I go up to Washington to go steelhead fishing a few times a year, and I always love smoking my catch. Last week I had a chance to go fish again, and I wanted to share a very simple but delicious way to smoke steelhead or salmon. If spending days on a river hunting for steelhead isn’t your thing, you can go catch a few salmon or steelhead fillets from your supermarket. Just make sure it has the skin on – that’s the most important part as it will keep the moisture in and prevent sticking.
A major part of the process is the brine you use. This can be altered to your taste, but the brine I use is 2 cups of brown sugar, 3/4 cup of non-iodized salt or sea salt (Do not use iodized salt because it makes your fish taste metallic when smoked), and 1/2 cup of water. Dissolve the sugar and salt in the water and layer your fish in a bowl. Put a generous portion of brine in between each piece of fish as you layer it. Brine the fish for 8-12 hours. The brine will infuse the meat and draw out moisture, which will decrease the smoking time.
After it brines for 8-12 hours, rinse off all the brine from the meat and pat it dry with a paper towel. Place the fish on the smoking racks and let them sit out on your counter for 1-2 hours until a tacky film forms on the surface. This is one of the most important steps because this film will form a crust that locks in the moisture. You can use a fan to speed up the process. Don’t skip this step!
Now it’s ready for the smoker. If you enjoy smoked fish, you should check out the little indian chief smoker. They are about $100, but you can find them on Craigslist all day long. The older ones are better because the heating elements wear out a bit and smoke at a lower temp.
My favorite wood to use is Alder chips, but you can use whatever you like. Alder is mild and sweet compared to others, so I prefer it. The smoking time can take anywhere from 3-6 hours depending on the outside temp and thickness of your meat. Add wood chips at least 3 times. It will be done when it is dark in color but still gives when you press it. You don’t want to overcook it – slightly pink in the middle is perfect.