If you have access to fresh, wild salmon then I highly recommend that you use that. You can also use store-bought but you can't expect the same quality and flavor as fresh, wild-caught salmon. I've had both and you can tell the difference. My point is to use the best thing you can get your hands on within your budget and means.
The first thing I do with salmon is to give it a good rinse with cold water and then pat it dry with a paper towel.
Lay it on the cutting board skin side down.
You can cut this as wide as you want and to any size that you want. I chose to go with about 1 inch slices right down the fish.
Some folks skin the fish before they slice it but I have found that it is easier to remove the skin from smaller pieces.
Use a sharp knife and with the fish laying skin side down, glide the blade between the meat and the skin to separate the two.
My method is to get it started on the thick end then when I have enough to get ahold of, I hold it with the thumb of my left hand (I am right handed) while I glide the blade, angled slightly downward, away from me.
Removing the skin will cause stray scales to end up on the meat of the fish and I like to give it another rinse under cold water to remove anything unwanted.
As you rinse them, pile them on a paper towel to drain.
Now we are ready to dry brine the fish with my original rub (purchase recipe here).
What is dry brining?
In it's most basic terms, dry brining is the act of sprinkling salt (kosher salt is best) on meat. Water from the meat is attracted to the salt and is brought to the surface to meet the salt. The water mixes with the salt and is then reabsorbed back into the meat.
Even though my rub is very low in salt, it is enough to do the job on this fish. The salt in the rub pulls the moisture to the surface where it mixes with the rub and then that flavorful slurry is reabsorbed back into the meat. It's like injecting flavor into the meat except a whole lot better!
To start, I pour enough of the original rub (Purchase formula here | Purchase bottled rub) to create a layer on the bottom of the brining bowl. For this 3 pound salmon, I used a bowl that was about 5″ x 8″ and about 5″ deep with a lid.
Add the salmon pieces by laying them gently on top of the layer of rub.
Add another layer of rub.
With every layer, add more rub.
Place a lid on the container and place the fish in the fridge overnight or for 8-12 hours while it brines.
After about 4 hours, you will notice that liquid slurry in the bottom of the bowl, and you may want to stir the fish around a little to make sure it is well coated.
Here is the fish after 12 hours in the fridge..
The fish is very firm and smells wonderful.
Rinse the fish under cold water and try to get off as much of the rub as possible. The flavors have already done their job and what is left is not needed. Besides, it's important that the fish is very dry when the smoking begins and we'll add more rub and some maple syrup to the fish toward the end of the process.
Lay the rinsed fish onto a rack for the drying process. I use a second rack over the top so I don't have to worry about anything falling onto the fish in the fridge.
These days, Bradley racks, like the ones I used below, are hard to find online unless you own a Bradley smoker.. I recommend this pan and rack instead if you're looking for something like this to use.
Just a tip: Use wire bread ties to connect the two racks together.
Some folks dry the fish on the counter but I am a safety nut and I prefer to dry it in the fridge.
Why dry the fish?
Salmon have a white protein called albumin and this stuff will ooze out of the fish as it cooks. The albumin also serves to keep the fish more moist while it cooks.
By allowing the fish to dry, it forms a skin called a pellicle which helps to prevent the white albumin from cooking out.
I recommend drying for 2-4 hours if possible. The fish will become tacky and get a translucent look as it dries.
After drying the fish and allowing the pellicle to form they are ready to smoke.
This is a great task to get done while the fish are in the last hour or so of drying.
Winter is a great time to smoke fish since it is normally smoked at lower temperatures anyway and if your smoker has a hard time maintaining normal smoking temperatures of 225°F, well then, you are in luck because you only need about 120-160°F to get the job done on this smoked salmon candy.
Start the smoker out at about 120°F and once it is holding steady, the fish are ready to smoke.
Place the salmon candy into the smoker. If you are using the Bradley racks then just lay it on the grate or you can lay the fish directly on the smoker grate. You might consider brushing a little olive oil onto the bottom of the fish pieces just before placing them on the grate to prevent any sticking.
I recommend using apple or alder wood and keep the smoke going the entire time.
Depending on how thick your pieces are cut and how dry you want the smoked salmon candy to be will determine the length of time that it spends in the smoker so you will have to do a little bit of testing after 3-4 hours of time. I always tell folks to make extra and to test a piece every 30 minutes until it gets to where you like it.
Write down how long it took and you'll know next time what to expect.
My fish was about 1 inch thick and I like it pretty dry but not so dry that it becomes chewy. I maintained the following temperatures in my smoker and it took 6 hours to become smoked salmon candy perfection:
2 hours at 120°F
2 hours at 140°F
2 hours at 160°F
If your smoker will not cook lower than 160 or 180 then just set it on the lowest setting knowing that it will get done sooner than mine did.. probably at least an hour or two sooner.
This important step is what helps to make the smoked salmon candy sweet and gives it that nice sweet and spicy layer on the outside.
Mix the 2 ingredients together well and brush onto the salmon every hour starting at the 1 hour mark. Depending on how much salmon you make and how generous you are with it, you may need to make another batch.
What a great snack this is!