Thursday, July 11, 2013

Smoked Salmon

Time for YKI-YCI-YCI

Way back when, in prehistoric times, things were easier for the hunter-gatherer. Aside from large, carnivorous animals, pestilence, starvation and premature deaths from poor dental hygiene, things were good. The family member who hunted and fished was not only appreciated, but revered. Hunter-gatherers didn’t have any trouble getting the family to eat what they dragged back to the cavominium.

“Gortak! You home! What you bring back?” 

“Gortak, mighty hunter-gatherer, bring back skunk. Found dead already, which is good thing. Gortak smell better than last time find skunk.”

At that point, Gortak’s entire family would rejoice at their great fortune in having such a good provider. It was simple in those glorious days: eat what showed up on the cave step or go hungry. 

Nowadays, those of us that can’t resist our hunter-gatherer urges are viewed as the family yoke to bear. 

“How’d you do, dear?” comes my wife’s timorous question upon my return from afield.

“Caught my limit!” I’ll announce proudly. Upon which there is not a shred of jubilation. Instead of even the most modest sign of good cheer, sighs that border on the edge of soft weeping issue forth. 

I only deal in intermediate product.
In our household, following years of debate, testing and compromise, we’ve finally come to grips with my hunter-gatherer successes. We have adopted a policy referred to as “YKI-YCI-YCI.” Officially, it is pronounced, “icky-icky-icky,” and stands for “You killed it. You clean it. You cook it.” The policy goes into effect whenever I cross the threshold with anything that isn’t wrapped up in plastic and sporting a price sticker. What that boils down to is that in July and August is that I cook a lot of salmon.

I will be the first to admit my culinary skills are blunted. It’s not that I haven’t tried. I followed a number of recipes and found them to be either lacking in flavor, or so complicated I couldn’t help but screw them up. Ultimately I fell into experimentation. For instance, salmon burritos. A stroke of genius in simplicity, and possibly a great idea, but not with the refried beans. 

Another flop was salmon spaghetti.  If salmon is over cooked it has a tendency to fall apart.  You ought to see what happens when a simmering pot of spaghetti sauce chock full of salmon is stirred a few times. What a nasty pinky-pasty mess that was! 

Muskrat does his hunter-gatherer thing

After more than just a few failed attempts, it dawned on me there was a loophole in YKI-YCI-YCI. All I had to do was cook the salmon, but it didn’t have to be a finished product. And now, with the exception of grilled or pickled salmon, I only put forth effort toward intermediate salmon preparation. Once I’ve canned or smoked the fish I’ve lived up to my end of the bargain and it’s Mrs. Poynor’s turn to pony-up.

Smoked salmon, when it’s not devoured right off the skin (hey, smoked salmon bellies for breakfast can’t be beat), can be turned into some phenomenal dishes, such as dip, pasta salad and chowder. 

The singularly most popular post on this blog is the one about pickled salmon. Since that salmon recipe was so popular I thought I’d share the recipe for smoking salmon (and other fish). It’s all in the brine, which is pretty darn simple: 1 cup of non-iodized salt (I use Kosher or pickling salt), 1 cup dark brown sugar and 1/3 cup of dark molasses in one gallon of water. One gallon of the brine will cure four to six pounds of fish.

Smoked salmon bellies: the perfect breakfast!

Soak the fish filets in the brine for 8 to 12 hours.  After brining, rinse the fish with fresh water, pat dry and lay out to air dry.  This is a very important step.  It allows the fish to air cure, and the flavor of the brined fish to develop fully while forming a glaze on the surface.  If the filet section is thick, slicing the flesh to the skin, but not through it, will help with the drying process in the smoke house.  Laying the fish on top of newspaper on the kitchen counter works fine.  If it is humid, a fan should be used to circulate the air over the fish. Once glazed, lay the fish out on the racks in the smokehouse so that the filet pieces do not touch one another.  This will allow good circulation of heat and smoke through the fish, preventing hot spots. I recommend using apple wood for the smoke. It has a mild, sweet flavor.

Let the salmon "glaze" before smoking

This brine works well with any smoker, but if you’d like to build a smokehouse of your own, check out this link. The plans are based on an article of mine from Fish Alaska Magazine.

Let me know how your smoking adventures go.

Shameless plug: If you want more Alaskan humor, check out one of my books for e-readers on Amazon.

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