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Smoking Salmon: How to Cook Your Catch

Packed with Omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, potassium and protein, salmon is one of the healthiest fish available, and it makes a fantastic addition to your diet. Smoking your salmon catch at home gives you more variety of flavors to enjoy, but it requires patience. However, as an angler, patience is your forte. 

Mark Davis Alaskan salmon

Cold Smoking Salmon

All species of salmon, from Kokanee salmon to Atlantic salmon, can be smoked. There are two primary methods of smoking salmon: hot and cold smoking. Each technique produces a vastly different result that is suitable for distinct recipes. 

Cold smoked salmon is the type you see sliced in vacuum-sealed packs and retains a shiny, almost translucent appearance and raw-like texture. This is typically achieved by dry-curing the fish in salt and sugar for several hours, or even days, to extract most of the moisture. The salmon should be refrigerated during this process to prevent bacterial growth.

Once the moisture has been drawn out, the next step is to remove the salt cure, rinse off the fish and pat it dry with paper towels. Once your salmon is dry, place it in your cold smoker for up to ten hours. The temperature of the smoker should remain below 80°F throughout the process. 

Many standard meat and fish smokers are too hot for cold smoking, so choose your smoker model wisely. Ensure that you separate the pieces of salmon in the smoker so that smoke and air can circulate around each piece. When the fish is ready, you can refrigerate and serve in thin slices.

Hot Smoking Salmon

smoked salmon

Not only is the flakey texture of hot smoked salmon completely different from salmon that has been cold smoked, but the curing and smoking process requires different techniques. 

Once your fish is prepared into fillets with the skin on one side left on, place them in a wet brine. A basic brine is made from salt, sugar and water, but you can add flavorings to suit your taste, with ingredients such as lemon juice, garlic, star anise or whiskey. Cover your salmon in the brine and leave between 6-12 hours to soak, depending on the thickness of the pieces.

After the brining process, rinse the fish in cold water, pat dry and then leave it for an hour to air dry. Your salmon is then ready to go in the smoker, which should be heated to approximately 200°F with wood chips. 

The wood you use for smoking can affect the flavor of the fish as much as spices do, so experiment until you find a wood you like. Popular woods for smoking salmon are alder and hickory. Be careful not to dry out your fish by using too high a heat. A 3 lb. piece of salmon usually takes between 30-60 minutes to smoke, but you can use the internal temperature, which should be 140°F, to determine when it is ready.

How to Cook with Smoked Salmon

With catching, preparing and smoking, you’ve invested a lot of time in your salmon, so you need some salmon recipes worthy of your effort. These smoked salmon dishes will inspire you to keep on fishing.

Salmon Fettuccine Alfredo

Smoked Salmon Fettuccine Alfredo

Fettuccine Alfredo is a beloved pasta dish in the United States. Traditionally made with fresh fettuccine pasta, butter and parmesan cheese, it’s said to be named after Alfredo di Leilio who invented the dish and served it at his restaurant in Rome in the mid-20th century. As its popularity grew throughout the U.S., the recipe evolved and now often features heavy cream.

This simple, comforting dish is the ideal base for adding extra ingredients, such as bacon, mushrooms and smoked salmon. The creamy white Alfredo sauce pairs beautifully with a rich, smokey salmon, as neither flavor dominates the other. The easy-to-prepare smoked salmon fettuccine will become a family favorite.

Smoked Salmon Brunch Dishes

Both hot and cold smoked salmon are staples of brunch menus because they are light yet packed full of flavor. Integrating smoked salmon in your breakfast is a tasty, healthy alternative to bacon. 

The simplest way to include salmon in your breakfast or brunch routine is by adding a few slices of cold smoked salmon alongside your scrambled egg on toast or on top of a bagel with cream cheese, red onion and capers. 

If you want to go for something a little more complex, how about rustling up a hot smoked salmon frittata or omelet? If you’re in the mood for something continental, make some French crepes and stuff them with salmon, goat’s cheese and spinach. 

Smoked Salmon Soup

There’s nothing like a warm bowl of hearty soup, especially in the cold winter months, and smoked salmon can add a tasty twist to your favorite soup recipes. The rich fattiness of salmon makes it an impressive addition to any seafood chowder, but how about trying a traditional Finnish salmon soup, Lohikeitto?

Lohikeitto is a creamy soup that usually features leeks, potatoes, carrots, cream, heaps of fresh dill and home-smoked salmon. This is the perfect dish to take in a Thermos to keep you warm on your next fishing trip.

Smoked Salmon and Rice

Fish and rice are a popular pairing worldwide, as rice is a wonderful base to show off the delicate flavors of all kinds of fish. A simple recipe to start with is smoked salmon risotto. Add some lemon, peas, parsley and a generous sprinkling of parmesan, and you’ve got yourself a delicious, filling meal.

If you’re looking for more intense flavors, try salmon kedgeree. Traditionally made with smoked haddock, curry powder and hard-boiled eggs, this British dish was inspired by Indian cuisine. Salmon makes a wonderful substitute for haddock. 

For something light and fresh, prepare smoked salmon sushi. Get a sushi-making kit and gather the entire family to have a go rolling seaweed, rice, smoked salmon and avocado into delicious hand rolls. It’s a fun meal both to make and eat.

smoked salmon spread

Smoked Salmon Spread

Smoked salmon or trout is delicious all on its own, but here’s something that will take it to the next level. A great appetizer or treat to take along to hunting or fishing camp, this snack keeps well and is easy to make ahead. Substitute smoked lake trout, char, trout or cod, if that’s your catch of the day. Enjoy this salmon spread recipe from Brad Fenson.

The Takeaway

Anglers are often looking for fresh ways to prepare and cook their catches, and learning how to smoke fish like salmon is a valuable culinary skill to have in your repertoire. Once you’ve been through the smoking process a few times, you’ll realize it’s pretty simple and worth the effort for the intense flavors you can produce and introduce to your cooking.

Wild, Top Quality, and All Natural Wild Game available at Gamekeeper Butchery

Need wild game meat for a recipe you've been wanting to try? Check out GameKeeper Butchery. GameKeeper Butchery is dedicated to procuring the finest assortment and highest quality of specialty meats from the United States and around the world. Our commitment is to deliver the safest, freshest and most wholesome products.

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