RECIPE TITLE "Apple Cider-Cured Smoked Salmon " Author:
Wildwood: Cooking from the Source in the Pacific Northwest
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4 servings -- easy
At Wildwood, we often use a tandoor, or clay oven, to roast meats, poultry, and fish. The foods are skewered and roasted over mesquite charcoal, infusing them with a light smoke flavor even in the relatively short ten- to fifteen-minute cooking time. The tandoor cools overnight, and in the morning, a bed of coals remains, creating an excellent heat source for smoking. A wire rack is placed over the opening to the oven, which is about two feet above the fire, and salmon is smoked for approximately fifteen minutes.
Before I smoke meats and fish, I often cure them in a liquid brine or a dry cure of salt and sugar. I prefer a liquid brine since it moistens the meat or fish, while the latter absorbs the aromatics from the brine and cures in the liquid. Using apple cider as the liquid produces a slightly sweet smoked salmon that takes on a mahogany tone from the amber juice. This brine can also be used for trout, chicken, or pork.
The smoked salmon recipe that follows has been adapted for an outdoor grill. Large center-cut portions of salmon are ideal for this preparation; if you use smaller pieces, reduce the cooking time accordingly. Serve the salmon with roasted potatoes and sautéed spinach, or cool and flake into a salad or sandwich.
APPLE CIDER BRINE
- 1 cup brown sugar
- ¾ cup salt
- 4 cups apple cider or juice
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon whole allspice
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 6 sprigs thyme or ½ teaspoon dried thyme
- 2 large center-cut salmon fillets (about 1 pound each), skin and pin bones removed
- A small all bundle of wood chips or chunks, such as alder, pine, cherry, apple, or fir, soaked in water for at least 2 hours, but preferably overnight.
To make the brine: In a saucepan, combine the brown sugar, salt, and apple juice and bring to a boil. Add the remaining brine ingredients, remove from the heat, and cool. This brine can be made 2 to 3 days in advance and kept in the refrigerator.
Submerge the salmon fillets in the liquid brine for at least 6 hours, or overnight. Remove the salmon from the brine and place, uncovered, on a wire rack set in a sheet pan. Refrigerate the fillets for at least 6 hours, or overnight, to dry them out. (A dry fillet will take on smoke quicker than a moist fillet.)
To smoke the salmon: In an outdoor grill, make a small fire using mesquite charcoal or briquettes. Once the fire has burned down to a hot bed of coals, after about 1 hour, place the soaked wood on the coals. Position the grate 8 to 12 inches above the smoking wood and place the salmon fillets on the grate. Cover the grill and shut any open air vents. After 5 minutes, check the heat of the grill; large fillets will be cooked and smoked through in approximately 30 minutes if the heat is low, about 300° to 350°, while a hotter fire will cook the fillets in 15 to 20 minutes.
Serve the salmon hot off the grill.