Two Men, Two Pits and a Blog

What To Do On A Rainy Day: Smoked Salmon

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A steady and abiding rain falls over the streets of Ketchikan, Alaska; a hard mist, as the locals call it. Gray clouds smother into the tall, green, mountainsides rising at the edge of town. My lovely bride and her mother take up position in the stern of a fishing charter, one of twenty, advancing out to sea. Stalwart sailors they were, and hardened anglers, listening to the rain tap over their up-turned hoods. The guttural rumble of the outboard engine merges onto the acoustic palate, along with the lapping of chill waters against the hull, and the distant bustle of the Ketchikan shores. Whales breached the choppy surface, spouted forth a few times, and submerged again; their mighty tails slapping the water with utter authority, and great majesty. A Bald Eagle drops suddenly from the heavens with an acute splash off the starboard, snatching a salmon for to feed her family. My bride is onto a salmon too, go figure, rod hooping violently, its tip tugging downwards towards the darkened abyss. A few minutes span on bobbing waves and rocking ship, reeling and peeling, and she too procures a salmon for the family; several of them, in point of fact. And despite her bouts with motion sickness, she had the mental faculty to have them put on dry ice, and airmailed hence forth to the door step of her working husband back home. And that, by and far, made his day.

It is a few weeks later now, I tarry pit-side, in good form, whilst a bleak and steady mist dapples over the pond, like a thousand pin pricks cast from on high. It is that hard-mist sort-of rain again; tho one that is livable, by Ketchikan standards at least, and doesn’t force a soul indoors, necessarily, to stare glumly out the window. Besides, I liked the rain. And I think the silver salmon in the smoker did too. Or would have. Sort of reminiscent, you might say, from whence what soggy straights they came. If you are going to smoke a fish from Ketchikan, after all, it is only right I guess, that you do it in the rain. It’s always raining in Ketchikan they say. And I believe them.

An October breeze rustles amid the water-side grasses, long and wet, and bending in the seasonal eddies. A gray over-cast parades over-head and the light smoke of apple and peach wood curls serenely from the WSM. No finer weather, let be said, than this, this barometric symphony of low pressure and constant mist, for the pleasures of the pit are only heightened. The aromas pop, as if in olfactory 3D. The joy of rain drops pattering over a hot lid. And the contentment patron to rising wood smoke on such a cold, and dreary day. Glory!

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One of the finer spoils in the smokey arts is that of fish. And few fish seem better suited for the task than salmon. Thus, and with some fanfare, it was with the greatest delight when a box of them arrived on my doorstep. Good tidings from Alaska, and a smokey destiny according to my pit. Now the first order of business, before anything else, is to brine the fish for 24 hours. We used a wet brine this time around, one that has proven effective in the past. And it’s real simple to make.

Basic Brine Recipe

2 Quarts water

1 Cup Dark Brown Sugar

1 Cup Kosher Salt

1/2 Cup Lemon Juice

1/2 Cup Soy Sauce

1 Teaspoon Black Pepper

1 Teaspoon Onion Powder

*In an old gallon ice cream bucket, mix this all up thoroughly and allow your fillets to mingle in the solution for 24 hours.

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Before you go and light the pit, and after the proper brine period, go ahead and dutifully rinse thy fillets under cold water and lay them out on a rack to air dry a bit. Mind your BBQ instincts, and linger here. I know, your young, and eager, and restless, and you want nothing more than to plop thy protein upon a smokey grate and commence with the task at hand. But don’t. Your patience kindled from years at the pit will serve you well here, if you let it. What it is you’re waiting for, you see, is the pellicle, and such can take a while. I know, you’re wondering what in the heck is a pellicle. Well, a pellicle is an outer coating of proteins that form on the surface of brined fish left to air dry, and is tacky, or sticky to the touch. Many a seasoned fish smoker covets the pellicle, for it is that very stickiness which also proves most abiding for smoke. For smoke adheres feverishly to it, like moths to fly paper, or novice skiers to snow fencing. So wait for the pellicle if you can. Some folks even use an electric fan here, to hurry things along. And you can too, I suppose, if you’re in a hurry. But if you’ve learned anything at all from this blog, you won’t be in such a tomfoolery mind-set anyways.

After the pellicle has formed, and is sticky to the touch, sally forth and ignite thy smoker. For this smoke, were looking to run it at about 150 degrees for 3 or maybe 4 hours. This was accomplished in the big 22 1/2 inch Weber Smoker Mountain by a single chimney of lit charcoal dumped directly in the middle of the fire bowl, along with 2 gallons of cold water in the water pan. It may have helped also, that a lovely, cool drizzle fell from the heavens this day, keeping the pit cooler. At any rate, do your best to get around 150 degrees. A little higher is fine. The salmon won’t care.

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Whence you have established a stable pit, smoke gently puffing, spray a little PAM or some such thing over your grate, and lay your betrothed salmon hunks in orderly fashion over it. Many of the Alaskan locals like to smoke their salmon with alder wood, but we didn’t have any such flavor on hand. What we did have however, was apple wood, and let it be said, because it is true, that works just fine too. Let it smoke in accord, until the fish flakes easily with a fork. Its pretty much that easy. In the mean time, there is loitering to be done.

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It was with the highest and most sincere pleasure I placed the heavy enameled lid on the smoker, and henceforth got along with the very important business of being a pit keeper. Namely, I went to the refrigerator and drew myself a manly beverage there. Seeing the rain wasn’t about to let up this day, albeit a light rain, I jockeyed for the man chair anyways, residing seductively in the living room. Some times we Brethren of the Brisket need to pamper ourselves. Yes we do. Toe-pits up, left foot crossed over right, I admired how the rain drops fell this day, on and off, outside the glass patio door. The symphony in mist, and the homey curls of apple wood smoke. My eyes grew weary, heavy from the day. I listed slightly in my man chair, ensconced in warmth and dryness; two glories made only sweeter on such a cold and decidedly wet day. My eyes fell shut, and my thoughts drifted out to sea. Leisure had asserted itself. A perfect day, as days go, to smoke a salmon. And I suppose to consider for a moment, for the moment’s sake, the rain which fell in Ketchikan. Amen.

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Apple Smoked Salmon. Man! So next time you’re faced with a rainy day, and maybe feeling a little fish hungry, do the only sensible thing and light the pit. For any day is a good day where the wood smoke also rises.

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35 responses

  1. meg

    This is a great tutorial! Thank you, I am a huge smoked salmon fan, I wish I lived in Alaska so people would out it in my doorstep…

    October 9, 2013 at 9:41 am

  2. thebestreuben

    Great post! Being from AK, I am a huge fan of smoked salmon! Luckily I still have connections to score some every year.

    October 9, 2013 at 10:05 am

  3. Great post. I will mind my pellicle. Best quote of the day “novice skiers to snow fencing” … they do stick to that, don’t they? hahaha

    October 9, 2013 at 10:13 am

    • Well I always seem to!

      Thanks for the comment. Good to hear from you!

      October 9, 2013 at 10:21 am

  4. You are a psychic! POTP, I was just about to try smoking salmon on the gas grill. Rather than a dry rub though, I think that I’ll give your wet brine a go instead. ALOHA!

    October 9, 2013 at 10:52 am

  5. Nick Trandahl

    This is perhaps the tastiest-looking subject that you’ve set down for us humble (envious) readers. My longing to try this and devour it with animalistic abandon knows no bounds. And … well-written, as always.

    October 9, 2013 at 11:08 am

    • A salmon man you are! Very cool.

      As always, I enjoy your comments! Thanks much Nick!

      October 9, 2013 at 11:23 am

  6. debbeedoodles

    Thanks for sharing! We’ve been thinking about smoking salmon, just haven’t done it yet…

    October 9, 2013 at 11:22 am

    • You’re welcome. You’ll have to give it a go some day. Tho other kinds of fish are just as good. Thanks!

      October 9, 2013 at 2:24 pm

  7. Liz

    You posted this the week AFTER I hunted down a brine recipe and extrapolated salmon brining and smoking instructions for my family’s smoke-a-palooza? Would’ve come in much handier if you’d put this out last week 😉 Am impressed you are smoking salmon you had a hand in catching (by way of being married to the fisherwoman who caught it–yay, bride!) and it all sounds and looks amazing.

    Ours turned out well, too, though I’d try your brine recipe next time just for fun. We did not marinate our pork per your instructions (sorry!) as my husband had made a dry-rub and we didn’t want to confuse flavors. But thinking we should have as the meat was a tad dry. (which didn’t stop me from putting away two chops–keep in mind I am not of a manly size) Appreciate your help and encouragement. Love to think we were possibly smoking salmon on the same rainy day in our respective Minnesota backyards?

    Though my beverage was not so manly as I’d whipped up a batch of candy corn vodka and made a lovely fall cocktail, which I’ll be posting on food for fun tonight. Pictures are also up on deLiz facebook. (yep, self promoting again–can’t seem to stop myself 😉 )

    Always grateful for your pit-side tarries.

    October 9, 2013 at 2:36 pm

    • Very cool. I was wondering how your salmon turned out. Too bad this post wasn’t a tad earlier indeed, tho I’m sure you had it well under control. We can compare notes at the very least I guess.

      We’ve used this brine recipe before, on white fish plucked from Mille Lacs, and I like the hint of soy sauce in it. It works. Brines sure are salty tho, but I’m not sure how to get around that. This is just the nature of brine. A dry brine works too,with a cup of salt and a cup of brown sugar, and just pack it around the fillets. In the end, tho, its all good. Good just to be out of doors, putting meat to flame.

      Liz, you’ve been such a good commentor over here, you can self promote all you wish! You’ve earned it!

      Thanks much!

      October 9, 2013 at 3:02 pm

  8. Love smoked salmon, have never made it before, your directions are great. Wish someone would drop off some of that Alaskan salmon at my place.

    October 9, 2013 at 4:21 pm

    • I know it. It is a luxury not soon forgotten!

      Thanks puginthekitchen!

      October 9, 2013 at 5:02 pm

  9. I was that caught up in the description of where you were that I forgot you were smoking salmon. Great post, great recipe.
    Laurie.

    October 9, 2013 at 6:21 pm

    • Thanks Laurie. You would love Alaska. True bush , stunning mountains, grizzly bears, whales and salmon everywhere. Amazing country if you ever get the chance. I need to go back.

      October 9, 2013 at 6:39 pm

      • I’ve made it to Alberta and the Rockies but would love to see the coast of Alaska. And have your smoked salmon of course.

        October 9, 2013 at 11:13 pm

  10. love smoked salmon. Again a delicious post

    October 9, 2013 at 8:51 pm

  11. Glad to see the muse is alive and well and you are still at it. Loving your stuff. I have returned after a minor hiatus… Will explain in the next post. Carry on!

    October 10, 2013 at 3:42 pm

    • Hey, Mr Quincho!!! I had given you up for dead! Very good to see you again. Yes, you have some explaining to do. I’ve missed your culinary forays and exotic prose!

      Carry on indeed!

      -POTP

      October 10, 2013 at 4:00 pm

  12. Ok … REALLY ???
    WHERE did you manage to procure yourself a lovely Bride that goes fishing (WITH HER MOTHER, no less) … AND THEN, SENDS YOU HOME THE SPOILS OF HER CATCH !!!
    You are a lucky man indeed !!!
    I can’t even get my Spousal equivalent in my boat !!!
    Fishing wife … pffffffft !! You’ve gone way too far this time my Smokie friend 🙂
    All kidding aside … you KNOW how I feel about smoked fish … PARTICULARLY Salmon !!! Another well done post … even IF I’m jealous as heck about the fishing wife !! 🙂
    Oh and … Alaska … *sigh* … been there (my Mom and Grandparents used to live in the Yukon Territories) … *sigh again* … SOOOOOO beautiful !! One day … MOTORCYCLE TRIP … TO ALASKA !!! 🙂

    October 11, 2013 at 4:28 pm

    • Sorry old chap, I assumed most meat-loving, motor-cycle riding, Alaska-pining blokes are as lucky as me. But I live a sheltered existence sometimes, and don’t think straight.

      Smoked salmon is the bees knees. And Alaska is all of that and more. I’ve only been there once. My bride three times. I’m not so sure that’s fair. But I’m still lucky indeed.

      Thanks!

      October 11, 2013 at 10:13 pm

      • Lucky indeed !! Smoke on !!

        October 12, 2013 at 7:47 am

  13. I was told by our fishing guide in Minnesota that if women were meant to fish, god would have made them able to pee off a boat. My husband didn’t even say anything- he just laughed. Can you tell I’m still a little bitter about it?!!! Love this recipe. Thanks!

    October 13, 2013 at 9:12 am

    • Yes, I can sense the disdain in your script. For the record, I have personally seen women out fish men on multiple occasions. And they certainly can cook them up better most days too. But, even so, I have heard more than once from women of their utter envy for the male species when it comes to what your fishing guide bellowed.

      October 14, 2013 at 9:56 am

  14. A pleasure to read as usual. Great work.

    October 14, 2013 at 7:06 am

  15. This looks delicious. I’m going to have to give it a try.

    November 17, 2013 at 2:00 pm

  16. Adam Tweddle

    As ever, great post and poetic prose. Great work fellas

    November 17, 2013 at 4:04 pm

  17. Pingback: What To Do On A Rainy Day: Smoked Salmon | Northern Coarse Angler

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