Making your own smoked salmon at home is easier than you might imagine. The transformation of raw salmon into delicate strips of melting smoked salmon might seen magical, but it basically only involves two steps: curing & smoking. The curing part is easy. Just cover the salmon in a mixture of salt, sugar & spices and leave it in the fridge overnight. The smoking part can be a bit trickier. You don't have to own a fancy smoker to make smoked salmon at home, almost any barbecue will do the trick. The key to making perfect smoked salmon is controlling both the amount of smoke and the amount of heat. This is easy to do with an electric smoker, but can be a bit more challenging if you are working with regular charcoal grill.
At home I use simple kettle charcoal barbecue to do my smoking. It has a chamber underneath where I can set the coals and wood chips which is very useful for smoking. You can also find specialized smokers that have a separate chamber for the wood off to the side. These are even better, because there is less risk of the meat or fish getting too hot. When using charcoal, you have to keep a good eye on the coals to make sure that they are hot enough to keep the wood chips smoldering, but not so hot as to ignite them. Keeping the chips at just the right temperature can be a bit challenging, but that's what make's the job fun. I find it really satisfying building up a good smoke and then watching it go.
If you plan on doing a lot of smoking and are looking for the simplest solution, you can invest in an electric smoker. Small electric smokers, such as the Little Chief can be found at Walmart or hardware stores for just over $100. The benefit of using an electric smoker is that you can set it and forget it. A small element provides just enough heat to keep the wood chips smoldering.
You can also use a propane grill as a smoker, but they're not ideal. With a charcoal grill you can put your wood chips directly on the coals, but if you are using a gas grill, you will have to wrap the wood chips in an aluminum pouch and then place the pouch as close to the element as possible, without touching the open flame. For more tips on smoking at home, see my recipe for smoked mackerel.
This recipe makes 1 lbs of smoked salmon, but can be easily scaled up to whole side of salmon. Simply double the amount of cure and follow the same steps.
Start to finish 14 hours.
1 lbs (454g) fresh salmon.
1 cup coarse salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 tbs black peppercorns
1 tbs juniper berries, crushed
wood chips for smoking, ideally a blend of 80% maple and 20% hickory.
1. Mix the salt, sugar, peppercorns and juniper berries together and place half of the mix in a non-reactive (plastic, glass or ceramic) container big enough to fit the salmon. Spread the cure out and then lay down the salmon. Spread the remaining cure over top of the salmon and then cover with plastic wrap. Leave the salmon to cure in the fridge for 12 hours.
2. Rinse the salmon thoroughly and then pat dry. Soak the wood chips in water for 10 minutes and then strain. Light a small amount of coals in your barbecue and allow to burn for 10 minutes. Lay the wood chips down on the coals. Fill an aluminum tray with ice cubes and set it on the lowest rack. Set the salmon on the highest rack and then close the lid with the vent open. The tray of ice will cool the smoke before if hits the salmon, preventing it from cooking. If you own a dedicated smoker that has a chamber for the wood that is off to the side of the grill, you wont need the ice.
3. If the wood gets too hot and ignites, put out the flames with a little bit of water. It the wood cools down too much and stops smoking, add some dry wood chips, allow them to catch fire and then put them out with a bit of water. Let the salmon smoke for two hours. Let rest in the fridge overnight and then slice thinly. Smoked salmon will keep for one week in the fridge or up to 6 months in the freezer.