Moonstruck Bay Smoked Salmon
- 1 large (2.75 to 3#) salmon filet (skin off), pin bones removed
- 3/4 cup kosher salt (I use Diamond Springs Brand ONLY—different brands will produce different results or differing levels of saltiness)
- 1/2 cup natural turbinado cane or “raw” sugar
- 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
- 1 heaping tablespoon of multi-colored (mélange) peppercorns, crushed (yields about 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon crushed pepper)
Flavor Haze Drip:
- One 6-pack of flavorful beer (I typically use Negra Modelo or Dos Equus Amber–but I’ve also used Newcastle Brown Ale with great success)
- 4 lemons—quartered
- 4 shallots—halved lengthwise
- 6 large sprigs of fresh thyme
- 4” sprig of fresh rosemary
- 1 T. of whole mixed (mélange) peppercorns
- Cherry and Hickory Hardwood Smoking chips—soaked in water
Directions—Preparation of Salmon
In a bowl, mix together kosher salt, turbinado sugar, dark brown sugar and crushed mélange peppercorns.
Cut salmon filet in half vertically—forming two center cut halves of approximately the same length each. Spread a sheet of wide, heavy-duty aluminum foil long enough to wrap the fish entirely following application of the rub. Top the aluminum foil sheet with an equal length of plastic wrap.
In the center of the prepared plastic/foil sheet spread approximately 1/3 of the rub into a square or rectangular “bed” sufficient in size to ensure the filet has rub seasoning all the way out to all edges. Orient the first half of the salmon filet so that the widest and thickest side is to your left and that there is sufficient rub between the filet and the plastic/foil to cover it to all edges.
Spread another 1/3 of the rub on the top of the filet half—again, ensuring the flesh is evenly covered all the way out to the edges. Take the second filet and place it with the thinnest/narrow end of the filet to your left and the thicker/wider end to your right —effectively “squaring up” the two halves into a single bundle that is roughly the same thickness throughout once assembled.
Spread the remaining 1/3 of rub on the top of the final half and scoop any rub on the edges of the filets onto the sides so that all the flesh is well covered. Take both ends of plastic and fold over the filets until covered. Then bring both ends of the foil together over the top crimping edges together on top and then on each side—forming and folding the foil against the fish until tightly crimped and covered.
Place wrapped fish into a 9 X 12 glass baking dish (as the fish cures liquids will leak out and you will need the space/sides to contain the resulting runoff) and weigh down with two foil wrapped bricks ( or cast iron skillet, etc.). Place in the refrigerator for a minimum of 12 hours. After 12 hours, flip the package of fish and refrigerate for another 12-hour minimum.
After the 24 hours, unwrap the fish and rinse off the remaining rub/cure with cold water. Pat both halves of the salmon with paper towels until dry. Place the two filet halves on a parchment paper lined baking tray in a cool, dry place—but not in a refrigerator—until until the surface of the filets has a dry matte-like finish. Place filets in a cool, dry place (your refrigerator is not an option—you will dehydrate the filets) until the surface of the fish has formed a pellicle (a dry, matte thin film surface) somewhere between 2 to 3 hours depending on your home’s humidity.
Time saving tip: I almost always speed up the process by using a fan on low for a total of 2 hours—flipping the filets and changing the parchment paper out after the first hour to ensure both sides have dried sufficiently.
While those filets are drying out—it’s time to get your smoker ready.
It’s a good idea to begin the soaking of your cherry and hickory chips (two good size handfuls of each) in water before beginning preparation of the smoker and haze drip to ensure the chips are fully saturated with water (so they smoke and not burn) when you begin smoking your salmon.
I use a truly ancient electric smoker that I have had at least 20 years that I just can’t bring myself to replace—too many great meals and too many awesome memories of times spent with friends and family to let it go. The smoker type is, of course, up to you. Whatever type you use, wrap one of the racks inside with aluminum foil—poking small holes throughout and then liberally spray with non-stick cooking spray.
Pour the beer into a large metal mixing bowl and add the remaining ingredients for the flavor haze drip. Place the bowl on the shelf just below the aluminum foil covered shelf. The haze ingredients add tremendous flavor to the finished product and catch any oily drips that might cause flare-ups as well.
Plug it in; fire it up—whatever your manufacturer tells you to do to maintain a constant internal temperature—150 to 160 degrees—throughout the process. I have a small door that I can open to add more wood chips or reduce smoke intensity or temperature—again follow manufacturer’s directions for your type of smoker to control temperature and smoke until the thickest part of the filet registers 150 degrees. It’s important to note that one of the filets is always thinner than the other and, consequently, will reach 150 degrees earlier. (1 hour to 1 hour 20 minutes).
“Moonstruck Bay Smoked Salmon” is the basis for two of my favorite entertaining starters–“Seaside Smoked Salmon Cheese Ball” and for my savory “Moonstruck on the Bay Smoked Salmon Cheesecake.”