December 15, 2013

Northwest Smoked Sockeye Salmon Recipe

The top 2 fillets are Sockeye Salmon, the bottom 2 are Coho

Salmon. In the Pacific Northwest salmon is akin to Manna in the local food hierarchy. Yes, we have Dungeness crab, fresh oysters, cherries, apples, Walla Walla onions, asparagus, and many other fantastic local indigenous foods. But they are simply Barons and Lords on the food chain…Salmon is king.

While the seasonality of other local foods is celebrated, it is the annual run of wild salmon that Washingtonians, and chefs in particular, eagerly await with baited breath every May. It means that for the next few months all species of wild salmon will be available fresh. Restaurants and chefs scramble to be among the those few who offer the first fresh Copper River Sockeye Salmon of the year.

But even when the fresh season is over (actually, fresh king salmon is available almost year around, however, Sockeye and Coho are not), salmon continues to be an important part of our Pacific Northwest culture and our restaurant menus.

Now that the fresh Sockeye season has ended, here is an excellent recipe for Smoked Sockeye Salmon using frozen fish. Now I’m not to saying that frozen salmon isn’t good, because it is. It’s just that we get spoiled having fresh for five months, and while frozen salmon is good, fresh salmon is fantastic and always my first choice!

I’ve used this recipe now for a number of years and have never found a better one. The salt content is low, the finished product is still moist, and the smokiness “just right”. But, I recently learned a new technique, an added step, which takes this recipe from “really damn good” to “fucking amazing”! The new technique is to “allow the pellicle to form”…no additional ingredients, just an extra step. After brining, rinse the fish and dry with paper towels, then allow to air-dry in the cooler until a thin, moist layer forms (the pellicle). It takes at least an hour…I let it go overnight.  Then proceed with the recipe as normal. The result is smoked salmon which is more moist and which has a fantastic glaze-like sheen that will put a big-ass smile on your face!

The pellicle is a thin, tacky protein layer which forms on meat/fish after the brining process. It acts as a protective layer to keep the fish more moist. And it gives a better surface for the smoke to attach to during the smoking process. The end result puts a big smile on your face! Beautiful, moist, and delicious! Below are before and after pics of the difference of letting the pellicle form before smoking. Other than that one step, the recipe is identical and both are Sockeye Salmon with the same color before starting the recipe.

click on the images to enlarge

without forming the pellicle
with the pellicle forming step


Smoked Salmon Recipe

Yield: 1 Pound


Step 1

1          Qt       Water
½         Cup     Kosher Salt
½         Lb       Brown Sugar
3          Each    Bay Leaf

Step 2

1 ½      Qts      Cold Water
½         Qt       Soy Lite
¼         Cup     Cracked Black Pepper

1          Lb       Sockeye Salmon, skin-off, pin bones removed


Heat the Step 1 ingredients until salt is dissolved.  Remove from heat and transfer to a container large enough to hold the salmon, yet narrow enough that the liquid will cover the salmon completely.

Add the ingredients from Step 2 and allow the brining liquid to cool to 41° or lower.

Add the salmon to the brine and leave it in the refrigerator for 1 day (18-24 hours).  Remove the salmon from the brine, rinse & dry thoroughly with paper towels. Place on a drain rack in the cooler or refrigerator for at least 1 hour, or up to 10 hours. This will allow the “pellicle” to form.

Have a smoker already lit and smoking using apple chips.  Place the salmon in the smoker for 2 hours.  For best results, the salmon should remain as close to 40° as possible.  Remove from the smoker and bake in oven at 325° to a temperature of 135°. Chill until ready to serve.

Using a very sharp, thin knife, carefully, slowly cut the salmon into the portion sizes you want and serve!


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