You may recall when I first started this blog, my raving about Pike Place Market in Seattle. It was my first ever trip to Pike’s and I left feeling energized and excited about all of the fresh fruits and proteins that spill out of its market stalls. But one of my favorite goodies that I enjoyed while there was a smoked salmon, which I snacked on (unabashedly) while perusing the stalls.I’d had smoked salmon before, but that smoked salmon was so fresh I could practically taste the sea on it. Ever since, I’ve been completely obsessed with fresh smoked salmon, which, lucky for me, is abundant in the Pacific Northwest. Because smoked salmon is particularly expensive, I decided to learn to master the art of smoking salmon, a technique that I hope will translate into future smoking endeavors. While each fillet that I smoked was delicious in its own right, there was one that stood above the rest in terms of overall flavor complexity and balance: the sweet and savory smoked salmon.After curing in the refrigerator overnight to rid the fish of excess water, it is then rubbed down with a sweet and savory seafood rub. I use this rub when preparing many different types of seafood dishes–it’s incredibly versatile and goes particularly well with grilled fish or shrimp. When rubbed on a hot smoked salmon, whose brininess tastes like the ocean itself, however, it’s just downright mouthwatering…perfect for plopping on bagels at your next brunch party or tossing in a salad for a quick and healthy dinner. Sweet and Savory Smoked Salmon
Prep time: 40 minutes, plus 12-24 hours to cure
Cook time: 1-3 hours
Recommended Smoker: Traeger Grill’s Lil Tex Elite; Recommended Pellets: Apple or Cherry
- ½ cup of white sugar
- ½ cup of brown sugar
- ½ cup of kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon of ground black pepper
- 2 large fillets of salmon (approximately 3-4 lbs)
Sweet & Savory Rub Ingredients
- ¼ cup of paprika
- 1 tablespoon of garlic powder or granulated garlic
- 1 tablespoon of salt
- 1/3 cup of brown sugar
Combine the curing ingredients—white sugar, brown sugar, kosher salt, and black pepper—in a medium size bowl and mix together. (Note: Be sure that you are using kosher salt. If you don’t have kosher salt and are instead using sea salt or table salt, reduce the amount of salt to 1/8 cup.)
Place a stretch of tin foil on top of a long, rimmed baking sheet (at least the length of your salmon fillets.) Place a layer of plastic wrap, such as Saran wrap, on top of the tin foil layer. Sprinkle 1/3 of the curing ingredient mixture on top of the saran wrap in a line about the length and width of the salmon fillet. Lay the salmon fillet (skin side down, if it has skin on) on top of the cure mixture and spread another 1/3 of the mixture on the flesh side of the salmon. Then take the 2nd salmon fillet and place it flesh side down on top of the first fillet. Rub the final 1/3 of the curing mixture on top of the skin-side of the 2nd fillet half. Place another layer of plastic wrap followed by another layer of foil on top of both fillets and wrap up the ends so that the salmon and cure is tightly encased in the plastic and foil wrap. In sum, your layers should be ordered: foil, plastic wrap, curing mixture, salmon fillet, curing mixture, salmon fillet, curing mixture, plastic wrap, and foil.
Place the entire baking sheet into the refrigerator and top with another baking sheet. Finally, place something heavy, such as a phone book or bottles, on top of the baking sheet so that the weight is distributed evenly along the salmon fillets. This helps the excess water leave the salmon fillets, which is replaced by the flavors of the curing ingredients. Allow the fillets to cure in the refrigerator for 12-24 hours, turning it roughly halfway through the curing process. (Be careful of dripping liquids when you flip the salmon!)
Remove from the refrigerator after 12-24 hours and rinse off the salmon fillets under running water. Using paper towels, gently blot the salmon to get rid of excess moisture.
Mix together the sweet and savory rub ingredients in a small bowl. Sprinkle the rub evenly over the flesh side of the salmon fillets and gently pat the rub into the fillets. Shake off excess rub, lay fillets flat on baking sheet in a cool, dry place (not in the refrigerator), and allow to rest for 1 hour. This firms up the exterior of the flesh and allows for the smoke to bond more thoroughly with the fish. Don’t skip the step of shaking off the excess rub—too much and it will overwhelm the smoked salmon’s natural flavors—you only need a very thin dusting.
Once your fish is finished drying, start your smoker. I use a Traeger Grill, which I set it to “smoke” with the lid open until a fire is established. Once you see smoke billowing out from it, set your salmon fillets skin-side down on the grill, keeping the dial set on “smoke.” Smoke for 1-3 hours, or until a temperature inserted into the thickest part of the salmon registers 150 degrees F. While the fish is smoking, be sure to monitor the temperature closely to ensure that it does not get above 160 degrees F. If you notice it getting above 160 degrees, either remove some wood pellets (fewer pellets mean less heat) and/or prop open the grill lid slightly (about 1 inch) to maintain a steady lower temperature.
Apple and cherry wood pellets pair nicely with this recipe, though it is versatile enough to work with any wood pellet type.