I can’t tell you how many time people I don’t know, and do know, throw out the accusation that I know about some specific food, or ethnic dish, or cooking technique because I’m a chef and went to culinary school. I understand why they would think that but to clarify, there isn’t a single chef in the world that knows everything about the culinary world. It’s impossible! I know absolutely nothing about Somali cuisine, or food from Kazakhstan, or foods and ingredients from Greenland. Literally I know what I know and I try to learn from there. One of my favorite chefs told us in culinary school that as chefs we only know a little bit about a lot, and that there is too much to learn in the culinary world for any 1 single man to know it all. Ok so where I am going with this? I can honestly say that I had limited smoking experience before the past 2 years. I used to work at this restaurant where we smoked our own turkey and shrimp for a few dishes on our menu, however we never used a traditional smoker. We had something called an Alto-Shaam which looks like a little food warmer and has this box in it where you put soaked wood chips in it and it would smoke. I never thought the flavor of anything it produced was that good, and it certainly didn’t represent any smoky type of food I have ever had. I’m not sure if was the rubs or brines we used, or lack thereof, but it just wasn’t quality smoked food. Sure the ingredients were super high quality but the final flavors just were not there. So before just a couple of years ago my smoking experience was limited and if you would’ve asked me how to smoke foods, I honestly would not have known where to begin. It kind of goes back to the whole I know what I know and try to experiment with new things, but I just can’t know everything.
I’ve become really interested in smoking foods the last 2 years. It’s definitely an art form and man does it bring people around the table when you tell them you’ve been smoking a pork butt all day long. The flavors have been fantastic and experimenting every time I smoke has been crucial to me learning it so I can find the best working combinations. I have 2 smokers, a Big Green Egg and a Bradley digital smoker. I prefer the digital smoker because the work is far less and the flavor is just about the same. When I first starting smoking foods I would put all these crazy rubs on the food and let it sit for 24 to 48 hours, but realized after smoking that all I could taste was the rub and no smoke. I’ve learned that if you buy the best and freshest ingredients you really only need a few seasonings and you let the smoke do the work. I’ve used anything from plain old salt and pepper to a combo of salt, pepper, paprika, onion and garlic powder and both methods produce outstanding results, and little down time before smoking.
Buying salmon these days can be a little fishy, no pun intended. Things seemed to be so much easier back in the day when all fish came from a river or an ocean, and then people started experimented with fish farms and that seemed cool for a second. Well, fast forward 15-20 years and now fish farms are over run causing poor over crowded environments resulting in almost toxic food. I kid you not that I saw salmon at a grocery store, no names but it rhymes with toll moods, that said coloring has been added to the salmon. Coloring?? Really?? Why do I need my fresh fish to be colored? Does it not look as normal salmon should once butchered? What color is it naturally after pulling it out of a fish farm pool? Well this weirded me out even more that before when I still knew fish farms weren’t the right way to eat fish. So in the end what I’m trying to tell you is to ONLY buy fresh wild caught salmon that is sustainable. There are always a few varieties of wild caught salmon from Atlantic, to Coho, to Sockeye, and a few others that would work perfect for cooking or smoking. Also, when I say sustainable fish I mean fish that aren’t on the verge of extinction like Bluefin Tuna or Orange Roughy, among a few others. If you want to know if you should purchase a seafood item but aren’t sure if it’s over-fished, then check out http://www.seafoodwatch.org/.
Man I’ve been preaching in this post haha! Back to making this homemade smoked salmon platter recipe. After I purchased my wild caught sockeye salmon I seasoned it well with Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper and let it sit out at room temperature for about 30 minutes. You do this before smoking anything so that it does not chill the smoker temperature because it has to be so exact and to also simply take the chill off the food. I used my digital smoker when smoking this salmon so it was very seamless. I used hickory wood chips and set the dial to 215° and hot smoked it for around 90 minutes. I know in the smoke world that is a really low smoke time, but salmon is thin and because of that it will pick up plenty of smoke in that short amount of time. I do have a cold smoker attachment, but I wanted to hot smoke my salmon for only the second time in my life ever. Again when it comes to smoking, or practicing any cooking technique for that matter, it’s all about reps and trying new things. When using the digital smoker, you control how much smoke, the temperature and how long you want foods to smoke/cook for. I personally thing that smoking salmon on a traditional smoker with wood and charcoal would get way too hot for a side of salmon. Not saying it wouldn’t work I just think the smoke time would be really low and wouldn’t give your salmon the flavor it needs to be “smoked salmon.” Remember to leave the skin on when smoking salmon to help hold all of the moisture and flavor into it while smoking.
I know this last part isn’t going to help at all but everything else that goes on this smoked salmon platter is completely up to you. I literally looked in my refrigerator and almost cleaned it out so I could get rid of a few miscellaneous ingredients and you should do the same. Smoked salmon is so delicious it literally goes great with just about anything you want to throw at it. That’s all I got for now, but I promise so more smoked foods are coming in the near future!!
- 2 sides of fresh wild caught salmon, skin on
- Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste
- Optional woods: hickory, maple, pecan, apple or cherry
- sliced red onions
- hard boiled eggs
- lemon wedges
- pumpernickel bread, sliced
- baby spinach
- whipped cream cheese
- sliced radishes
- marinated or roasted mushrooms
- green olives
- Kalamata lives
- grainy mustard
- sliced cucumbers
- raw or roasted asparagus
- blue cheese crumbles
- tomato confit recipe
- goat cheese with fresh dill
- pickle slices
- roasted peppers
- To smoke: Open the top vent completely and set your smoker to 210° to 215°.
- Let the smoke start when it reaches about 150° and wait for a thin blue stream of smoke to come out of the vent before smoking.
- Season the salmon well with salt and pepper and let sit at room temperature for 30 to 60 minutes before placing it on separate smoking racks.
- Place the salmon into the smoker and smoke for 90 to 120 minutes or until the salmon has a semi-hard crust on the skin, it is cooked through and still juicy in the middle.
- Remove the salmon from the smoker and serve it immediately with all of the accompaniments.