Last week a colleague defended his PhD, and to celebrate I hosted a party for him featuring my first attempt at smoked salmon. I went with the first recipe I found online, which in this case happened to be this site:
I followed the recipe for the brine with the exception of fennel, which I didn't have. I prepared the brine and poured it into a large plastic bag with the gutted salmon. I let them soak for two days.
The morning of the party, I took the salmon out of the fridge and laid them out on racks in the basement with a box fan blowing cool air over them. This dried the fish and helped a pellicle form on the outside of the fish. The fish dried for about five hours.
Four hours before the party I started a fire in the smoker box on the side of the grill. I used hardwood charcoal to start the fire and then added mesquite smoking chips. Unfortunately, I think I added too much fuel, because even with the air vents shut completely I could not get the temperature to drop below 180 F. The target temperature was 140 F. After three hours the meat was flaking easily. Next time I will make a better effort to keep the temperatures low so that it can smoke for a longer time.
Once the fish were cooked, I put them on baking sheets and let them cool in the fridge. This step helped the meat firm up so that it had the desired smoked fish texture.
And here's the finished product! The smoked salmon tasted great. It is certainly the best method of preparing salmon that I have tried so far. I think next time I will try cutting the fish into sections so the meat can more easily absorb the brine as well as the smoke flavor. Overall, this was a tremendous success though. The salmon was a big hit at the party, and I have plenty of leftovers in the fridge and freezer to enjoy until the next time I visit Terry in Milwaukee.