Alaskan Smoked Salmon Recipe – A Bulletproof Method!
Being a lifelong Alaskan, I have tasted dozens upon dozens of different Alaskan smoked salmon recipes. Of course, everyone thinks their recipe is superior to everyone else’s special blend. I have had some that is fantastic, some that is mediocre, and, probably like you, have had some that was so salty you needed a quart of water just to help wash it down!My neighbor, David, said he was going to be making a fresh batch of Alaskan smoked salmon and asked if I would be interested in sampling some of his smoked fish. Being that I’ve never turned down this opportunity before, I gladly accepted his offer…and no, the cold ones he threw in the deal had nothing to do with it. I promptly forgot about it until my wife told me that he had dropped off a package and that my 6 year old son had eaten the entire thing! Well, it turns out the boy knows good smoked fish because David has won the ‘best neighbor ever’ by hooking us up with quite a bit of his smoked salmon and I will say that of all the stuff I’ve tried, what he is putting out is running with the elite, if not the best I’ve had.
The best news? He’s sharing his Alaskan smoked salmon recipe with everyone!
David begins the process with two frozen full fillets of Alaskan Sockeye salmon, thawed in the refrigerator for 24 hrs. After the thawing process the salmon is cut into 3⁄4” to 1” thick strips perpendicular to the length of the fillet, as pictured below.
Place your freshly cut salmon ‘strips’ in a plastic tub large enough to allow a single layer of strips to be placed skin side down with approximately 1⁄4” between strips. Hey, if you want it to work, ya gotta be exact, right?!
A dry brine is used for this recipe and it couldn’t be easier. Simply add 4 cups of brown sugar to 1 cup de-ionized salt. Apply the dry brine approximately 1⁄4” thick on top of strips allowing space between strips to fill, so the edges of your salmon strips are coated as well. Cover the top of your container with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for 12 to 14 hrs.
After your salmon has been able to ‘soak in’ the brine, gently wipe off any remaining dry brine and place on paper towel lined plate. At this point, you will want to collect all of the liquids (just the liquids) from the brine tub and place in a jar. Use this liquid with a basting brush to apply a light even glaze on the salmon strips. In the summertime, you can allow the salmon to be placed in the sun for a short while to help the glaze dry a bit but in the colder months, David utilizes a fan on medium speed to help this process along.
After an hour under the fan, apply a second brush coat of brine liquid onto the strips. Repeat this process at the second hour with the third coating of brine. After the 3rd coating of brine, allow the salmon to remain under the fan for the last 30 minutes of additional drying while you prepare your smoker.
Fill chip pan with mixed chunks of apple and mesquite as well as alder chips and heat your smoker to 250°F, allowing for a good smoke to build up. After you have established a good smoke, turn the heat down on your smoker to the lowest setting and open the smoker door allowing it to cool down. Remove the smoker grills and prep with non-stick spray. Place your salmon strips on the grills and touch up your larger strips that may appear drier with a brush coat of brine, as necessary.
Place your salmon on the grating inside the smoker, close the door, and monitor to ensure that your unit reheats to around 150°F and establishes another steady smoke. Cook for 1 hour under the steady smoke, and reapply another coating of brine. At this time you will continue to cook the salmon for another 30 minutes with light smoke, again at around 150°F. After this time, you will remove the smaller/thinner strips and reapply the final brush coat to all the remaining strips. To finish the smoking process, remove the chips pan, close the smoker, and allow the remaining strips to cook for the last 30 minutes at the same 150°F temperature.
Remove all of the salmon strips from the smoker and allow them to cool to the ambient temp within your home. At this point, your Alaskan smoked salmon is DONE! You can now either hoard it all to yourself, share it around, or vacuum pack and freeze it for later.
A few notes on the process from David. DRYING THE FISH IS CRITICAL! When using a fan for drying the fish, its best to stick to the 2 hour minimum with basting in between. You NEVER want to rinse the brined strips once you remove them from the tub, just use a moist towel to blot off any salt crystals or gently brush the strips to remove the remaining dry brine. Regarding the smoking time, doing the fish for more than 1 1/2 hours means you may run the risk of making the fish have a biter taste. That being said, it is important that the smoke is constant for the entire time. Large wood chunks last longer than the smaller chips, but the chips provide a larger volume of smoke. A combination of the two seems to find a nice middle-ground to work with to gain a heavy volume of smoke early in the cooking process.
Always follow the above as a guide and not something written in stone, as everyone’s taste is a bit different. A 1 hour cook produces a very moist strip, while a 3 hour cook produces a very dry strip (both times based upon a 2 hour fan drying period). It can also be tricky to maintain that perfect 150°F temperature for the allotted time, but if you can stay as close to that as you can without going over 200°F, you will likely make great smoked salmon.
Another way to adjust the taste is to determine the saltiness of your salmon by adjusting the brine time. The shorter the brine time, the less salty the finished product will taste. For me, 14 hrs is right at the edge of being too salty with this brine mixture. Also, the glazing makes a huge difference. It helps seal in a little moisture, adds additional flavor, and results in a finished texture to the strips that is visually appealing (they look finished, not dried out). This is also where you can get creative and try either a molasses or honey for a more candied flavor, or spice it up with blackening seasonings, garlic etc. Be cautious with your creativity though, as you can get carried away and totally lose the salmon taste altogether with too many seasonings/sweets.
Give this Alaskan smoked salmon recipe a shot and let us know how it goes! We’d also love to hear your feedback on this and I will continue to bribe David into smoking up a batch for ‘scientific purposes’. ENJOY!