I spent 35 years in Alaska fishing, hunting, and preparing wild foods.
For those of you who have never eaten REAL
, authentic smoked wild salmon from a home smoker, this will be one unique treat.
I now live in SW WA State, too old to fish with this state's impossible regs and lack of resource, and lack of any equipment to process such a treat as I had in Alaska when, during exceptional salmon runs, one could hook and keep 6 Red (Sockeye) salmon per day on the Kenai River. We used to keep our freezer filled with excellent condition salmon filets (sockeye (red)/chinook (king)/coho (silver); NO pink or chum, please!) in vacuum-sealed plastic, ready to use when needed. I know that Michigan introduced chinook and coho salmon decades ago into the Great Lakes but I cannot vouch for the quality (in fresh water) vs the wild salmon returning from the Gulf of Alaska into salmon streams in Alaska.
We used Luhr-Jensen Little Chief and Big Chief aluminum top-load smokers. Never had the luxury of the front-loaders, but I imagine they work as well. They are pretty spendy in today's market: we only paid around $50-$60 25 years ago. These are "hot" smokers. There are many others out there that use "cold" smokers. It takes a lot more time but the product will last longer. YMMV. Think 19th century cured Virginia hams hoisted into a wood-fired chimney for weeks.
Please use ONLY
fresh or frozen salmon filets that exhibit red flesh and mint bright silver skin. Do not use salmon that have skin colors exhibiting any other colors.
A long time ago it used to be called "squaw candy" in the old-time white man's vernacular but that is very incorrect: Alaska Native women deboned and split whole (headed and gutted) fish (skin on) down to the base of the tail and draped them on wood racks, flesh side out to dry. No smoked fish. The finished product was then stored for winter use. The fish heads were the used to ferment underground for a "delicacy" called "stinky heads" via aerobic decay. Never wanted to try that, but, when the 1960's-1970's came around, they tried to use Ziploc bags, which resulted in botulism poisoning because of the aenerobic decay due to no O2 decay.
I have used, and passed on, this recipe to many others. It has been tweaked many times in its early years until it is, in my humble opinion, damned near perfect. My daughter's MIL thought it would work in no way because she thought it would lack salt (to the contrary) , but became a believer when my daughter and SIL made it exactly to the recipe. You will NOT be disappointed!
I have no ambition to market this recipe or processed salmon using this recipe. If one wants to do so, I would like a bit of recognition as to being the originator: Jim Padberg, Pe Ell Washington. Feel free to make some money.
SMOKED SALMON FOR DUMMIES!
Cut 4-6 red, king, or silver salmon filets into 1/2"-3/4Ē wide strips lengthwise, skin on. [Discard the strip (one per filet) along the lateral line because it is full of tiny bones.] Refrigerate the strips.
1 Ĺ cups brown sugar
ĺ cup salt (non-iodized preferred)
1 Tbsp. GOOD Garlic powder
Ĺ cup dark rum (Myers Rum preferred, but plain old Bacardi Dark will do)
Ĺ tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. cayenne pepper
3 cups water
Mix WELL all ingredients in a large (17 cup/4.0 liter) or larger Rubbermaid container (or similar). Add salmon strips until container is nearly full. Refrigerate for 24 hours, shaking container every few hours to distribute brine with the fish.
Pour off and discard brine. Rinse each strip THOROUGHLY under cold running water, running your fingers vigorously over each strip until no longer ďslimyĒ. (If you donít do this, the fish will be terribly salty.) Pat each strip dry with paper towels, place on aluminum-foil-covered cookie sheets with the strips skin down (if possible) not touching each other, and refrigerate for 24-36 hours. When ready for the smoker, the fish should be slightly tacky (not wet) and have a shiny glaze (pellicle).
Place strips on racks in the smoker(s) and plug smoker(s) in. If you have the smoker(s) on a wood deck or porch, be sure to elevate it by placing a couple of 2x4ís under the smoker(s) for ventilation. No deck or house fires! Fill the wood pan to nearly overflowing with your favorite wood chips and put this on the smoker heating element. Youíll need 3, maybe 4 pans of chips per smoker. Each pan will take an hour or so to burn completely to ash. (I always liked Luhr-Jensen alder chips. Apple or cherry work well, but hickory may be a bit smoky-strong. Get the stuff that looks like very coarse sawdust. The big chips donít work as well in the Chief smokers). Make sure you have several days to do this operation, as it has to be monitored.
When it looks right to you (always personal preference: itís all about color and texture), remove to a board covered with a layer of paper towels and let cool to room temp. Bag Ďem up in Zip-Locs and youíre done. Please donít eat the skin: itís nasty.
This stuff will keep for several weeks in the refrigerator. It used to be a real favorite of my old cat Squeakers. She would not eat salmon with some salt and fake smoke stuff. If a cat can tell, it's good to go.
Have at it and let me know how it turned out for you.