Smoked salmon is perfect for having on hand during the holidays. It makes a quick but elegant appetizer served with creme fraiche and seeded-rye toasts, and it’s equally delicious on top of a bagel with cream cheese. We promise: once you smoke a salmon fillet, you’ll start skipping the store-bought stuff.
Salmon’s high fat content makes it a great candidate for brining and smoking, but lean fish like halibut, sturgeon and delicate trout can be hot smoked, too. And the fish can be fresh or frozen; freezing draws out moisture, which gives the smoked fish a firmer texture.
Our favorite wood for smoked salmon is alder, which has a sweet, subtle flavor. Almond and cherry are also good. Be sure to use finely chopped wood — not sawdust — and make sure you use natural, untreated wood chips without additives.
Don’t have a smoker? You can easily make your own stove-top smoker with a few tools. Here’s how:
- a large, heavy frying pan
- a second shallow, sturdy metal pan, such as a pie or cake pan, that fits inside the frying pan
- aluminum foil
- fine wood chips
- a round wire rack that fits over the smaller, second pan
How to Make It:
- Line both pans with the foil. Place a handful of fine wood chips in the center of the larger pan.
- Place the smaller pan directly on top of the pile of wood chips to flatten them.
- Follow project steps 1-3 below. When the fish is ready to smoke, place the oiled rack with the fish on it over the smaller pan, and seal the frying pan tightly with foil.
- Place the smoker on the burner and proceed as directed in step 4.
5 cups (40 fl. oz./1.25 l.) cold water
1 cup (5 oz./155 g.) kosher salt
3/4 cup (6 oz./185 g.) firmly packed golden brown sugar
1 wild samon fillet, 1 1/2 lb. (750 g.) and about 1 inch thick, with skin intact
Vegetable oil for rack
Step 1: Make the Brine
Pour the water into a glass baking dish large enough to hold the fish and brine. Add the salt and sugar to the water and stir with the whisk until dissolved.
Step 2: Brine the Fish
Place the fish, skin side up, in the brine. Weight the fish with 2-3 small plates to submerge it in the brine. Refrigerate for 2 hours.
Rinse the fish with cold water and gently pat it dry with paper towels. Lightly oil the smoker rack and place the fish on it. Place the fish, unwrapped, in the refrigerator until it dries and forms a shiny skin, at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
Step 4: Get the Smoker Ready
Ready a store-bought smoker according to the manufacturer’s instructions or a homemade smoker. Place the fish in the smoker and cover, then place the smoker on the stove top.
Step 5: Smoke the Fish
Turn your exhaust fan on to high speed. Turn on the burner to medium heat and cook for 20-25 minutes. The fish will start to ooze white juice when it is done. Press the edge of teh fillet lightly with your fingertip; if it flakes easily it is done. Be careful not to overcook.
Step 6: Enjoy!
Uncover the fish, lift the rack out with 2 pairs of tongs, and let the fish cool slightly. Put the rack with the fish, uncovered, in the refrigerator until chilled. (This is easier than trying to remove hot fish from a hot rack.) Remove the chilled fish from the rack and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Use within 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.