Last time I went grocery shopping, the salmon looked really fresh, so I bought a couple extra portions. I had no idea what I was going to do with them at the time, but I couldn’t resist the temptation.
I had to think fast because fish doesn’t stay fresh for long. I perused the contents of my kitchen for inspiration, and realized I had a stash of bagels in the freezer, a full tub of cream cheese, tomatoes, cucumbers and capers in the fridge. The only missing link to all of these ingredients and the ultimate brunch is some hot smoked salmon. Voila! I had my answer.
Hot smoked salmon is prepared in three steps, so be prepared for this to take three days. With the extra time I’m spending at home these days, I was more than excited to take on this project.
Step #1: The Brining
Brining is when you submerge food in a salt, sugar and water solution for an extended period of time. The briny solution replaces the plain water in your food, making for a very moist and flavorful finished product. For a very comprehensive explanation of brining, along with several recipes, check out The Chopping Block's Owner/Chef Shelley Young’s very informative blog on this subject.
I used a very basic brine of:
4 cups cold water
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup brown sugar (you can substitute granulated sugar)
After thoroughly whisking the salt and sugar into the water until dissolved, it’s as simple as placing the salmon fillets into the brine and refrigerating. Because the salmon fillets were only about 5-ounces each, they only needed to brine for about 3 hours. If you have larger cuts of meat or a whole chicken or turkey, you will want to increase the brine time.
Step #2: Forming the Pellicle
It sounds complicated, but I promise you it’s not. Remove the salmon from the brine, and place on a paper towel-lined plate or on a small wire rack set over a plate. Refrigerate the salmon overnight, uncovered. This allows formation of a “pellicle,” a tacky surface that gives the smoke particles something to adhere to.
Step #3: The Smoking
This is when your stovetop smoker is going to come in very handy. If you don’t have a stovetop smoker, you can hot smoke the salmon on your charcoal grill over indirect heat. Bank the hot coals on one side of the grill, sprinkle water-soaked wood chips right on top of the coals, place the salmon on the other side of the grill and close the lid to capture the smoke. You can also use your gas grill. Place the soaked wood chips on a sheet of foil. Wrap the wood chips up, but leave the top of the foil open. Set the package of chips right on the grill grates over the hot burner, and once they start smoking, you’re ready to go. Place the salmon on the other end of the grill grate with no flame underneath, close the lid, and smoke away!
Because this step does create some smoke, I like to do this outside. We set up our camp stove in our grill, and set the woodchip-loaded stovetop smoker over medium-low heat. We would have just done this on our picnic table, but it was a windy day, and we needed to shelter the flame. If you have good ventilation in your home, then place the stovetop smoker right on your gas burner.
Once the woodchips start smoking, lightly brush the salmon with a neutral oil, like grapeseed or canola oil, and place the salmon in your smoker or on your grill. Close the lid to capture the smoke, and cook the salmon until it has a wood-smoked sheen to it, and is cooked through. For my smaller fillets, it took about 15 minutes. Allow the salmon to cool before enjoying.
All that’s left to do at this point is to have a feast! I made a platter of sliced cucumbers, tomatoes and capers, I toasted the bagels, set out the cream cheese, and used my hands to flake the salmon apart. My family and I constructed our amazing brunch bagels and feasted.
If you’re interested in other smoking techniques for salmon, sign up for our virtual grilling class on Saturday, May 30th, and we’ll teach you how to make Cedar-Planked Salmon from our outdoor patio at Lincoln Square.