Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Never Look a Gift Fish in the Mouth (Cold-Smoked Wild Salmon)

So I have an incredibly generous neighbor. Not so long ago he gave me quite a bit of excellent venison and now he went and gifted me the above pictured fish! That there is quite the nice looking salmon and I was extremely grateful for the gift as I have zero time for practicing the outdoor arts lately. It is not every day that someone parts with such a nice fish.

Anyhow, the fish was caught that very morning so I got right to work on it. I immediately decided to do a cured/cold-smoked salmon so I filleted it out.

When I gutted the fish I found a couple nice fat sacks of roe! I preserved the eggs according to this recipe. Salmon roe is great for eatin' as well as for using as bait to catch further salmon.

Doesn't the stuff look pretty in its wee jars? I think so.

For brining fish for cold-smoking I take a cup of salt, a 1/2 cup light brown sugar plus an additional handful or so of white sugar, a tsp of pink salt (#1), some cracked black pepper, and some juniper berries (maybe about 6). This goes into the dish with enough water to cover the fillets and not overflow. 24 to 36 hours in this brine is sufficient me thinks. You do have to make sure you soak the fillets in some clean cold water (change it a few times) for 1 to 2 hours afterwards. Taste a bit of the fish (don' be a Mary, it won't hurt you none...) during this process to see when the fish has reached a level of saltiness that is pleasant to you.

I used my Bradley electric smoker with a cold smoke box and an Auber instruments temperature controller for the smoking. I smoke at about 70 degrees (colder than many recipes which call for 100 degrees) for 6 hours which lends a nice smoky flavor that does not hide the essential fish-ness of the fish. Alder or oak are traditional for woods but I have found that pretty much any hardwood works well. Even hickory (lot of salmon smokers turn up their noses) is fine if you go easy with it.

I hacked off a bit and tasted it. It was beautiful. Just right.

I cut the smoked fish up into manageable chunks, vac bagged it, and put in the freezer for a couple days to mitigate the chances of any little nasties remaining in the fish.

I am all sorts of excited to get at some of this fish. I am going to give a bunch of this to the neighbor who was so gracious as to provide the fish but the rest is going right down my maw. I might share a bit with select individuals. Maybe.

On a side note, whenever I clean and fillet a fish I manage to leave a good amount of flesh attached to the spine, back, etc... I cure and smoke that stuff up too.

You can pick all that good meat off of there and then blend it into some cream cheese for a delicious bagel spread. Salmon rillettes is another good option. I try not to waste in situations like this.

In any event, good neighbors are a blessing. Good fish is a blessing too. It is not too often that you can take a fish from swimming one day into a finished product over the course of 3 days so I am pretty psyched to have that opportunity...
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