C’mon, we’ve all wondered how to smoke salmon…..right?


Whether it is mixed in with cream cheese and put on a bagel, or delicately added to what’s known as a “Philadelphia Roll” at any sushi restaurant, I am sure we have all heard of smoked salmon before. But what is it exactly? And how do you make it? Well, I am very fortunate to be able to tell you just what it is as well as show you exactly how to make this delicacy. Dan wanted to put “house-made smoked salmon” back onto the menu, and I was the lucky contestant who got to make it (with Dan on my shoulder, of course).

WHAT IS IT: Smoked salmon, generally speaking, is cured salmon filet that is usually cold smoked (sometimes hot smoked) afterwards.

CURED? Curing is a method of preserving food (killing any harmful bacteria) without actually “cooking” it, or applying any heat to the product. Some examples of curing are: salting, brining, smoking, and even pickling! Back in the old days salting was a very common way to preserve meats because they obviously didn’t have those lovely refrigerators or freezers back then.

Here we have an entire box of kosher salt sitting inside a clean apron which is sitting inside a perforated (has holes) hotel pan which is sitting inside of a regular hotel pan.

Then, I had to cut off the belly of the salmon filet. Dan explained to me that it is usually a lot tougher and usually is a bit more fishier in flavor. NOTE: we did 2 filets together and after Dan did a step to the first filet, I had to do the same to the second.

Then we laid each of the filets, skin-side down, into the apron full of salt.

Here is a BUNCH of herbs and spices (including another half of a box of salt). Thyme, brown sugar, cayenne, and coriander, along with a few others, got mixed together and were ready to go on top of the filets.

Dan was very strict on making sure the filets were packed as tightly as possible. If any air were to get to the salmon it would cause bacteria and could destroy the entire fish! Just to be sure we even bordered the entire thing with more salt to get into all the little nooks and crannies.

Then, the apron got folded up, and we had to stack a lot of hotel pans on top of it because it needs a good amount of weight to cure properly. It got put in the walk-in refrigerator for 3 days!

Hop onto my time machine with me as we jump (drive? fly?) ahead 3 days…

(that was literally the first thing to come up when I googled “time machine”)

That was all that was left of the salt and flavorings! The texture of the salmon at this point blew me away. It was so dense, so heavy, and had almost a leathery feel to it. The raw salmon allowed my finger to go through the meat, but now it bounced right back!

Now it was time to cold-smoke. Doesn’t cold smoking sound like an oxymoron? The purpose of cold smoking is to only give it that smokey flavor. It does not cook the salmon in any way, which also leaves it with that very delicate texture that falls apart when you slice it. Our rotisserie oven had just been used to roast chickens so the first step? Cool the oven completely:

Yes, that is a fan blowing cool air on an oven. Trust me, I had the same look on my face as you have right now.

These are the chips we used to smoke. I had to take paper towels, put 2 big handfuls of the hickory chips inside, and close it up as tight as I could. Then I placed them at the bottom of the oven:


Okay so ignoring all of the ugly parts of this picture, try to focus on the mind-blowing science behind this procedure. I lit the hickory chips covered in paper towels until they were all smoking, the smoke rises through the pan that is filled with ice, and out comes a white, cold smoke, like fog. ISN’T THAT AMAZING?? Maybe I am really weird, but I could not get over just how smart and awesome it was.

When we took the salmon out of the fridge, we quickly rinsed it off, put it in the oven and 2 hours later? Perfect. Smoked. Salmon.

Comments? Questions? I am all ears.

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Filed under Napa Valley Grille Internship

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