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"Traditional" Smoked Salmon and Trout


Wade
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Smoked Salmon and Trout is one of the products that I produce in reasonable quantity in the Smokery. It has a fairly short shelf life (~10 days in the fridge) ans do must be produced on a regular basis. Smoked salmon can be frozen for longer storage but does eventually start to lose some of its texture whilst frozen.
I regularly get texts from local fishermen at the end of a weekend asking if I will smoke their catch for them. The smoking process takes about 2 days in total and turns the results of their day of sport into something very special to eat.

Making "traditional" smoked salmon and trout is quite straightforward and can be easily done in a home smoker. Bullet smokers are ideal for cold smoking multiple fish however individual fish can be smoked quite easily in most kettle BBQs.

What is "traditional" smoked salmon?

It is when the salmon is preserved in times of plenty for eating later when food is scarce using of a combination salt, smoke and drying as the cure. Historically the resulting salmon would have been expected to last for weeks or months and would have ended up being very salty and much drier than today's smoked salmon. It would probably have need to have been soaked to remove some of the salt before it was eaten.
Today though the smoked salmon we are used to buying is much less salty, but it does only have a chilled shelf life of about 10 days. 

What do we mean when we say we are "curing" salmon or trout?

We are altering the fish flesh in order to slow the growth of spoilage bacteria so that it is safe to eat over a longer period of time.This is achieved by using a combination of three different ways to control bacteria spoilage.

  1. Addition of salt. By increasing the salt concentration the bacteria cells are dehydrated through osmosis and the bacteria are killed or their growth is inhibited.
  2. Removal of available water. Bacteria need available water in order to grow and multiply. During the curing process we will be removing water that is between 15-18% of the original weight of the fish. This gives the smoked salmon its traditional translucent appearance and oily texture.
  3. Addition of smoke. Wood smoke contain a number of substances that inhibit bacterial growth and it can act as an effective anti bacterial in sufficient quantity. Sufficient smoke to do this alone would be unpalatable and so in today's traditional smoked salmon it is predominantly there for flavour.

Do we need Nitrite when curing Salmon?

No we don't. Nitrite and Nitrate are primarily used to control the growth of bacteria spores (e.g. Clostridium botulinum). as the smoked salmon we are producing has a chilled shelf life of about 10 days these are not a problem here.

Step 1 - Preparing the salmon

When I get caught salmon delivered to my door from local fishermen it is whole, ungutted and is in bags.

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Salmon bought from the local fishmonger comes looking much less daunting. It is important that you use the freshest possible fish when making smoked salmon so before you buy, ensure that the eyes still look clear and bright and that the gills are still a deep crimson colour

 

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First the head needs to be removed. When doing this it is important to keep the bony gill collar in place on the body of the fish as this will help support it while it is smoking.

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The fish then needs to be "split". This is similar to filleting - however the rib cage and pin bones are left attached to the fillets during the curing and smoking process.

Using a sharp knife cut along the backbone from the head end down the length of the fish - cutting through the rib bones at the top and then filleting as you move towards the tail. Repeat on the other side so that you end up with the two split sides and a backbone with the tail attached.

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If the salmon is large then you can optionally cut away a couple of disks of the skin to allow easier drying. Smaller fish, like trout, do not need to have disks cut.

Wash the salmon sides under cold running water and pat dry with kitchen towel

Step 2 - Curing the salmon

The cure I use regularly consists of 50% salt and 50% sugar by weight. These ratios can be adjusted but the salt should always be at least 50%

  • Salt. This can be any non iodised salt. Fine cooking salt works well and I often use this. I also use course sea salt, which you can see in the photos below.
  • Sugar. I use standard granulated white sugar. Different sugars can be used but these will affect the colour and flavour of the resulting smoked salmon.

Mix the salt and sugar together well in a bowl and sprinkle on both the skin and flesh sides of each fish split. You should have more of the cure mid at the thicker head end of the fish and gradually reduce it towards the tail. With the fine salt you will see an even layer of white salt ans sugar on the fish but with the coarse salt (below) it is more difficult to see.

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Place the salted splits on top of a wire cooling rack in a tray. The action of the salt will pull water out of the fish and it will drop into the tay below as brine. The cooling racks help keep the bottom fish out of the brine and prevent it from becoming too salty.

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Salmon can be stacked up to 2 sides high for curing and smaller fish can be stacked up to 3 sides high

Cover in clingfilm and place in the fridge. For large salmon fillets allow 18 hours but smaller trout will only need 12 hours.

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If you do not have room in the fridge for one of the large trays then you can use a standard roasting tray with a wire cooling rack placed over the top.

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During the curing process the brine will fall to the bottom of the tray. The amount shown below was from 2 whole salmon (4 sides)

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Once cured for the required time the fish should be washed well under cold running water and then patted dry with kitchen paper. You will notice that the fish will have turned a deeper orange colour and has become much firmer in texture.

Step 3 - Preparing for smoking

If using a smaller kettle smoker, or if using a cardboard box, the fish can be laid skin side up on a wire cooling rack inside the smoker. If using a bullet smoker or larger custom cold smoker then it is best to hang the sides vertically. To do this it is best to string them ans support them with a skewer.

You will need some non fiberous string (I use butcher string) some metal skewers and a large sack needle. If you do not have a sack needle then you can use the point of a small sharp knife to make the hole for the skin.

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Using the needle thread a length of string through the fish side just underneath the bony collar. 

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Tie the two ends of the string together to make a loop.

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Push the skewer through the flesh of the fish underneath the bony collar but above the string loops. 

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This will give the salmon sides plenty of support while they are smoked.

Leave the prepared salmon sides in the fridge, uncovered, for an hour to allow a pellicle (slightly sticky surface) to form.

Step 4 - Smoking

The salmon should then be placed in the smoker and left to smoke at between 20-24 C (the temperature of a nice warm summer day) for 24 hours.

I mostly use hickory when smoking salmon as it gives a nice sweet flavour, but Oak and most fruit woods are good for smoking fish too.

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Whilst smoking it is essential that you maintain a good air flow through the smoking chamber. This ensures that the salmon continues to lose moisture as it is smoking.

Once it has finished smoking the salmon should be a nice shiny orange colour and will be quite stiff. 

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Step 5 - Slicing the salmon

Remove the skewer and string and with a sharp knife remove any fins. When removing find cut around any small bones attached to the fins.

Cut away the bony collar removing as little meat as possible.

Using a sharp round ended knife slip the tip under the rib cage bones and gently cut along the ribs removing them completely.

The salmon in the photos below has has fresh fennel added to the cure for flavour.

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Using a pair of pliers remove the pin bones along the centre of the salmon. The pin bones are usually easier to remove once the salmon has been cured.

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Starting slicing at the tail of the salmon using  ~3mm thick slices

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When the whole length of the salmon has been sliced, fold the slices back to their original position and remove them from the skin using a sharp knife.

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  • 1 month later...

Beetroot is more commonly used when making a gravadlax but you can add grated or powdered beetroot with the salt/sugar cute. Use it sparingly though as it is used more for the attractive colouring rather than for the flavour.

No you don't need to weigh the fish to apply a %age of the cure. When using fine salt, liberally sprinkle the cure mix over the split fish side and then lift up the side and gently shake. Whatever cure remains on the fish is sufficient.

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  • 3 months later...

I finally got around to getting my xmas salmon in the smoker last night. As with most supermarkets, morrisons were doing whole salmon at a fiver a kilo. I really need to take a leap of faith and buy one whole next time as I am always disappointed in the state of the sides when I ask for it to be filleted in store - I'm not sure I could do a bett job but at least if I'd wasn't a great job, it would be my own fault .

i use a very similar method to Wade, the only real difference is my cure mix is a little saltier at 70:30 salt to,sugar and. I like to use light brown sugar.

i have blatantly nicked your 'tilted up cooling rack in a tray' method for storing the fish during curing, it's much tidier and efficient than how I used to store mine before I read this post - thanks for that!  I also like the look of your pliers with the little Spring on them, I've been using the snipe nosed pliers on a Leatherman tool for years and every time I pull the bones, I think what a faff it is to hold the pliers with my pinky on the inside to re open them - time to replace them I think.

My last cold smoker was a 220l food grade oil drum with an bulb as a heat source.  I'm using my new electric smoker with a pro q csg tnis time round.

image.jpeg

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For most people, the first couple of times they try to fillet a whole fish they tend to use short cutting strokes with the knife tip and it looks like carnage!! Once you get the hang of using long deliberate cutting strokes with whole length of the knife blade through the fish, it suddenly becomes very clean, quick and simple :thumb1:

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  • 4 weeks later...

You can smoke any size of Trout however the size will depend on the type of smoking. To use it for traditional smoked salmon style the fish really needs to at least a kilo in order to get decent slices. For the smaller fish fillets then a "light" smoke is usually preferable.

To control the saltiness with the smaller fillets it is often easier to cure with a brine.

  1. Dissolve 150g of salt in 1 litre of water. Stir until dissolved
  2. Immerse the fillets completely in the brine and leave for 5 minutes. This is sufficient to kill off any spoilage bacteria on the surface of the fish.
  3. Remove from the brine and hang. Allow to drip for 1 hour.
  4. Smoke the fillets for up to 24 hours at up to 20 deg C.
  5. Refrigerate after smoking

The smoking of the Trout in this way is similar to smoked haddock and the fish will need to be cooked before eating.

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On 1/18/2018 at 1:38 PM, Wade said:

You can smoke any size of Trout however the size will depend on the type of smoking. To use it for traditional smoked salmon style the fish really needs to at least a kilo in order to get decent slices. For the smaller fish fillets then a "light" smoke is usually preferable.

To control the saltiness with the smaller fillets it is often easier to cure with a brine.

  1. Dissolve 150g of salt in 1 litre of water. Stir until dissolved
  2. Immerse the fillets completely in the brine and leave for 5 minutes. This is sufficient to kill off any spoilage bacteria on the surface of the fish.
  3. Remove from the brine and hang. Allow to drip for 1 hour.
  4. Smoke the fillets for up to 24 hours at up to 20 deg C.
  5. Refrigerate after smoking

The smoking of the Trout in this way is similar to smoked haddock and the fish will need to be cooked before eating.

Wade where do you find a trout that gives you a side weighing 1kg once filleted, I would imagine the Trout whole would need to start out a 3-3.5kg minimum to get close to that. I never see a trout (whole) larger than 250-300g on my supermarket slab.

I take it you know a good fisherman or order it online or from a wholesaler? 

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I was referring to the weight of the whole fish and not the fillet. I don't usually buy Trout to smoke as there is little call for it from customers, however I do get given a lot of trout to smoke by local fishermen. They get their trout back smoked and I charge them a fee for smoking them. These vary in size but most of these trout are between 1 Kg and 2 Kg. The larger fish I smoke as traditional smoked trout and the smaller ones as lightly smoked trout fillets.

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As you say, supermarket trout are usually on the small size!

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Thanks for that Wade, will have a look around and see if I can find any larger trout.

Visiting family In Brixham next week, . I have a favourite fishmonger on the harbour front down there, so going to pick up some Mackerel and Whiting (and anything else he recommends smoking from the sea) and have a first time go at hot smoking them when I get back. 

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I realised that I had not posted photos of the wet brine method. I needed to smoke some Haddock and Cod yesterday for a fish pie so here are the pictures...

Dissolve 150g of salt in 1 litre of water. Stir until dissolved. Cooking salt is ideal. If you like your smoked haddock to be yellow (which I don't) then mix a tablespoon of Turmeric to a paste with a little warm water and add this to the water for making the brine.

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Immerse the fillets completely in the brine and leave for 5 minutes. Here I have 3 x Haddock loins and a cod fillet.

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Remove from the brine and hang. Allow to drip for 1 hour. I usually drain them on a wire cooling rack set at an angle in a large tray. If you do not own at least one full size Gastronorm tray then you are missing a very useful smoking tool. If a full size tray will not fit in your fridge then you can get smaller sizes

Smoke the fillets for up to 24 hours at up to 20 deg C.

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Trim, pack and refrigerate or freeze

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17 hours ago, sotv said:

Thanks for that Wade, will have a look around and see if I can find any larger trout.

Visiting family In Brixham next week, . I have a favourite fishmonger on the harbour front down there, so going to pick up some Mackerel and Whiting (and anything else he recommends smoking from the sea) and have a first time go at hot smoking them when I get back. 

I've just taken a few mackerel out of the freezer that we caught a few months back, they're going in the smoker later today.  If you are hot smoking them, a quick dip in brine helps take the smoke and then I like to smoke mine quite hot and fast.  I often do them in a snow bee type smoker sat on top of the gas bbq.

if you can get some herring from your man at Brixham,  have a bash at making some kippers, I made some a few years back and they turned out really well.  It was a recipe from Keith Earlandson's book and they were great fun to make, I imagine they would be even better with fresh caught fish rather than the supermarket jobbies I used 

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He always has plenty of Mackerel and Whiting, along with cod or haddock. Flat fish are the most plentiful fish down there (brill being the most common) very tasty but unsure whether it would suit smoking. never seen Herring as an option on his counter. I am not keen on Kippers tbh. Although my wife is.

love going to this shop just to see his filleting and shelling skills. He can fillet a flat fish perfectly in seconds. It is amazing to watch, never seen anything like it.

Had Turbot for tea last night. What a piece of fish that is. It was bought as a treat for us on our last visit. Can see why it is more expensive than fillet steak, not something I could afford for my weekly bit of fish, but worth every penny, even if it is just to try the once.

They also sell locally caught mussels and some great crabs dressed or whole or pure crabmeat by the container and crab claws. Had a wonderful meal of a bucket of crab claws done in Garlic Butter done on the BBQ out front at a restaurant in Teignmouth late last summer called The Crab Shack. Great menu overall. Definitely want to try Crab Claws done this way soon, the garlic butter and crabmeat once the claws had been cracked, had a real delicate smoky flavour from the soaked wood chips that didn't overpower the crab meat he used on embers of the BBQ. Really good, would imagine they could be done on a smoker, but the roasted/smoky taste the BBQ gave it may work better.

I would imagine mussels could be done the same way also and something I am looking at trying myself later this year.

Edited by sotv
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  • 2 weeks later...

Sorry. Only just seen your request. 

As hoped, they were beautiful. I gave the longer one to the in laws so was really chuffed when they raved about it after. 

I will be doing it again. Will try haddock next time I think. 

I’ve just come back from the farm market with some lovely plump mackerel( as well as a couple of lemon sole and a nice fat Brill) which I fancy smoking whole. Is that recommended for mackerel? And I presume they would need to be hot smoked? So any advice on time and temps would be greatly appreciated. Cheers

 

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Yes the mackerel are best hot smoked. The brining is the same but the smoking is different. You can smoke them whole if you want to hang them in the smoker, bit if they are going to be laid flat it is easier to fillet them first. 

I am sitting in A&E at the moment (not for me I hasten to add) so will give you more info when I get home.

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