When I first got a stovetop smoker, it came with a very simple user’s manual that said to season fish with salt and pepper and smoke it with 2 tablespoons of smoking dust for 15-20 minutes. This user’s manual was aimed at catching your own fish from a river and then smoking it right then and there, so you don’t have time nor equipment or ingredients for anything more fancy. I tried this with a piece of salmon, and it was so delicious that for a long time I never even considered to try it otherwise. It’s also great with trout or even scallops (tossed with a bit of olive oil).
In the meantime I have noticed various recipes in cookery books and by esteemed bloggers that require one to put the fish in brine, and that made me curious. Would it be worth the additional effort? Would a piece of salmon become even more delicious. If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you may have noticed that I do not scare away from involved preparations. But I only want to put in the effort if it really pays off. And so an experiment was in order.
Disclaimer: more experiments are needed to reach a conclusion and this experiment is not intended to claim that more involved salmon smoking recipes aren’t worth the effort. You see, the problem is that the recipes I saw all put additional aromatics in the brine like onion, garlic, and bay leaves. To make it a ‘fair’ comparison, I just used salt and brown sugar in the brine. Another thing I did to make it a fair comparison, is that I did salt the piece of salmon an hour before smoking, which allowed the salt to penetrate into the flesh. This is an elaboration of the original user’s manual that I’ve been using a lot as the salmon tastes better when the salt has been allowed to penetrate all the way through. And so technically, what I compared is a dry cure (salting the salmon and allowing the salt to penetrate before smoking) and a wet cure (‘marinating’ the salmon in a brine). (I am of the opinion that the terms ‘brine’ and ‘wet cure’ can be used interchangeably.)
There are two types of brine or wet cure: traditional or ‘equilibrium’. A traditional brine has 5-10% salt, which is more salty then you want your salmon to be. The traditional brine is quicker and the amount of time spent in the brine determines how salty the piece of salmon will become. If you don’t allow the salmon to rest after brining, there will be a saltiness ‘gradient’ in the salmon, as the outside of the salmon (closest to the brine) will be more salty than the inside. An equilibrium brine means that you calculate the amount of salt such that after a longer time (typically 24 hours or longer), an equilibrium will be reached between the salmon and the brine (i.e. the salt concentration in the brine and in the salmon will be equal, as salt will diffuse out of the brine into the salmon). A good example of an equilibrium brine is this fire-roasted suckling pig. In this case I used a traditional brine.
And the verdict? They were both delicious and it was difficult to tell tell the difference!
So next time I will add the additional ingredients to the brine to see if that makes any difference. I’d also like to try to dry the salmon after brining to get a pellicle. So t0 be continued…
A roe deer is a small type of venison with a picky diet, consuming only the tastiest herbs and young leaves. The taste of its meat is renowned because of that. The meat is so tender and delicious in fact that you don’t have to do anything to it — just eat it raw with a bit of salt, pepper, and olive oil. I served the roe deer carpaccio with a herb salad, which turned out to be a great combination.