Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Smoked Sockeye Salmon

Salmon has a very important place in the culture of Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest.  The tribes long believed that if someone mishandled the fish, the great spirits of the sea would drive the salmon from the waters.

It is known as the Legend of the Lost Salmon.  Briefly, the Creator told the people that the salmon, which had been created especially for them, had to be treated in accordance with certain rules.  The people initially followed those rules; however, over time, they became careless.  They stopped following the rules and the salmon vanished.  As the people walked the river, they were shocked that the salmon were gone.  They came across a dead salmon and all cried out that, if they were only given one more chance, they would do better.  They also thought if they could revive the dead salmon, the salmon would return to their waters.  

The tribe called a council and asked one of their most venerable members, Old Man Rattlesnake, to help them.  Old Man Rattlesnake went to where the dead salmon laid and crawled over the salmon four times.  When he crawled over the salmon a fifth time, something magnificent happened ... Old Man Rattlesnake disappeared into the fish and the salmon awoke.  The people learned their lesson about taking care of salmon and the fish returned to the streams. 

The Legend of the Lost Salmon is not just a story passed down by generations of Native Americans; it has a moral that transcends cultures and nationalities.  We all have to "follow the rules" when it comes to the fauna and flora in our environment.  Our failure to do so could lead to us losing them.  This morale is especially true when it comes to fish, because our activity has decimated the stocks of many fish around the world, including salmon. Today, there are a lot of rules when it comes to the fishing of  Pacific Salmon and Alaska Salmon, including Sockeye and King Salmon.  These rules have led watchdog groups like Seafood Watch to give these fish the "Best Choice" when it comes to sustainable fish.

Recently, while visiting Eastern Market with Clare and her parents, we stopped by Southern Maryland Seafood and saw some beautiful fillets of wild Sockeye Salmon.  We decided that we would buy a two pound fillet of Sockeye Salmon.  Our plan was to smoke the fish.

Smoking fish involves choices.  Before the smoking can begin, one must decide on how to "cure" the fish.  There are two methods: wet cure or dry cure.  A wet cure is a brine with a base of water, salt and sugar (as well as other ingredients).  A dry cure is a rub, usually consisting of salt and sugar (as well as with other herbs and spices).  Once a choice has been made with respect to the cure, the next decision to make is the method of smoking the fish.  Once again, there are two choices: cold smoking or hot smoking.  Cold smoking involves cooking the meat with smoke at temperatures of 85 degrees Fahrenheit or less.  By contrast, hot smoking involves cooking the meat with smoke at temperature between 120 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit or more. 

Ultimately, we decided to use a wet cure and the hot smoking method to smoke our Sockeye Salmon fillet. We created a simple brine for the fish and let the fish rest in the brine for about forty-five minutes.  While we were air-drying the fish, we decided to smoke the fish using apple wood.  Most often, salmon is smoked using alder wood, but apple wood is a tame wood that imparts a sweet smoke flavor to meat.  After about an hour, we pulled the fish from the heat and were treated to an amazing meal.

Adapted from Great Salmon Recipes
Serves many

2 pounds of sockeye salmon
4 cups water
3/4 cup of Kosher Salt
1/2 cup of light brown sugar

1.   Brine the salmon.  Combine the water, salt and brown sugar to create the brine.  Add the sockeye to the brine and allow the fish to rest for about forty-five minutes. After forty-five minutes, remove the fish and set it out to air-dry.  

2.  Smoke the salmon.   Prepare the fire for the smoker.  Once the fire is set, add some pieces of apple wood to start the smoke.   Ideally, you do not want the temperature to exceed 200 degrees Fahrenheit.  (It is better for the temperature to be less than 200 degrees.)  Add the salmon and smoke it for about one hour.  The internal temperature should reach about 140 degrees Fahrenheit and the meat of the fish should be easy to flake. 

3.  Finish the dish.  Remove the fish from the heat and allow it to return to room temperature. Serve immediately.


For more about smoking salmon, check out the Gourmet Food Store.  For more about the Legend of the Lost Salmon, check out Native American Indian Legends.

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