For the past couple of years, our brining and smoking method for salmon, trout, sturgeon and other fish has been the most popular article on our blog. Here it is again, with updated notes and photos.
If you’ve ever looked at those electric smokers sold in sporting goods stores and wondered if they did the job, the short answer is, “They do.” Our favorites are the Big Chief, Little Chief and Mini Chief models made by Smokehouse in Hood River Valley Oregon. Inexpensive, easy to use, easy to store and efficient, these smokers come with complete directions and a useful booklet that details the how-to of smoking and provides a number of recipes for fish, shellfish, poultry, meat, cheese, and even noodles, soup and breads. My own most recent experiment with smoking was sea salt. It came out… smokey!
To obtain the best smoked fish, start with high-quality fish. Fresh fillets from bright fish make for a far better product than poorly cared for fillets from a badly handled fish. Also – and this is important -the method we use is not designed to kill parasites. It is recommended that fish be frozen at the lowest freezer setting possible for at least seven days before smoking them in order to ensure that they are parasite-free. You can read NOAA’s full recommendations here.
Below: A double batch of sockeye salmon in side-by-side Big Chief smokers.
For salmon, trout, sturgeon and similar fish with fairly firm meat, we marinate fillets in a wet brine for roughly six to 10 hours depending on the size and thickness of the fish or fillets. The fish can be brined in non-reactive glass, plastic or stainless steel (not aluminum) pans in the refrigerator or in a bucket or cooler with a couple of sealed Ziplock bags of ice thrown in to keep the mixture cool. Following are the step-by-step instructions we use for whole small trout and the fillets of salmon and other fish. The recipe can easily be modified to add other flavors or to finish the smoked fish with a sesame seed glaze.
Ingredients: For eight pounds of salmon, trout, sturgeon or other fish
- 8 to 10 pounds fillets, skin on, rinsed, patted dry, cut into small pieces. A good size is about 3″ x 6″, but smaller or slightly larger is fine. Small trout can be cleaned and smoked whole.
- 8 cups water
- 2 cups soy sauce (Kikkoman is our favorite)
- 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
- 1/2 cup sea salt or kosher salt (Do not use iodized salt. It will impart an unpleasant flavor.)
- 1 1/2 tbsp granulated garlic
- 1 tbsp ginger
- Mix brining ingredients together in a large bowl.
- Pour mixture over fillets, making sure they are covered, or until they float.
- Cover containers and marinate for about 8 hours (or overnight) in the refrigerator.
- Remove fillets from brine, pat dry with paper towels, and arrange on racks to dry for about an hour – until a glaze forms on the surface of the fish.
- Smoke fish according to your smoker’s directions with alder wood, mesquite, fruit tree or hickory chips. Check occasionally, keeping in mind that air temperature will influence smoking time. Typical smoking times range from 6 to 12 hours. A slightly wet product is best suited for many of the recipes we enjoy and for canning. For straight snacking, a drier product may be preferred.