Smoked salmon is one of the great joys of life! What beats that delicious smoky flavor and texture? In my opinion, one of the best kinds is cold smoked salmon.
It is the perfect accompaniment to a platter, great with Eggs Benedict or just fantastic on a cracker with cream cheese. The possibilities are endless and I am yet to come across a combination that I don’t like.
The process of cold smoking salmon is actually surprisingly easy and is something that I wish that I had come across earlier in my smoking career. My whole family is obsessed with the homemade version! Someone is always asking me to make it.
I love cold smoked salmon, but it does take time, a little bit of know-how, and a couple of special pieces of equipment. I often get asked a lot of questions about how to cold smoke salmon so I will cover the basics for you here. At the end of this post, there is also a recipe using fresh salmon.
Can You Eat Cold Smoked Salmon?
Yes, you can eat cold smoked salmon. Cold smoked salmon piece is perfectly safe to eat straight out of the smoker, or packet.
What is Cold Smoked Salmon?
Cold smoked salmon is salmon that has been cured in salt and then ‘cooked’ using cold smoke. Cold smoking is when you smoke food at a temperature of between 68 to 86°F. Smoking salmon at a low temperature gives it an incredible smoky flavor.
The Basics of Cold Smoked Salmon
There are a few things about cold smoking salmon that you should know before you start:
- Closely Watch Your Temperatures: Don’t let your smoker reach temperatures over 80 degrees Fahrenheit. This will end up cooking the salmon and you will come away with a different result than desired.
- Is Cold Smoked Salmon Raw? Yep, it is still raw fish. Cold smoked salmon is technically still raw, however, curing allows you to eat it. This is because the highly saturated cure causes the proteins in the salmon to denature.
- The Necessary Equipment: For cold smoking (salmon or any other fresh fish/meat) you need a smoker that can be set up for cold smoking. Cold smoking can be done with any grill or smoker.
Do I need to cook cold smoked salmon?
Although technically cold smoked salmon is not cooked, you don’t need to cook it before eating. It is 100% safe to eat. The curing process takes care of all the nasty germs and harmful bacteria. However, you should always get the freshest high-quality sushi-grade salmon for cold smoked salmon.
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Fresh Salmon or Frozen Salmon for Smoked Salmon?
It may come as a surprise to you but frozen salmon is better to smoke with than fresh. This is because the freezing process does two things:
- Kills Any Parasites: Salmon can have harmful parasites throughout the fillets. The best way to kill the parasites is to deep freeze them at -10 degrees.
- Ruptures the Cell Membranes: During the freezing process, the liquid inside the cell membrane expands. This puts more pressure on the cell walls and causes ruptures. Once the walls have been ruptured and the salmon starts to thaw, the liquid from inside the fillets drains from the flesh. This means there is less water for the cure to remove. The result is a much better texture.
What Type Salmon Should I Use For Cold Smoking Salmon?
Now you know you should be using frozen salmon, what breed of salmon should you use? Choosing what salmon is very important. There are plenty of different breeds of salmon out there, but what one is right for smoking?
Each different type of salmon has different oil levels. You will get a better smoke out of salmon with higher oil content.
What is The Best Type of Salmon For Smoking
The best breed of salmon for smoking is sockeye salmon or King salmon (Chinook salmon).
It is not imperative that you use one of these cuts in my cold smoked salmon recipes, however, for you seafood lovers out there it will be well worth it!
Why Smoke Salmon
Smoked salmon has a tonne of nutrient benefit. Salmon is a great source of protein, omega-3, vitamin D, vitamin B, magnesium and selenium. Although smoked salmon does not help lower cholesterol it does help increase your intake of good cholesterol.
How To Cold Smoke Salmon
Cold Smoked Salmon Recipe
- Smoker with the ability to cold smoke
- glass dish or baking dish
- paper towels
- wire rack and sheet pan
- 2 – 3 pounds salmon fillet fresh and from the head end if possible
- cold water
- 2 tablespoons crushed black pepper
- 3 cups brown sugar
- 3 cups Kosher salt or sea salt or enough to cover you salmon
- 4 cloves of crushed garlic
- 1 tsp crushed fennel seeds
Garnishes (optional but recommended)
- brined capers Drained
- brioche toast points or crackers Toasted or grilled
- fresh dill Chopped
- lemon Sliced
- red onion Thinly sliced
- Place the salmon fillet on a flat surface flesh side up. If the salmon is not at room temperature, let sit for an hour or so for it to come to room temperature. Run your fingers overtop of the skin side of the salmon fillet and feel for the ends of any pin bones. Pull out any pin bones with a pair of tweezers by pulling the ends of the pin bones. Once all the pin bones have been removed, run your fingers over one more time to double check all pin bones have been removed. Clean the salmon fillet and make sure there is no muck on them
- In a mixing bowl mix together the Kosher salt (or sea salt), black pepper, brown sugar crushed fennel seeds and garlic.
- Place the salmon in a glass baking dish flesh side up. Ensure you place the salmon inside the dish so it has plenty of room and no filets are touching. Spread out 1/3 of the cure. Place the salmon fillets on top of the cure making sure that the cure extends around ½ inch from each side of the salmon. Spread the remaining cure on the top side of the salmon, coating each salmon fillet completely with no gaps or holes.
- Cover the dish completely with plastic wrap and place the salmon in the coolest part of your refrigerator for 24 – 48 hours to cure. For best results place a weight on top of your salmon while in the cure. I recommend something like a pie dish or a baking tray with a couple of cans of food. You are looking for around 1 – 1.5 pounds of weight to help draw out moisture. The key with the cure is the longer, the better.
- Place the salmon In a large bowl filled with 3 inches of cold water soak the fillets for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes drain well with lots of fresh cold water to remove any salt and muck.
- Pat the salmon dry on both sides with paper towels then place the salmon skin side down, uncovered on a wire rack on top of a sheet pan to air dry. Place in the refrigerator and let air dry for around 4 hours. The fillets should feel a little sticky at this point. This is when the pellicle forms. Don't worry the salmon fillets will not stick to the wire rack.
- Prepare your smoker for cold smoking as per your manufacturer's instructions. For this recipe I use a Masterbuilt gas grill. Remember cold smoking temperatures are important so ensure your temperatures never exceed 86 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Place the salmon in your smoker flesh side up. Let the salmon go through the smoking process until it feels leathery, firm and has a nice bronze color. This should take a minimum of 12 hours right up to 20 hours.
- Before serving wrap the salmon in butcher/ baking paper and rest in the refrigerator for a minimum of 4 hours. Ideally leave overnight.
- Diagonally cut thin (or thick depending on your preference) slices with a very sharp knife and garnish with lots of fresh dill, lemon slices, black pepper, capers, red onion, crusty bread and a squeeze of lemon juice. If you are feeling fancy a garnish of teaspoon of lemon zest will also
Its as simple as that. Cold smoked salmon or ‘Lox’ I know your family and friends are going to absolutely love you for this one!
Do you have any some life changing cold or hot smoked salmon recipes I need to try? Id love to hear them!
Happy Smoking everyone,