The Truth About How Smoked Salmon Is Made


How much do you really know about smoked salmon? If you’ve ever had it, you know it’s delicious
but do you know how it got that way? What’s the process? Is it really cooked, or is it raw? Is it even safe to eat? This is how smoked salmon is really made. “Salmon for everyone! On me!” First thing’s first: what do we mean when
we say “smoked salmon”? It turns out that’s a pretty generic term
that could refer to any number of products. The fish itself could be farm-raised or wild-caught,
and the form could be cut into fillets or sliced into steaks. Some smoked salmon is cured and cold-smoked
to create a raw, but edible, fish with a sushi-like texture, while others are cooked over hot
smoke and turn out firm and flaky. They all start out the same way: the fish
is brined in a salt solution to pull out the moisture and prevent the growth of bacteria. After that, hot- and cold-smoked fish are
dried and smoked. While you could technically smoke the salmon
whole, you wouldn’t really want to. It’s easier to find the bones and remove them
before you smoke a fish, plus there’s the whole skin-on or skinless debate. You could cut the fish into steaks, but the
most popular way to smoke salmon is by removing the meaty fillets on each side of the backbone. Most fish fillets still contain a few tiny
bones called pin bones. They’re super easy to remove if you drape
the filet over an upside-down bowl and remove the protruding bones using a pair of tweezers,
as Tasting Table recommends. Now it’s time to decide whether you want to
smoke the salmon with the skin on or off. Thermoworks advises that keeping the skin
on helps the meat hold together as it cooks, but the salmon absorbs the cure better without
it. The skin can also lead to off flavors, and
although it does have nutrient value, the skin can become soggy and chewy when smoked. Since most people don’t eat the skin on cooked
fish anyway, we’d just as soon remove it now rather than later. After preparing the salmon fillet, the next
step is to apply salt to the fish. Salt gets a bad rap, but its importance in
seasoning and preservation cannot be underplayed. There are two ways to cure salmon: wet or
dry. Applying a dry cure means covering the fish
in salt and rinsing off the excess after a long period of time anywhere between an hour
and a full day. With a wet cure, a brine is prepared using
salt and sugar, and the salmon is submerged in the liquid for around six to 10 hours. By the end of the brining process, the salt
has done a lot for your piece of salmon. Not only does it remove some of the moisture,
helping to stay fresh longer and tolerate the smoking process better, but it also improves
and intensifies the flavor. The sugar has a job to do, too, aside from
adding some sweet flavor. Sugar helps the salmon absorb moisture, allowing
it to take on some of the wet brine after the salt has pushed out the fish’s original
moisture. Now that’s it’s been cured, there’s only one
more step before we can add that delicious, smoky flavor. It’s time to develop the pellicle, a skin
that forms on the surface of food as it’s exposed to air and moisture is removed. Professional kitchens often use a fan and
higher temperatures to form a pellicle on salmon in as little as 30 minutes, but most
at-home recipes call for drying salmon at room temperature for one to three hours. This might seem like a step you could skip
if you’re in a hurry, but that protective layer has a few functions. First, it traps moisture inside the fish,
ensuring that your final smoked salmon will be moist despite the long smoke time. It also gives the finished product an attractive
glean and helps the smoke adhere to the meat as it cooks, making your smoked salmon that
much more flavorful. After it’s properly dried, we’re finally ready
to smoke the salmon. Alder is a popular wood for smoking salmon,
but you can use any type of hardwood you like, though using fir, pine, spruce, or cedar is
not recommended. These woods can impart bad flavors and give
the fish an unpalatable finish. For hot smoking, The Kitchn recommends setting
your smoker to 150-160 degrees Fahrenheit and smoking the fish until it reaches an internal
temperature of 140 degrees at its thickest point. Depending on the thickness of the fillet,
this should take about one to three hours. You’ll have to then cook the fish in your
oven until the salmon reaches 150 degrees at its thickest point. “Remember, this is a hot smoke. That means we’re actually cooking the fish
as well as smoking it.” With cold smoking, the smoker should never
reach a temperature above 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold smoking gives the fish a vibrant color
and helps it retain moisture, but it is also technically raw, so take extreme care when
handling it to avoid foodborne illness. You can eat both cold- and hot-smoked salmon
right away, if you prefer. Slice it thinly for the traditional bagel,
add it to your favorite pasta for dinner, or pulse it in a food processor for a dip. Any fish you’re not planning to eat immediately
should be cooled and stored. The difference in temperature between the
refrigerator and the fish can cause condensation in the packaging, so Food Safety News recommends
cooling hot-smoked salmon to at least 110 degrees Fahrenheit or colder before placing
it in plastic bags, air-tight containers, or vacuum-sealed packages. This isn’t a problem for cold-smoked salmon. Since it was only cooked to 80 degrees, you
should be able to package it right up. You can store smoked salmon in the refrigerator
for up to two weeks. You can keep it frozen for up to a year in
plastic wrap or a freezer bag. Raw salmon can range from around $8 to $12
per pound for Atlantic, farmed salmon, and $11 to $20 for wild-caught varieties. But smoked salmon can cost around $30 per
pound, with smoked salmon jerky coming in at nearly $50 per pound. Why does it cost so much more? Consider how much less the fish weighs after
the process of brining and smoking it, as well as the waste involved. The European non-profit media agency Youris.com
estimates that only 50 percent of every salmon is eaten. The heads, skin, and bones are undesirable
and are usually discarded. And salting and smoking a fish can reduce
its weight around 16 to 18 percent. So a 30-pound salmon will yield as little
as 12 pounds of edible smoked salmon. “Smoked salmon!” “No! For the guests, it is. For you, consider it cow meat. Strictly taboo.” “I eat beef.” “Then consider it poison beef.” If you’re hoping to increase your consumption
of omega-3 fatty acids, salmon is a great way to go. Salmon is one of the most nutrient-dense foods
you can eat, thanks to its high-quality protein and high levels of B vitamins and minerals
like potassium and selenium. It’s also a great source of heart-friendly
omega-3 fatty acids. So why not eat smoked salmon with every meal? Well, all that salt that keeps salmon safe
from bacteria is not great for our bodies. The Globe and Mail estimates there are 666
milligrams of sodium in each three-ounce serving of smoked salmon. Compare that to the 50 milligrams you’d get
from fresh salmon. There is also some concern that commercial
manufacturers add nitrites, which have been linked to cancer, to smoked salmon products. Should you eat it? Absolutely, but probably in moderation. And if you’re at risk for listeria food poisoning,
steer clear of the cold-smoked varieties. There are plenty of tasty hot-smoked salmon
options, or you can try cooking your salmon in another way. Check out one of our newest videos right here! Plus, even more Mashed videos about your favorite
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