Episode 42 – “If There’s Smoke There’s Fish”

Posted: June 9, 2015 in Season 4
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My Good Eats project has taken a bit of a back seat lately, but I plan to keep plugging away at it when I can. Ted was diagnosed with cancer at the end of May, which has turned our world a bit upside down. Still, we have found that keeping a bit of normalcy in life helps with everything. So, as we were awaiting test results last weekend, I decided to distract myself by cooking through the next episode of Good Eats, which happens to be the first episode in the fourth season.

Smoked Salmon

We live in Washington, which means smoked salmon is abundant. While I pretty much like all smoked salmon, my dad’s version reigns supreme. His has a somewhat dry, flaky texture, is slightly salty, and has loads of flavor. To make it even better, he serves it with an amazing aioli that our family calls “Dog Shit Sauce.” You see, this sauce is so good that a family friend once told my dad he’d eat dog shit if it was covered in the aioli.

My brother made Alton’s version of smoked salmon around Christmas last year. He made it straight from the online recipe, but did not watch the episode. I, of course, watched the episode and made the salmon exactly as Alton did in the show. If you do it Alton’s way, you also make your own smoker. More on that later.

To make Alton’s salmon, you will want to use two large salmon fillets. I purchased my fillets at Costco, and they were just the right size. Depending on where you get your fish, you may need to pull pin bones out of the fillets with pliers; my fish already had no pin bones. Alton uses a cure for his fish, which serves a few purposes. The cure seasons the fish, draws liquid out, and denatures proteins, which helps to keep the fish moist during smoking. The cure also creates a protein layer on the outside of the fish, called a pellicle, which aids in keeping the fish moist.

Ingredients for salmon cure:  sugar, Kosher salt, dark brown sugar, and black peppercorns.

Ingredients for salmon cure: sugar, Kosher salt, dark brown sugar, and black peppercorns.

To make the cure, in a lidded container combine 1 C Kosher salt, 1/2 C dark brown sugar, 1/2 C sugar, and 1-2 T crushed black peppercorns.

Kosher salt, sugar, dark brown sugar, and crushed black peppercorns combined.

Kosher salt, sugar, dark brown sugar, and crushed black peppercorns combined.

Shake this mixture until everything is evenly dispersed.

Cure after shaking ingredients together to combine.

Cure after shaking ingredients together to combine.

Place a large sheet of plastic wrap on top of a large piece of heavy foil. Sprinkle some cure on the foil, roughly in the shape/size of one of your fillets, and place the fillet on top, skin side down.

Small amount of cure sprinkled in fillet shape on plastic wrap.

Small amount of cure sprinkled in fillet shape on plastic wrap.

First salmon fillet placed on top of sprinkled cure.

First salmon fillet placed on top of sprinkled cure.

Generously sprinkle the cure over the flesh side of the fish, patting it gently with your hand. You will want to have a bit less cure at the tail end of the fillet since it is thinner.

Fillet #1 topped with cure.

Fillet #1 topped with cure.

Top the flesh side of the second fillet with cure and roll it on top of the first fillet, as if creating a whole fish.

Second fillet placed next to first fillet.

Second fillet placed next to first fillet.

Cure sprinkled on second fillet.

Cure sprinkled on second fillet.

Second fillet rolled onto first fillet, and skin side sprinkled with cure.

Second fillet rolled onto first fillet, and skin side sprinkled with cure.

Sprinkle the last of the cure on the skin side of this fillet. I used all of my cure, with the majority of it on the meat sides of the fish. Tightly roll the fillets in the plastic wrap, and then again in the foil, leaving the tail end of the fish open for liquid to drain.

Fillets wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.

Fillets wrapped tightly in plastic wrap.

Fillets wrapped in foil.

Fillets wrapped in foil.

Place the fish on a large sheet pan with a lip, and top with another sheet pan. Place cans or bricks on the top sheet pan to weigh it down, and place in a refrigerator for 12 hours.

Fish sandwiched between two sheet pans. Cans were later placed on top.

Fish sandwiched between two sheet pans. Cans were later placed on top.

After 12 hours, flip the fish, and let it continue to sit for 12 more hours. After curing, some liquid will have accumulated in the bottom sheet pan. Rinse the fish thoroughly with water, pat dry with paper towels, and place the fish in a cool place to air dry; a fan can speed up this process. I let my fish dry for about two hours.

Fish after being rinsed, which was after 24 hours of refrigeration.

Fish after being rinsed, which was after 24 hours of refrigeration.

Salmon drying by a fan for ~2 hours.

Salmon drying by a fan for ~2 hours.

If you plan to make an Alton Brown smoker, a good time to do it is while your fish dries. To make a smoker, you will need a large cardboard box, two 1/4″ dowel rods, an electric hot plate, a mini personal fan, and an extension cord. You will also need hardwood sawdust or soaked wood chips for smoking, along with something to put them in. Alton used a small cast iron skillet, topped with a perforated disposable pie plate. I used a small smoking box.

Soaked mesquite chips placed in smoking box.

Soaked mesquite chips placed in smoking box.

Filled smoking box.

Filled smoking box.

To make your smoker, first stick your two dowel rods through the sides of the box, so they are parallel to each other. Place a rack on top of the dowels to hold your fish. Next, cut a trap door in the bottom of one side of the box; it needs to be large enough to reach in and check your wood chip status. Place your electric hot plate in the center of the bottom of the box, and place your skillet or smoking box on top.

Smoke box placed on electric hot plate.

Smoke box placed on electric hot plate.

Plug your hot plate into your extension cord. Once your fish is dry, place it on the rack in the smoker, and insert a probe thermometer at an angle into the thickest portion of fish. Set the thermometer alarm to beep at 150 degrees. If you have a second probe thermometer, stick it through the side of the box to monitor the air temperature in the box, which you want to keep between 140 and 150 degrees. I did not have a second probe thermometer, so I did not worry about the air temperature much, only checking it occasionally with a Thermapen. Close the top of the box, turn the hot plate on to high, and set the mini fan in the box to circulate the air.

Salmon placed in DIY cardboard smoker, ready to be smoked.

Salmon placed in DIY cardboard smoker, ready to be smoked.

Mini fan added to box.

Mini fan added to box.

Close the trap door and let your fish smoke.

Smoker activated. Probe thermometer set for 150 degrees in thickest piece of fish.

Smoker activated. Probe thermometer set for 150 degrees in thickest piece of fish.

If you are using sawdust like Alton did, you will need to change your sawdust several times. Oh, and make sure your sawdust is not from pressure-treated wood, as pressure-treated wood contains toxins. I opted for mesquite wood chips, and I never needed to change them. My fish reached 150 degrees in under three hours, and it looked perfect. I let it cool to room temperature and we ate some for dinner.

Salmon after reaching 150 degrees.

Salmon after reaching 150 degrees.

Close-up of finished salmon.

Close-up of finished salmon.

I vacuum sealed the remaining salmon to eat at later dates.  The salmon was fantastic! It had a dry, flaky texture, which we really liked, and it had just the right amount of smokey flavor. I should have put a little less cure on the tail ends of my fillets, as the thinnest pieces are a tad too salty, but the salmon is perfect otherwise! I was very happy with how the cardboard smoker worked, and I cannot see ever buying a smoker when this method works so well. This is a fun, easy project that produces great smoked salmon. This is one I’m saving for future use.

Comments
  1. […] I type, I am closely monitoring a batch of my dad’s smoked salmon that I am smoking in my Alton Brown cardboard smoker. My dad traditionally serves his salmon with his “Dog Shit Sauce,” which is a fabulous […]

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