Tom is a BBQ buddy that has helped me out at a few cook-offs. He also takes me fishin’ for Coho Salmon on Lake Michigan around the St. Joe, MI area. Over the years he has perfected his smoking technique and was kind enough to share with me.
Below is his process. As like many things in the smokin’ world, it takes time! Not so much the actual smoking, but the prep work. So, plan ahead and you will be rewarded with the best smoked fish I have ever eaten!
TC’s Brine for 5 lbs of Salmon:
1 gallon water
½ cups kosher salt (Most recipe’s call for more but I find them to be too salty)
2 Tbsp. Crushed red pepper (Optional)
2 Tbsp. Regular grind black pepper (Optional)
2 Tsp. Tabasco sauce (Optional)
Mix brine ingredients with hot water add spices
Cool brine to 40 degrees and add fish pieces
Brine for 12 hours
Lightly rinse fish under running water
Lightly oil the racks (a product like Pam works well for this) to avoid sticking.
Put the fish on the racks and sprinkle with a heavy coat of Cajun rub and coarse ground black pepper. Let sit for 10 minutes, flip and coat the other side like the first. Be aggressive with your rub as fish can handle a lot of spices. (Thicker fillets should have more rub)
Dry the fish with a fan for 1 ½ – 2 hours. (1 hour followed by flipping the fish and drying for another hour.) Dry the fish until the “pellicle” has formed. This is the shiny, slightly tacky, coating that your fish will get after it has dried. The pellicle helps the smoke to coat evenly and not get blotchy. Most importantly drying it helps keep in the juices and retain the firm texture of the fish as it is smoked.)
Put racks in the smoker smoker,and cook at 180 – 200* until done. The fish will be firm to the touch.(Probably 1 ½ – 2 hours with thin fillets)
Let cool at room temperature before putting in the fridge or vacuum sealing. If you put in the fridge when hot a lot of moisture will form making the outside surface of the fish wet. This is not always a bad thing but too much moisture pulled out will cause the inside of the fish to be drier. You will have to experiment a bit.
Vacuum seal, label with the date and store in fridge or freezer. (Freeze if you don’t plan to eat within a week or so)