Curing and smoking seafood has long been a tradition in coastal fishing communities around the world. Smoking expert Steven Raichlen’s recipe for maple-cured salmon is irresistible.
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Brining Time: 8 hours
Drying Time: 2 hours
Smoking Time: 30 to 60 minutes
Fuel: Alder—enough for 1 hour of smoking
Gear: Kitchen tweezers or needle-nose pliers, to remove any fish bones, a large heavy-duty resealable plastic bag; a large aluminum foil pan; a wire rack; an instant-read thermometer
Shop: As with all the smoked salmon in this book, ideally you’ll use fresh wild salmon, preferably king or coho from Alaska or Washington State.
What Else: For an interesting variation, glaze the salmon with honey instead of maple syrup. Warm the honey slightly so you can brush it more easily on the fish.
You’ll recognize it by its Old Master patina of wood smoke—usually alder. And by its sweet-salty flavor profile, the result of a salt-sugar cure and a generous basting of maple syrup or honey. The name says it all: salmon candy.
Tradition calls for cold- or cool-smoking the salmon candy, producing a chewy texture reminiscent of jerky. I opt for a higher temperature, which gives you crusty edges and a moist flaky texture. It’s damn near irresistible, even for people who don’t generally like smoked fish. Serve it with vodka or aquavit (it can stand up to the strongest spirits). Don’t be intimidated by the overall preparation time—the actual work takes about 30 minutes.
6 to 8 as a snack
1 1/2 pounds
- 1 piece (1 1/2 pounds) fresh skinless salmon fillet (preferably a center cut)
- 1 cup dark brown sugar or maple sugar
- 1/4 cup coarse salt (sea or kosher)
- 3/4 cup pure maple syrup (preferably dark amber or Grade B)
- 1 quart water
- Vegetable oil, for oiling the rack
Rinse the salmon under cold running water and blot dry with paper towels. Run your fingers over the flesh side of the fillet, feeling for the sharp ends of pin bones. Pull out any you find with kitchen tweezers.
Using a sharp knife, slice the salmon widthwise into strips 1 inch wide and 4 to 5 inches long. Transfer the fish to a large heavy-duty resealable plastic bag and place the bag in an aluminum foil pan or baking dish to contain any leaks.
Combine the brown sugar, salt, and 1/2 cup of the maple syrup in a bowl. Add the water and stir until the sugar and salt dissolve. Pour this over the salmon and seal the bag. Cure in the refrigerator for 8 hours, turning the bag over several times to redistribute the brine.
Drain the salmon in a colander, discarding the brine, and rinse the salmon well under cold running water. Blot dry with paper towels. Arrange the salmon flesh side up on an oiled wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet and let air-dry in the refrigerator until tacky, 2 hours.
Set up your smoker following the manufacturer’s instructions and preheat to 225 F to 250 F. Add the wood as directed by the manufacturer.
Place the salmon on its rack in the smoker and smoke until the outside is bronzed with smoke and the salmon feels firm, 30 to 60 minutes. Start brushing the salmon with the remaining 1/4 cup of maple syrup after 15 minutes, and brush several times until it’s cooked (about 140 F on an instant-read thermometer). Transfer the salmon candy on its rack to a rimmed baking sheet to cool and brush one final time with maple syrup before serving. Serve at room temperature or cold.
In the unlikely event you have leftovers, store the salmon candy in a resealable plastic bag in the refrigerator; it will keep for at least 3 days.
To make traditional salmon candy that’s chewy like jerky, set up your smoker or grill following the manufacturer’s instructions and preheat to 175 F or as low as it will go. Add the wood as directed by the manufacturer. Place the salmon on its rack in the smoker and smoke until the outside is bronzed with smoke and the salmon feels firm, 4 hours, or as needed. Start brushing the salmon with the remaining 1/4 cup of maple syrup after 2 hours, and brush several times until it’s cooked. Transfer the salmon candy on its rack to a rimmed baking sheet to cool and brush one final time with maple syrup before serving. Serve at room temperature or cold.
Reprinted from “Project Smoke” by Steven Raichlen. Workman Publishing. Copyright © 2016. Photographs by Matthew Benson.