unbeatable combination.

Brown Sugar Brined Smoked Salmon

1 pound wild king salmon fillet
1/2 cup slightly packed brown sugar
1 ounce kosher salt
1 large garlic clove, crushed

Rinse and dry salmon fillet.  Place in a flat, non-metallic dish with a lip (I like using my glass loaf pan); set aside.

In a medium size bowl, combine sugar, salt and garlic.  Place salmon, skin side down in the dish. Pack the brine mixture on top of the salmon. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6 to 12 hours. You will notice as it sits, the brine will melt and produce a syrup that will run all over the fish.

Gently pack the sugar mixture on top of the salmon, cover it and place it in the refrigerator for 6 - 12 hours.  I prepped mine late one night and smoked it the next morning.

After marinating, my fillet had an almost candied appearance.

Remove the fish from the brine, dab with a paper towel to dry and place on a rack with a dish underneath to catch any liquid that seeps out of the salmon. Allow salmon to air dry for an hour.

Preheat an outdoor smoker to 150 - 170 degrees. Add wood chips (Mr. H highly endorses apple chips) as desired or recommended on your smoker's instructions. Smoke fish for approximately 1 - 2 hours, checking occasionally being careful not to over cook and dry out.

Remove salmon from the smoker and serve when desired.  Personally I prefer mine chilled or room temperature, but this is purely personal preference. Store in an airtight container in the fridge. I have no idea how long it will keep in the fridge because we ate ours within two days.

Proper smoking produces a fillet that is slightly sweet, smoky and flaky.


It has taken me years and a lot of tasting, but I can finally claim success. This is salmon that I really, really like.
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