A Griller’s Xmas Classic
Cold Smoked Salmon is among all the Christmas preparations feasible with a barbecue, what I think is more representative of our world. Why? Because it is a seen and overseen dish and yet it is able to surprise you. Because technically it is nothing out of this world and yet manages to be non-trivial. Because it is one of those steps that teaches you one time more to be precise, methodical, patient. You’ve never tried? Ok, I’m gonna try to describe it with a short but effective simile: we can say that tasting home made smoked salmon for the first time is a bit ‘as having spent a life eating the packaged sandwich loaf and then suddenly taste fresh, just baked bread. Or like having a Black&White TV in the house and then to be put in front of an LCD. In short, a revelation.
If at least once in life you happened to buy a pack of it, you will know very well what we are talking about: it’s a Salmon with firm and compact consistency, that can not be defined cooked but did not even look like raw. Sweet and tasty with a lively notes of smoked, perfect for Christmas buffet accompanied by some Class bubbles. But here we do not speak of the ong shelf life product that you commonly find discounted in the holidays at supermarkets, with that well known fake aromatic taste given by the use of liquid smoke. This is a fresh and fragrant one in which you can appreciate the richness of nuances. To achieve this purpose, we must proceed to dehydrate the Salmon through a dry brine and then cold smoke it, or rather at a temperature lower than 30 ° C, below which the coagulation of proteins won’t come to pass, following a procedure that requires a little less than a week but in which our active contribution will be close to zero.
It states that among us barbecue addicted, the Cold Smoked Salmon is a bit ‘like the Ragu for a Bolognese: everyone of us has his own recipe and its absolute truths. So you probably will find discrepancies with what similar available online but this is what is right and nice in barbecue. This recipe is simply my way of looking at it and how I interpret this wonderful dish, without the pretense of wanting to write anything in stone. So do not take it for dogma, but I invite you to try to write down one in your turn, and then you also get in the Cold Smoked Salmon clubs.
Ingredients (Buffet for 12 people):
4,5 kg Salmon halfs with skin
(for the dry brining)
1200 gr. Brown Sugar
1100 gr. Marine Salt
8 gr. SPG Rub
100 gr. Rub used in this recipe
4 gr. InstaCure #1
(for the rehydration)
10 cl. Dark Rum
10 cl. Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVO)
5 cl. Maple Syrup
- Let’s start with the choice of raw material. Lot of people argue that big size salmon (4 kg or more) give the best results and I agree with them. The problem is that this is not a common sizes and I’m a supporter of the “take it easy” way. My personal opinion on the matter is that halfs weighing between 1,2 and 1,5 kg are available everywhere and give equally good results as long as chosen of good thickness and properly trimmed. In the specific case I bought three halfs for a total weight of approximately 4,550 kg.
- The first thing to do is to clean and square them. The goal must be to have them with the thickness the more uniform we can. After trimmed the costal wall of thorns, I firmly remove the last part of the ventral section, the more thin: the waist is in terms of very low weight and there will be a significant advantage in terms of homogeneity and presentation of the finished product. Proceed then to trim the excess fat on the back side and to remove with the aid of tweezers the pulp thorns.
- Here comes a very useful step. Our salmon is at this moment very humid, almost wet. I have found that an initial step in an absorbent paper makes it more compact and makes the result of the next phase the dry bine, much better. To this end, our best ally is the Butcher Paper, a thick paper that used in place of the foil in the Low & Slow cooking. 12 hours in the fridge in triple Butcher Paper layer have a very high absorption capacity. Otherwise any other type of paper will be fine.
- Now is the time of the dry brine. There are widely differing views on this subject with recipes calculated to the gram. As I said, I am a “take it easy” guy and I follow a simple rule of proportion: take the weight of the salmon, divide it in half and you will have the total weight of the brine. Of this, half is sugar, the other is salt. On this last, I keep about 100 gr back so to add rubs as flavor components. Of course we know that the cold-smoking conditions are ideal for the development of botulinum toxin, to avoid which we just need to add a quantity of 2 per thousand of products such as InstaCure # 1, Prague Salt or Pink Salt. I know people who made cold smoking or home production of in oil preserves for a lifetime, and cares not at all about this with no consequences, but Botox can cause serious problems and not really worth the risk. In our specific case, of about 4.6 kg of salmon, we calculate 2.3 kg of brine, of which 1,150 of brown sugar (no, it’s not the same as cane sugar), 1,050 of sea salt, 100 gr. rub that already had prepared and used for this recipe cause I think that with the salmon it is really good, some grams of the SPG rub I use for Brisket, just to take advantage the push of the pepper and garlic, and finally the 4 gr. of InstaCure # 1.
- I put a light layer of dry brine in a container of appropriate size, then place the salmon and cover the exposed part to finally place them in the fridge. Stop. Everyone use his own brine timing, some say 24 hours, some 48. My thinking is … that it is impossible to say a rule, it is an oversimplification no different from the “5 minutes per side” one for cooking Fiorentina. The origin of the Salmon and the different thickness make the result too variable to allow you to define a rule. Usually I let it rest for 24 hours, after which I look at what I find and I decide what to do. The only measure is touch: in every part of the meat the meat should risult compact, not yielding to the pressure of the finger. Do not be afraid to see it dry out excessively, cause the next stage will give it back force. You will find the Salmon soaked in its own liquid. If the conditions are still not ideal, take some out from the container, take a bit of brining the bottom and cover on thicker parts of the salmon that will certainly be those further late in the process. In our specific case, the two thinner hams were brining in 26 hours, the thicker 32.
- Let’s rinse Salmon under running water and dry out with homemade paper. The next phase is the stop for 24 hours in the refrigerator and consequent refresh, during which people use to brush the meat with the most diverse substances, very often of alcoholic nature. My personal view is that it should just be an emulsion. The ingredients are an aromatic liqueur (many seek unusual flavors but I am convinced that the Rum in this sense is unbeatable), a fatty substance (a quality EVO oil in my case) and a sweet and sticky one that congeals on the surface of the salmon (in our case maple syrup). All it emulsified with a bit of mustard to make it stable. You will see that the first pass will be “drunk” from salmon in 10 minutes. It will be necessary a second, perhaps even a third, until it will not form a glossy, dense layer. Then immediately refrigerate. From here on, for as I see it, the salmon should be checked periodically. The aim is that it “drinks”, so as soon as we see him dehydrate we give a brushstroke, as long as it is needed, or until the salmon apparently do not “drink” more. This does not necessarily mean that this phase should last 24 hours. In our case, the intervals were fairly narrow in the early hours and then gradually drag on and in about 14 hours we were ready.
- Now it is finally time for the cold smoking. Here the process is really simple: just adopt a spiral, some wood dust and of one gear with the holes for the air input and output (a normal kettle is fine, the degree of opening of the fins is almost irrelevant – remember: take it easy!). I think I have tried all the spiral sold on the italian market, including a pellet one. Except for this last that produces a very dense and lingering smoke and which therefore requires a reduction of the time, I did not detect large differences. The principle is trivial: it is a binary to be filled with wood dust, where it triggers the ignition of one end through a kitchen torch (those for Creme Brulè to be clear). This creates a under ash combustion, such as that of cigarettes, which produces smoke but not heat. About the choice of the essences we could write five books. Everyone has their own preferences, although I often see alder prevail, which is (rightly) by definition the essence of fish. My very personal and irrelevant (re-remember: take it easy!) taste is to find a note in the salmon that I feel as familiar. I like to start from a base (50%) of a northern european classic such as oak and then characterize with the fruity note of the Cherry (25%) and only at the end with the Alder (25%). These last two contribute to give a particular chromatic note, mixed between the mahogany of the first and the golden-bronze of the second. This stage is the only one that I can not measure with a feeling. So I usually count exactly 24 hours.
- Last and coveted stage: the aging in the fridge. I pull out my salmon that have an stinky odor of smoke, which otherwise soaks the clothes like glue. If I pass my finger over the surface and try to test its flavor I remain almost disgusted as is bitter. The cause of all this are the alcohols, one of the many substances that make up the corpuscular part of the smoke. As the name suggests, the alcohols are ethereal and need to evaporate with time to make room for the flavor components. This is the meaning of the maturation phase. To help this process is used periodically applying an alcoholic substance on smoked salmon and even the Rum here is a must. Usually, however, in a glass of Rum I add a tablespoon of maple syrup to thicken it a bit and do not run away too quickly. Here too, the same rule previously seen holds: more frequently the surface of the salmon evaporates and more frequently we have to moisten it. When you reach a certain stability in texture and salmon lasts through time compact but soft, rich and full it is time to remove the skin with a filet knife and put it in vacuum.
Usually I do this around the Feast of the Immaculate and then remove the salmon from the vacuum on Christmas morning and enjoy it coarsely sliced on a hot toast with salted butter. If you want to try, you still have time: enters the Cold Smoked Salmon Club and Merry Christmas!