Salmon season is about to kick off here in northern California and hopefully, it will be a bountiful season. Salmon are a good fighting fish so, whether you are fishing the rivers or in the ocean, salmon are a lot of fun to catch. Oh, and by the way, they really taste great, and they are really good for you. My Dad took me salmon fishing when I was 9 or 10 and I?ve looked forward to this time of year ever since. Whether you smoke it or grill it, there?s nothing better than fresh caught salmon.
But now that you?ve caught it, what do you do with it? I like to cut a few one inch steaks and fillet the rest for smoking. Salmon is such a flavorful fish; I don?t like to use too much seasoning. I choose to keep it simple; I don?t want to drown out the flavor of the fish. So, when I grill salmon steaks, I brush olive oil on both sides, add salt and pepper, (sometimes lemon pepper), and dill. That?s it; the steaks are ready for the grill.
You can use a gas grill or a charcoal grill, but either way you need to pre heat your grill to medium heat. Personally, I?m an old charcoal die hard, so I pre heat my smoker grill to 325 degrees and it?s time to start grilling salmon steaks. But, remember, salmon cooks quickly, a one inch steak at 325 degrees should only take about 4 minutes a side. So, be careful and do not overcook it. When grilled properly, your salmon will be moist and flaky. When you pull it off the grill, serve it up. It?s best when served hot.
As for smoking salmon at home, it?s really not that difficult. It?s a lot of fun and the finished product is great. If you have a smoker grill and have never smoked salmon before, you really should give it a try. It?s a lot easier than you might think.
The first thing you need to do is make up your brine. The most basic of brines contains water, salt, and sugar. Do not use table salt. Use kosher salt, or, better yet, canning salt. Mix 2 cups canning or kosher salt, and 2 cups brown sugar in 1 gallon of water. There?s lots of other ingredients that you can add, but I like the flavor of the salmon so I go easy on the seasonings. Next, place your fish in a plastic or glass container, add your brine so the fish is fully submerged, and place in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours. You can go longer than 8 hours, but don?t overdo it. The longer the salmon is in the brine, the saltier it will be. I usually let it go for 10 to 12 hours.
The next step is to air dry your cured salmon in a cool place. This is a vital step in the smoking process. As your fish dry?s, you will notice that a thin, sticky, lacquer like substance forms on the fish. This substance is called a pellicle, and this drying process should take about 2 hours.
With that done, you?re ready to smoke your salmon. So, fire up your smoker grill and pre heat to about 150 degrees. This is lower than normal smoking temperatures for most meats. But, this is salmon, and you don?t want to smoke salmon at higher temperatures. It will cook too fast. Next, you need to add your smoke, but, you don?t want to overdo it. So, I wrap a couple of handfuls of wood chips in aluminum foil, poke holes in the foil, and place it on top of the coals. Now, place the salmon on the grill, skin side down and leave it alone.
Depending on the thickness of your fillets, the smoking process will take anywhere from about 1 hour, up to 4 hours for thick slabs. Once you?ve done this a few times, you?ll get a feel for when it?s done. For now, use a thermometer and look for an internal temperature of 140 degrees. Or, you can check it with a fork, when it starts getting flaky, it?s about done. And when it?s done, pull it off the grill, let it sit for 20 minutes or so, and then dig in.
So the next time you get some salmon, fire up your smoker grill. Your family and friends will love the steaks and I promise you, they will love the smoked salmon as well. Give it a try, you won?t be sorry.