Adventures in Smoking Salmon (Safely)

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During the time I spent in Alaska I was able to enjoy a lot of salmon, especially smoked salmon, but it wasn’t until becoming a Master Food Preserver that I attempted to make smoked salmon myself. It’s not terribly hard, but you do of course need a smoker, some wood chips, and some patience. To make sure it’s done safely, a good thermometer, and preferably one you can leave inside the fish like this one, is also important. Now if you love smoked salmon as much as us, you know how expensive it is to buy, so gather up some gear and try it yourself. Also check out the publication on this topic PNW 238 Smoking Fish at Home – Safely and if you want to can your fish, check out Canning Smoked Fish at Home for how to safely can home smoked fish.

Here’s how it’s done. First, brine your fish in a salt water brine. If you want a sweet or spicy brine, you can certainly also add some brown sugar, spices, or whatever at this point, but salt is the key ingredient to help get the fish to dry out. The extension publication recommends a brine of 7 parts water, to one part salt to ensure enough salt in the final product. Place your fish in a single layer in a shallow pan, mix the salt and water (and whatever else you want to add) in a separate bowl, and pour it over your fish to completely submerge it in brine.

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Large pieces of fatty fish require the longest brine; smaller, leaner fish require less brine time. I brined the salmon (in the fridge) for close to two hours, as they were fairly large fillets. After the brine time completes, rinse the fish lightly, and leave it out to dry. You want a pellicle to form on the fish, which is basically a tacky clear film on the surface, because this will absorb in the smoke flavour much better than if we began smoking right away. It also helps to prevent spoilage. Placing the fish in front of a fan can speed up the process, but you’ll want to leave it for about an hour.

When you are getting a good pellicle, start up your smoker. We used a Smoke Hollow smoker like this one but others function similarly. Follow the manufacturers instructions, but basically there is usually one tray that you fill with water and another that you fill with wood chips. Use hard woods for smoking, as soft woods will leave an undesirable flavour on the fish. Fill these and start the smoker on a low temperature to start getting some smoke going.

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Place the racks full of fish into the smoker and close the door. Keep the heat around 90 F, bascially you want it hot enough that it is producing smoke, but not so hot that you are just cooking the fish. We want to first smoke it, then cook it. Smoke the fish for up to 2 hours at these low temperatures, and then increase the temperature of the smoker to between 200 – 225 F. To ensure your fish is safely cooked, we want to reach an internal temperature of 150-160 F and hold it there for 30 minutes. Now is the time you want your thermometer in the thickest piece of fish, on the top shelf where it’s coolest, and make sure you hit that temp. It’s nice to have one with a cord or long stem so you can feed it through the vent hole in the smoker and not have to open the door to continually check the temp. If you have a thermometer that alarms when you hit your set temperature, then even better! Hit that temp and maintain for 30 minutes.

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Now your salmon is done! Take it out and give it a taste. Deeeeelish! Refrigerate the fish for up to two weeks, or freeze for long term storage.

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To maintain the best quality product, vacuum seal your delcious bounty using a product like a Food Saver. I finally invested in one this year when Costco was having a sale since I now have a good sized freezer, and it’s really helping me maintain my food quality! mmm. Now this has made me hungry, off to make some salmon dip.

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Master Food Preserver Class – Week 7

Week 7 of the Master Food Preserver class was a big old meat fest. We made jerky, smoked fish, pickled fish, and cooked up some summer sausage. This post will be the last in the Master Food Preserver series (I know, so sad), as week 8 was just our presentations and planning for the epic events of this summer. But don’t worry, there is still much more knowledge in that massive notebook of mine that I will continue to share with you all.

The first thing we did in class was make beef jerky. Beef jerky can be made safely at home, but there are just a couple of precautions that you need to take to ensure it is safe. The PNW 632  publication (click it for the link) is full of excellent information for making jerky, but I’ll give you the summary version here.

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Bacterial contamination is a concern when making jerky, which is why it needs to be sufficiently heated to ensure any pathogens are destroyed. Three methods can be used to do this: post-drying heating, precooking the meat, and a vinegar soak. The post drying heating is perhaps the easiest, all you do is cook the jerky in the oven at 275F for 10 minutes after it is done. This is the method I tend to use. Preheating is done either by cooking the jerky strips in hot brine for about 1.5-2 minutes, which obviously doesn’t really work for ground meat jerky, or by cooking in the oven at 325F until an internal temperature of 160F (165F for poultry) is reached. You need a nice thin tipped thermometer for this. Lastly, soaking the meat in vinegar has been shown to be effective as well, but of course gives the jerky a very vinegary flavour. It’s also not been tested for game meats. And that’s basically all there is to it for safety. Jerky can be dried at the highest setting in a dehydrator (145-155F) or in an oven. But for the oven you really need to test if it can maintain those temperatures first.

Other notes about jerky:
– Yes, you can use other meats like poultry, fish and game meats.
– Just recently the recommendations have changed and it is okay to use ground meat, so long as you post dry heat it. Get the leanest meat possible, 93% lean or greater. The concern with ground meat is that the bacteria that could have been on the surface is distributed throughout by grinding, so use extra caution when making ground meat jerky.
A jerky gun can be useful for shaping ground meat into strips.
– To easily cut jerky from steaks, partially freeze it so you can cut even strips; aim for about  1/8-1/4 inch thick.
– To test for doneness, cool the jerky slightly and try bending it. If it bends and cracks it is done. You don’t want it to snap right in half or it’s over done but if it is bendy but still doesn’t really break it’s not done. Ya, it sounds a bit wishy washy, but you get the feel for it pretty quickly.
– When the jerky is done, condition it in a jar or other container, loosely packed. Conditioning basically just means they sit there for a couple says and equalize in moisture content. Shake it occasionally. If you see moisture collect in your container, they are not dry enough.
– Store jerky in a cool dark place. I like to just store it in a quart jar. It will keep for 2 weeks at room temperature, 3-6 months in the refrigerator, and up to a year in the freezer.
– Nom nom nom

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The next thing we did for meat week was to learn about smoking fish. As with jerky, this can be done safely at home, but there are precautions you should follow to ensure a safe product. Additionally, products need to be refrigerated or frozen when made at home as a precaution, even though you can find commercial products that are safely stored at room temperature. This is due to us not being 100% certain of the salt and moisture content when making it at home. Canning your smoked fish is also an option.

If you want more information beyond what I provide here, the publication for this one is PNW 238 (again click for the link).

In summary:
– Smoked fish must reach an internal temperature of 150F (preferably 160F) and hold at that temperature for 30 minutes. This is important to kill bacteria such as Clostridium botulinum.
– Fish must be salted or brined, and since at home it is difficult to measure salt content, this is why as an added precaution the product must be refrigerated.
– Salt fish in a solution of 1 part table salt to 7 parts water, by volume. Brine for about an hour, although fatty or larger pieces of fish need 2 hours. Less fat = less brine time. Experiment with your fish – it should taste salty, but not unpleasantly so.
– After brining, fish is air dried until a pellicle (shiny, tacky skin) forms. This is usually at least 1 hour. After it forms it is ready to be smoked.
– Fish should be smoked then cooked. Smoke at 90F for up to 2 hours, then increase the temperature until the internal temperature of 150F is reached and maintained. This means the smoker temperature needs to be around 220-225F. If this cannot be achieved in your smoker, heat the fish in the oven after it’s smoked.
– Use hardwood for smoking, soft woods make unpleasant fish.
– If canning your smoked fish, just smoke the fish lightly, for up to 2 hours, then can immediately. Pints will need to be canned for 110 minutes. For full instructions follow the PNW 450 publication.
– Don’t store longer than 2 weeks in the fridge, freeze or can if you want to store it longer.

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I wish this were full and I got to take it alllllllll home with me.

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Mmmm smoked salmon. Makes me want to take a fishing trip to Alaska so badly!

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Honestly, I didn’t even taste the pickled fish because it seemed gross, but I promise I will, so for now I’m just going to provide you that publication, PNW 183, because I can’t really claim any insight here.

The last and meatiest product we made was summer sausage. In contrast with jerky, for summer sausage you want fatty fatty fattiness. It tastes pretty good, but I have to admit that I was a little bit grossed out making it. Honestly I don’t think it’s something I will really try making at home, but it was interesting to learn about. The extension service publication that you can refer to is SP 50-735. My only real original thought on the subject, since this was the one and only time I’ve experienced homemade sausage, is that I preferred the texture when we cooked it in the oven, as opposed to a pressure cooker. Both tasted very similar, but it was the texture that I found I preferred. So, that’s all I really have to say on that…check out those sausages.

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So! If you’re a meat lover, get out there and make some meaty meaty products!

 

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