For anyone out there with a home smoker and a penchant for smoked fish, here's to you. I share the passion. In fact, it is my favorite way to prepare salmon. It also makes your hard won stash of fillets last a lot longer. By this alchemical process you transform a simple piece of protein into a potent ingredient for influencing the flavor of everything from soups to sandwiches. Many people really gussy up their fish. They sugar it, pepper it, soak it in soy sauce and apple juice and syrup. If that is your thing go right ahead. At a certain point I think it stops being fish and becomes meat candy. For a more traditional approach, here's how I like to go about it.
Cut your fillets into approximately equal portions. The size is up to you. The smaller they are, the drier and smokier they will be; the larger, the more moist and oily. It depends on what you like. I go for about six ounces, give or take. Try to make sure that all the pieces are of roughly the same thickness. Otherwise some will brine too much and others too little.
Make your brine. Get enough water that you can submerge all your fish portions and put it in a food grade bucket or a large stock pot. Add salt (I use the kosher kind with the little girl on it because it comes in nice big boxes) and stir continuously. Keep adding salt until you can float a potato in the solution. This is important as it means that you have fully salinated your water. This is what helps preserve the fish, making it last longer and allowing you to do step 4.
Put your fish in the brine and allow to soak, stirring occasionally, for ten to fifteen minutes. Ten for thin pieces, fifteen for thick ones (it is an approximate science).
Take the racks out of your smoker, clean them, and set them in a cool, sanitary place. Preferably, they should be slightly elevated so air can circulate underneath them. Place your fish on the racks, spacing them far enough apart that they do not touch. Then set up a portable fan to keep a constant flow of cool, fresh air on the fish. Leave for several hours or over night. The salt will begin to cure the fish, creating a shiny outer layer. This layer traps in the oils during smoking, preserving the flavor. The curing process also helps to preserve the fish.
Smoke your fish. Use your favorite wood (I like Alder, though I just tried Hickory for the first time and it was great as well). Smoke it for a really long time. I usually do between seven and nine hours. If you have a thermometer, and especially if you are smoking with a fire, rather than an electric smoker, try to keep the temperature around a hundred and fifty degrees.
Eat your fish. In a house, with a mouse. In a box, with a fox. Give some away as presents too, because people will then like you more. And because it is a kind and generous thing to do.
Watch the recipes section, I will be posting smoked fish specialties soon.
As I am sure you all know, eating raw or undercooked animal can make you sick. In some cases, very sick. This is how I have been smoking fish forever, but it does involve salt curing and smoke preserving with very low heat. It is not meant to be a scientifically proven, FDA certified, commercial food preparation operation. Use enough salt, smoke it for a long time. If you are uncomfortable with leaving your fish overnight, skip step four. I do not take responsibility for anyone becoming ill as a result of following this recipe.