Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Machek Family Smoked Salmon By Dan Machek

Smoked Salmon with Cream Cheese, Sriracha, and Cilantro on a wheat cracker.

Sacramento River Chinook Salmon.
 My dad and I usually go salmon fishing in the Sacramento River every fall. This fall we caught three salmon. We ate all of the good quality meat, and the meat that didn’t look as dark we saved for smoking. There are many different ways to smoke salmon. Some people like varying levels of saltiness and moisture. Our recipe is not as salty as most, and is very moist. I’ve traveled all over Alaska and lived on the Pacific Coast, and I’ve tried many different recipes for smoked salmon. I still think that our family recipe is the best (but maybe I’m just slightly biased).

Here are a couple basics to smoking salmon: Plan your time out. Smoking requires a chunk of time at home to carry out all the processes and tend to the smoker. You want to make your brine the evening before you plan on smoking so you can soak the meat overnight and have plenty of time the next day to do the smoking. You also want to soak your wood for at least one hour, if not soak them overnight. To achieve the particular moistness of this recipe you will want to smoke your salmon for approximately two and a half to three hours. Some people do it longer to achieve a drier, more jerky like consistency. 

Apple wood trimmings from the back yard.
So first you want to make your brine and allow it to cool. This is what you will soak the salmon in before you smoke it. Brine gives saltiness and flavor to the meat, and helps retain moisture. Then you smoke the salmon. The smoking process is generally a slow one, and is done over low heat (the proverbial “low and slow”). You want to be around 150 degrees for the first two hours of smoking and then around 200 degrees for the last hour or so to make sure it is cooked through. For smoking fish, alder and apple wood are generally the preferred types of wood. Brining and smoking salmon is a way to preserve the meat while lending wonderful flavors. 
It took me a little while to get it to hold at 150 degrees.

Items you will need:

- Salmon meat- as much as you’d like to smoke
- Smoker or barbeque
- Metal tongs
- Charcoal
- Charcoal tower
- Paper for starting charcoal
- Alder or apple wood chips (soak minimum of one hour)
- Bucket of water to soak chips in
Brine ingredients, the crunchy granola version.
- Cooling racks
- Paper towels
- Four trays worth of ice cubes
- An approximately 8-quart pot
- Oil for greasing grill
- Thermometer

Brine ingredients:

- 4 quarts water
- 1/3 cup salt
- 1 cup packed brown sugar
- ½ cup soy sauce or tamari
- 2 tsp garlic powder + extra for topping after brining
- 1 Tbsp cracked black pepper + extra for topping after brining
- 1 ½ tsp hickory liquid smoke
- Four trays worth of ice cubes
-Optional other spices: onion powder, ginger,

Brining directions:

  1. First off, you want to start making your brine in the evening so that you can brine your salmon overnight. Once you are ready, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in an approximately 8 quart pot. Take off the heat as soon as it boils. Add all ingredients except ice cubes and stir until the salt and sugar have completely dissolved.
  2. Add ice cubes to pot to begin bringing down the temperature. The goal is to get the liquid down to room temperature so you can put the meat in without cooking it at all. I then put my pot outside because it is really cold out and it makes your refrigerator work overtime to bring down the temp and that’s no good on the wallet or for the environment.
  3. Once your liquid has come down to room temperature you may place the meat in the brining solution. Brine overnight.
  4. You can either soak your wood overnight, or for a minimum of one hour the morning of the smoking.
  5. The next morning take your meat out of the brine, place it on drying racks, and pat all sides dry with paper towels. Let air dry for one hour.

Smoking directions:
Brined Salmon with garlic powder and black pepper.
  1. If you are using a smoker with a charcoal heat source, start your coals approximately twenty minutes before your salmon is done air drying. If you are using a smoker with an electrical heat source, start the heat right when your salmon is done air drying.
  2. Once your salmon is done air drying liberally coat each piece of salmon with garlic powder and large cracked black pepper. Now your salmon is ready to go on the smoker. Oil the grill so your salmon doesn’t stick and place salmon on the grill.
  3. Put your coals to one side so you have an indirect heat source and spread them so they are barely touching. You can put a handful or two of wood chips on the coals, then put the grill with the salmon on the smoker.
  4. Adjust the air intake and output down. Closing down the intake and output cuts off the oxygen and hinders the coals from burning too hot, thus lowering the temperature. Opening up the intake and output allows more oxygen in and makes the coals burn with more intensity, raising the temperature. makes the temperature. This is where an internal thermometer really helps. Smoking salmon is different every time with different outside environmental conditions and with each smoker. You need to pay close attention to the temperature and preemptively start a new batch of coals so they are ready when the first batch burns down. The rule of thumb is you will need a new batch of coals for every 45 minutes of cook time. After about the initial 15 minutes of cook time, start your second batch of coals if it takes approximately 30 minutes for the coals to be ready. I am using natural charcoal chunks which burn way faster than your average compressed charcoal briquettes you get at the store. You basically need to play this step by ear, keeping a vigilant eye on your thermometer.
  5. I was cramped for space so I was extra sure to place the thicker fillets toward the heat source and the thinner fillets farther away. 
  6. You want to be around 150 degrees for the first two hours of smoking and then around 200 degrees for the last hour or so to make sure the meat  is cooked through. If you are concerned, the internal temp should be 165 degrees. In total it should take approximately 2 ½ - 3 hours to finish smoking. Be sure to poke the fillets to check the firmness if you think they are getting towards being done. Over cooking will lend a very dry product. If you think they are done, check the largest piece, and then pull them all off if it is done. You are looking for a flaky but still moist consistency. Allow to cool on racks to room temperature before packaging and storing. I store my smoked salmon in zip-lock bags in the refrigerator.
Finished Smoked Salmon

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