Hot Smoked Salmon.
"Smoked" anything sounds sexy. Doesn't it?
Kind of what I thought I was when I was 16 and I started smoking. My mom and my lungs thought otherwise.
Smoking to me then seemed attractive. All the "popular" girls I was trying to befriend smoked. But as we all know, taking smoke into our lungs for fun and enjoyment is not very healthy no matter how happy it might make you. Even when you are inhaling it to smoke meat or vegetables. I know the smoke is meant to coat your culinary subject with flavor and preservative qualities but there is no way to not take a few smoky hits to the head or eyes while trying to get the process started.
I live in a big cabin in the woods and as much as I trust myself with wielding fire, and charcoal and a grill...the wind can sometimes make me a Nervous Nellie when grilling or smoking. A few weekends ago was of course no different. And of course the spitting rain made it impossible to put the grill on the lawn, so I was reduced to smoking in the small porch of the kitchen door entryway. Good thing the entryway floor is slate.
Makes it easy to start and keep coals going.
Enough chit-chat. It's time to smoke some salmon!
Can I tell you?...I had a freakin' BLAST with this challenge!
I think it was because this was my very first time cooking salmon.
I've always had an aversion to cooked salmon. It, like tuna, in my limited experience, always took on a "fishy" texture and flavor that I just don't like. Give me raw tuna or cold smoked salmon and I am a happy girl. So when I saw this was the challenge at hand I was a bit worried. But I embraced it and went gung ho.
I almost got it posted in time too.
But life got in the way so here I am posting late.
I am now brining's biggest fan! Since starting Charcutepalooza, I have gained so much insight into how brining alters, for the better, the taste, texture and color of meat.
I can't wait for Thanksgiving this year. My family is going to die when they taste my brined bird.
As for my side of salmon the BF picked up that friday night...I had it brining on Sunday in Michael Ruhlman's basic fish brinewhich I tweaked by adding brown sugar and dill.
Out of the brine and into a porcelain bowl it went after about two hours of soaking.
Rinsing is easy.
Fill the bowl with cold water, put it under the tap then let the running water do all the work.
After rinsing, dry it off thoroughly, but be gentle. Waterlogged fish flesh is easily broken and you don't want to bruise or tear a specimen as pretty as this.
Now you have to wait...again.
Oh...another good thing about being in Charcutepalooza...you learn to have a lot of patience.
Patience, my pretty!
I am one of the most impatient people you will, or won't, ever meet, and all of these challenges are "long-term-goal" oriented.
No immediate gratification here kiddies.
Let the fish sit out, uncovered, till the surface darkens a bit and gets tacky.
The tacky surface is what the smoke molecules need to adhere to the fish, so don't shortchange this part of the prep!
While your fish is resting, you can start prepping your grill.
My setup was pretty basic.
All I did was take a pile of coals and place them in the back of the grill.
Then I placed a handful of presoaked mesquite chips on the pile of coals and set the side of fish to the front of the grill, away from direct heat.
I'm lucky to have the space for a standing Weber grill right outside my kitchen door, under a covered entryway. Even though it was raining that afternoon, I was able to smoke outside without the weather hampering my efforts.
If you're interested in learning to smoke meat (and veggies too) look online. There are hundreds of smoking procedures for your specific space and time requirements.
Also take some time to look up some of the other awesomeCharcutepalooza posts on smoking meat.
See that smoke coming out of the vents?...it's time to put the fish on the grill.
Remember! Keep the fish as far from the coals and direct heat as possible. You don't want the fish to cook before it has had enough time to absorb the right amount of smoke.
With my grill, and I imagine other grills made in the same way, I was able to keep the fish consistently smoking at temps between 185F and 202F for almost 2 hrs.
To give yourself that much smoking time and heat, set another mound of coals on fire.
I started the first round in the bottom of the grill like below but with the fish on the grill now, I had to start the second round on my slate steps. It wasn't raining at that point so it wasn't a problem.
You can see in the picture that there are little foil "containers" at each corner of the grill. That was because I read somewhere on the web that placing little piles of coals and smoking chips at the corners makes for better smoke circulation. But I couldn't keep each of the piles hot enough to keep the mesquite smoking, so in the end, I just dumped all the coals in a pile in the back with the mesquite chips layered in and let the smoke have it's way with the fish.
There was no WAY I was going to tend those little piles of coals for 2 hours. And I didn't. The big pile in the back worked fine and I smoked us an amazing side of salmon.
I waited for almost two hours and checked the meat. I pressed down on it and it felt firm, throughout the length of the filet, of course being a bit harder on the edges.
The coral / caramel color of the fish on the outside told my gut that it was done so I took it off the grill.
I'm glad I listened to my gut because it was perfectly done.
I plopped it on the cutting board to rest while I finished the rest of the meal. As it rested, it started to release a massive amount of liquid while on the cutting board.
I had to let the meat release the locked-in moisture that smoking sealed in and after that first attempt at slicing, there was NO way we were serving this salmon into steaks. You can see in the picture how flaky it was. But with a mere touch of a fork or knife the flesh just fell away.
It was that moist and heavy with moisture.
That being said, I had to change gears for meal presentation shifting from salmon "steaks" with carrot salad and sour dough bread and butter to toasting the baguette slices, thickening the creme fraiche sauce and serving it all on a bamboo cutting board.
It became finger food night!
I was afraid that the "fishy" flavor I hate would come through with the fish cooked all the way through.
But somehow, (thank you, gut reaction) I pulled it off the heat before that chemical reaction happened, and although it was hard, if not impossible, to cut through, because it so-easily flaked apart, the flavor was soft and delicate against the smoky background of the outer flesh. It was a symphony for the senses.
Topped with the creme fraiche, harissa and dill it was "expletive" amazing!
We ate and ate and ate that night. When we ran out of bread, we topped triscuits. And that is ironic because one of our favorite snacks (turned sometimes dinner) is cold smoked salmon on triscuits topped with wasabi cheddar.
We continued to pull flesh away from the gleaming stainless steel colored skin and when we couldn't eat any more, I packed a dogie bag of goodies for the BF and had to send him home.
I cleaned up the kitchen and checked the grill.
All was cool with the rest of the coals, so I closed the lid and pushed the grill back into place.
I walked through the house shutting off the lights (you need a lot of lights for a 2000 sq foot log cabin) and everywhere I went there was the smell of mesquite and charcoal.
And then I discovered why. My clothes and my hair and my skin were soaked with the smell. It's like I smoked myself!
I took a shower and dropped myself into bed, exhausted and full of salmon and wine. Not a bad end to the week.
The next day at work...I couldn't get my mind off the salmon sitting in my fridge a mere three miles away. I was craving it from afar!
When I got home I had one objective.
Make a Salmon Salad Sandwich. And did I ever.
And it was so simple...
check it out here...
What I love about culinary adventures like this one is where they eventually bring you. I though I had it all figured out when I started this challenge.
I "knew" what I was going to get...but of course I was wrong.
The simple and classic preparation method of smoking brought me and so many others such culinary joy and THAT is what I cherish about risk-taking in cooking. You can always make the same-old, same-old and you and others will more than likely be satisfied and full. But take a chance and you will probably be surprised at the range of emotions and experiences you can have at one meal, and then the next that culinary chance leads you to.
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