Memories from childhood and the desire to relive and taste favourite childhood food inspired me to prepare and make Smoked Salmon for our family and friends to enjoy.
There was no recipe to follow, instead a faint memory of seeing salmon marinating in my old baby tub, prepped for smoking the next day with the salmon fillets carefully placed on racks in an old hollowed out refrigerator.
My dad started smoking salmon as far back as I can remember which is sometime in the 1970’s long before the internet, easy access recipes and oodles of cookbooks existed.
I have no idea how this recipe came to be other than back then friends used to share techniques, ideas, recipes and so I suspect this was how this recipe came to be.
Every summer was about salmon fishing for our family as the “Springs were rolling” which also meant fishing season had begun and my dad would spend his summer fishing when not working. Our recipe starts with marinating the salmon.
For this recipe we actually used three full fillets even though the recipe calls for two so you will end up with a little extra marinade.
There are two ways to smoke fish, hot-smoking and cold-smoking. In our family we hot smoke which essentially cooks the meat while flavouring it. Cold-smoking adds flavour, takes a lot longer and actually preserves it more than cooks it.
It’s important to note you do not need a smoker to smoke food. We’ve smoked meat on a propane grill and recently this summer on our charcoal grill which is our vessel of choice. An actual smoker might make the process easier, however you can’t get much easier than this recipe.
Assemble the Tools
You will need a drip pan, smoking wood and temperature gauge. Plus a charcoal smoker and some time.
Make sure you have a large container with a lid that will fit into the refrigerator.
For this recipe we recommend two whole (half salmon) fillets to be cut into smaller individual fillets.
What Fish to use
This really comes down to personal preference. I grew up eating Spring salmon, steelhead, sockeye, chinook and several other varieties of B.C. salmon caught fresh. Living in Calgary there is not a lot of choice of salmon from British Columbia which is beyond disappointing since Alberta is right next door to B.C.
I am a self confessed salmon snob and will not by farmed fish or Atlantic salmon. I’ve had Atlantic salmon several times and the flavour just isn’t there. My fish of choice for eating and smoking is steelhead. Always use fresh, do not use fish that has been frozen.
Learn more about this variety of salmon here: Pacific Salmon Foundation: Steelhead.
Setting up the Charcoal Grill
If you are using a charcoal grill you will need to prepare one side with coals and the other side will have a drip pan. The purpose of this pan is to hold liquid to keep moisture inside the smoker and catch any drips. You can use juice, beer, any kind of liquid actually but we stick with what we know for this recipe and use water.
Small wood chips are readily available in different flavours. The flavour of the wood chip will affect the flavour of the smoked fish. Soak the chips for about 15 minutes before using. Once your coals are ready it’s time to get your fish on the grill and your soaked wood chips directly on the coals.
Salmon Recipes that are not smoked
How do you eat smoked salmon
For us we’ve always picked at the fillets with our fingers or OK a fork and eat it as is.
When we’ve had our fill we mix it into cream cheese and make a spread for bagels, crackers or sliced baguette. Add flaked smoked salmon to sliced baguette slathered with cream cheese. Make salmon pasta, mix with mayo and a few other ingredients for a salmon sandwich or burger or even make smoked salmon tacos. My mom had her own way of using up extra smoked salmon that I will share another time.
Add this salmon to any dish that utilizes smoked salmon or eat as is!
- 1.4 kg salmon fillet or roughly 2-3 lbs or two full fillets
- 1 400-500ml bottle soy sauce
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 tbsp sambel oelek
- 1 bag cherry wood chips or pellets
The Day Before
- Cut each piece of salmon into 4 fillets ensuring each piece has no bones still intact.
- In a bow mix together soy sauce, brown sugar and sambel until sugar has dissolved.
- Pour marinade into container with a lid. Add fish one fillet at a time ensuring each piece is covered in the marinade. Close and refridgerate for at least 12 hours. Occassionally move fish around to get each fish soaking up the marinade.
The Day Of
- Soak a handfull or two of the wood chips for 30 to 60 minutes.
- Prepare charcoal grill for smoking. Remove grate. Add drip pan to one side and charcoals to the other side of the grill.
- Heat grill to temperature of 150-175 F and maintain in that range by adjusting vent as needed.
- Remove fish from marinade and dry each piece with a paper towel.
- Pour water into the drip pan till it is about half full. Add some of the soaked wood pellets on top of the charcoal. Put grate back on grill.
- Arrange fish on the side of the grill with the drip pan.
- Close grill and let it smoke. Check temperature every 20 minutes or so and add more wood chips as needed.
- Entire smoking time will depend on the weather and temperature, 1.5 - 2 hours. Or internal temperature of fish should read 145F.
- Note: Tail pieces will be ready sooner as they are smaller.
- Store smoked fish in a sealed container in refrigerator when not eating.