Hot Smoked (Kippered) Salmon

May 6

Written by:
5/6/2011 10:02 AM  RssIcon

One of my favorite ways to prepare salmon is to hot smoke it, also known as kippering. The salmon is rubbed with specially prepared dry brine that pulls excess moisture from the salmon flesh and imparts the spices of the brine. I’ve been enjoying Andi's Dry Brine recipe for kippered salmon for some time now as it is a traditional Alaskan rub for hot smoking salmon. A batch of Andi's Dry Brine recipe will easily cover 10 or more large salmon fillets and keeps well in a heavy duty plastic storage bag in the fridge. I always keep a batch mixed and in the fridge to have on hand when I feel the need for buttery delicious kippered salmon. This is a recipe that does require extended timing so plan ahead, be patient and enjoy the results.

Andi's Dry Brine for Salmon
1 lb. canning salt (kosher salt will work too, but don’t use table salt that contains iodine)
1/2 lb. brown sugar
1 tbsp white peppercorns
1 tbsp juniper berries
4 crushed bay leaves
1 tbsp whole allspice
1 tbsp whole clove
1 tbsp ground mace
Maple syrup - optional

Grind about two tablespoons of the salt along with the spices in a spice grinder or mortal pestle. Mix the finely ground spices with the rest of the salt and the brown sugar. The dry brine may be stored in heavy duty plastic bags in the fridge at this point until ready for use.

Salmon fillet may be with skin on or the skin may be removed; skin on is just a bit easier to handle but is not always available at the market. Fresh or frozen salmon both work equally well with this recipe. Make sure your fish is rinsed and free of any blood. Trim each fillet to remove the thin belly flap; this provides a more uniform thickness to the salmon and the trimmed pieces make a nice quickly seared chef’s treat. Of course you can leave the full salmon fillet intact, but the thinner belly sections will dry out and be a bit jerky-like in texture. Lightly, but thoroughly, coat each salmon fillet with the dry brine. Cover the brined fillet with plastic wrap, and then place a weight on the fillet to help force out the moisture that is pulled out by the salt. (If you plan on doing lots of salmon and will be using the entire batch of dry brine it is fine to simply dredge each fillet in the brine to lightly coat each fillet. Multiple fillets can then be stacked while the dry brine does it work.) Cover and refrigerate for approximate 3-4 hours.

After the brining is complete there will be a good bit of liquid in the container as a result of the brining process; it’s important to make sure you have a container of adequate size to hold the resulting brining liquid. Now that the brine has done its work it is time to rinse and lightly scrub each fillet to get rid of the salt and spices remaining on the surface of the salmon. Dry with paper towels and set on elevated racks so air can circulate. Place the fillet in the fridge to dry until a pellicle is formed. This may take up to 6 hours, but it is THE most important step to smoking fish. When you touch the fish, your fingers remain dry and the fish is shiny. Brush with maple syrup about halfway thru the drying time. I usually plan on allowing overnight drying; allow the fillet to dry in the fridge for about 4 hours then brush on the maple syrup and allow to dry overnight.

The pellicle is crucial because it holds in the moisture and fat. Have you noticed that ‘ugly white stuff’ coming out of your fish as it cooks? That's fat and protein. If it doesn't bother you, then have at it, but for a beautiful bronze product...the pellicle is most important. Anyway, you know you have a pellicle when you touch the flesh and don't stick to's dry.

Preheat to smoker to190˚; a low smoker temp is also important to reduce the likelihood of releasing fat and proteins that may force white solids to the surface of your fillet. Cooking at high temps or not forming a good pellicle often result in the ‘ugly white stuff’ on the surface of your salmon fillet. I typically use pecan or hickory for smoking my salmon; experiment with different woods to see what you like best. Cook the salmon until an instant read thermometer reads approximately 130˚ in the thickest part of the fillet. Here it is handy to have a thermometer with a remote probe to monitor the internal temp of the fillet so you don’t have to keep opening the smoker to check. My 
Cookshack smoker has a remote thermometer probe that I set to 127˚ when smoking salmon; this allows for a little carryover cooking. Total cook time varies depending on thickness of fillets, but expect it to take from 1.5 to 2 hours when starting with a preheated smoker and salmon right out of the fridge.

The cooked salmon is ready to serve immediately upon removal from the smoker. Kippered salmon also works great in salmon spreads with cream cheese, capers, fresh dill and a fit of freshly squeezed lemon juice. It is great chilled and served with crackers, or cream cheese and bagels too. This recipe freezes well; just vacuum seal individual portions and thaw in the fridge.

Notes: At the end of the initial brining process you may want to check your fillet to see if the brining is to your liking and not too salty. To ‘test’ the brining, just cut a small piece of the rinsed and dried fillet, and quickly pan sear. If the salmon seems a bit salty to your liking just let it soak in ice cold water for an hour and check again. After you prepare this recipe a time or two you will be able to quickly determine what you prefer and make adjustments to the brining time and soaking period.

Here’s the salmon, trimmed down to get more uniform thickness and coated with the dry brine.

Salmon gets covered with plastic wrap and weighed down so the dry brine can go to work.

See the ‘juices’ that results from 4 hours for brining.

Salmon, rinsed after the brine period and dried with paper towels, is placed on Frogmat and smoker rack, and then to the fridge to form pellicle.

See how nice and shiny the salmon is after the maple syrup is brushed on and allowed to dry. The pellicle is formed and the fillet is dry to the touch.

Pulled the salmon from the smoker and sliced a serving. See how pretty and buttery firm the fillet becomes with the smoking.

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