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Cook-Off 59: Cured, Brined, Smoked and Salted Fish


David Ross
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I made lox following Modernist Cuisine's parametric recipe.

I used a copper river salmon fillet (from last season, vac packed and frozen waiting for cooler weather). 3% salt, 1.5% sugar, vacuum packed it for a couple days to equilibrate.

I'm afraid my budget hasn't got as far as 'Modernist Cuisine' yet :sad: and I've a huge learning curve in front of me (hopefully) but can you tell me what 'to equilibrate' means in the context of the cure ?

He just means for the salt to stabilize across the fish (i.e., achieve even 3% everywhere). The idea is you can put in just the right amount of salt such that you don't have to worry about over or under curing.

I'm also naive when it comes to the Modernist methods. Explain a little more about the ratios. So is the 3% ratio of salt related to 3% of the weight of the fish? Or is it a ratio of 3% salt in the amount of water you are using?

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So that was a 3% salt and 1.5% sugar water solution? Does fish weight to brine weight matter? Seems that it would.

Thanks

I made lox following Modernist Cuisine's parametric recipe.

I used a copper river salmon fillet (from last season, vac packed and frozen waiting for cooler weather). 3% salt, 1.5% sugar, vacuum packed it for a couple days to equilibrate.

Took it out of the bag, quick rinse, pat dry with paper towel and cold smoked with mixed hardwood for 4 hours. It's fantastic.

Next time i'll add some spices to it, but i wanted to keep the flavors clean with the copper river fillet.

Edited by ChefCrash (log)
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Sorry guys. I should have been clearer. My % are relative to the weight of the fish. No brine. Just salt and sugar. Applied evenly to the salmon. Vac packed and then left for a couple days.

I've done a LOT of research as it pertains to brines and the science behind it is very vague. Absorption rates, pickup %, fat levels in product it's all a big guessing game between brine concentration and how long to leave the meat/fish. I don't like it. The beauty of dry curing the item using an equilibrium method is that you can't over salt it. You add as much salt by weight as you want the item to have. That's it. Then leave it long enough for the salt to equilibrate in the item.

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Thanks for the clarification. I think I will try that this weekend.

Sorry guys. I should have been clearer. My % are relative to the weight of the fish. No brine. Just salt and sugar. Applied evenly to the salmon. Vac packed and then left for a couple days.

I've done a LOT of research as it pertains to brines and the science behind it is very vague. Absorption rates, pickup %, fat levels in product it's all a big guessing game between brine concentration and how long to leave the meat/fish. I don't like it. The beauty of dry curing the item using an equilibrium method is that you can't over salt it. You add as much salt by weight as you want the item to have. That's it. Then leave it long enough for the salt to equilibrate in the item.

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Copper river lox on everything bagel.

photo.JPG

That looks beautiful! I was talking with my fishmonger this weekend and I asked him about the upcoming Copper River season. He said the river is still frozen over, so we won't see any fishing activity for at least two weeks. He isn't sure what the season looks like in terms of the numbers of fish this year. He works directly with some fishermen up there so there isn't a big mark-up by a middling seafood distributor. I'm going to be on the lookout for some rich Copper River bellies to smoke.

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That looks beautiful! I was talking with my fishmonger this weekend and I asked him about the upcoming Copper River season. He said the river is still frozen over, so we won't see any fishing activity for at least two weeks. He isn't sure what the season looks like in terms of the numbers of fish this year. He works directly with some fishermen up there so there isn't a big mark-up by a middling seafood distributor. I'm going to be on the lookout for some rich Copper River bellies to smoke.

Thanks...and SO easy to make. The hardest part is being able to cold smoke.

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For years I've been struggling with an old-fashioned barrel-style barbecue smoker. You know the one, it's a big barrel laying on its side with a firebox on one end. It's economical, burning both charcoal or hardwood, and fairly easy to use. But I was always bitten by the heat bug-it was hard for me to regulate the heat with just a thermometer and a bucket of wood. In fact, it was virtually impossible for me to keep a consistent heat of 225 degrees when smoking a brisket. Smoking fish was even harder.

I've also used one of those little stovetop smokers. You line the pan with foil, then sprinkle in some wood chips and place the fish on a rack over the wood. You slide on the meatal top and place the smoker on the stovetop over low heat. The only problem I've found with the stovetop smoker is that the wood heats up fairly quick, then basically burns. It's really difficult to come away with fish that isn't an acrid mess.

So this Spring I busted the budget and bought a Bradley 6-Rack Digital Smoker. It's typically used by hunters and fishermen and is sold at Outdoor Stores. I got it on a special $100 off of the regular price, paying $499.99.

The beauty of this smoker is that you can digitally control the heat and the smoke. You can cold-smoke, hot-smoke and cook, and each setting has a digital timer. I recently did baby back ribs in this smoker with 3 hours of smoke with an oven temperature of 220, then cooked without smoke at 275 for another 3 hours. They were every bit as good as what you'll find in any chain barbecue restaurant.

For the Cook-Off, I did the trout, two types of salmon and some halibut.

The smoker is about 4' high and 2' wide. The smoker box is removable and hangs off the left side of

the cooker box unit-

004.JPG

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The digital control panel of the smoker box-

017.JPG

The bisquettes are loaded into a funnel on top of the smoker box. They are automatically

advanced into the cooker box unit onto a heating element. The heat creates the smoke, then

every 20 minutes the used bisquette is advanced down into the water bowl and a new bisquette

is advanced onto the heating unit. There is another heating element in the cooker box that can

be turned off for cold-smoking-

031.JPG

011.JPG

013.JPG

Top vent-

019.JPG

Inside the cooker box-

009.JPG

The drawbacks of the Bradley Digital Smoker are limited. You have to use their trademark "Bisquettes," little round discs of wood. Each bisquette lasts for 20 minutes of smoke. A box of 48 costs about $20, so you get about 16 hours of smoke from one box of bisquettes. You'd probably pay at least that much, if not more, for enough good hardwood to go 16 hours. They sell applewood, alderwood, cherry, oak, maple, mesquite, pecan, hickory and a special blend. Plenty of flavors for smoking fish.

It's lightweight so I leave it in the garage when I'm not using it, then just roll it out to the patio on a dolly when I'm ready to smoke.

Granted, these photos were taken a month ago when the unit was new and not yet "seasoned" with smoke. It's really cracking now and I'm putting out some delicious smoked fish and meats. I think I'm really going to love this toy.

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That looks beautiful! I was talking with my fishmonger this weekend and I asked him about the upcoming Copper River season. He said the river is still frozen over, so we won't see any fishing activity for at least two weeks. He isn't sure what the season looks like in terms of the numbers of fish this year. He works directly with some fishermen up there so there isn't a big mark-up by a middling seafood distributor. I'm going to be on the lookout for some rich Copper River bellies to smoke.

Thanks...and SO easy to make. The hardest part is being able to cold smoke.

With products like the A Maze N smoke generator and the ProQ you can place this maze type smoke generator in any enclosed area to cold smoke. They generate smoke for several hours depending. A certain amount of air circulation is needed and will effect how fast they burn

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That looks beautiful! I was talking with my fishmonger this weekend and I asked him about the upcoming Copper River season. He said the river is still frozen over, so we won't see any fishing activity for at least two weeks. He isn't sure what the season looks like in terms of the numbers of fish this year. He works directly with some fishermen up there so there isn't a big mark-up by a middling seafood distributor. I'm going to be on the lookout for some rich Copper River bellies to smoke.

Thanks...and SO easy to make. The hardest part is being able to cold smoke.

With products like the A Maze N smoke generator and the ProQ you can place this maze type smoke generator in any enclosed area to cold smoke. They generate smoke for several hours depending. A certain amount of air circulation is needed and will effect how fast they burn

Yup, i use a ProQ. It's fantastic.

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That looks beautiful! I was talking with my fishmonger this weekend and I asked him about the upcoming Copper River season. He said the river is still frozen over, so we won't see any fishing activity for at least two weeks. He isn't sure what the season looks like in terms of the numbers of fish this year. He works directly with some fishermen up there so there isn't a big mark-up by a middling seafood distributor. I'm going to be on the lookout for some rich Copper River bellies to smoke.

Thanks...and SO easy to make. The hardest part is being able to cold smoke.

With products like the A Maze N smoke generator and the ProQ you can place this maze type smoke generator in any enclosed area to cold smoke. They generate smoke for several hours depending. A certain amount of air circulation is needed and will effect how fast they burn

Yup, i use a ProQ. It's fantastic.

Have you got photos of it so we can see how it works?

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Ok I've 'lost' two long replies so far (so this time - no pre-editing. Please excuse any typos, etc.)!

This thread is very interesting and I'm very grateful to everyone who has posted, especially David Ross. Your photos are very clear and and your salad looks good enough to eat straight off the photos :raz:

As for the smoker ... in Europe I've never seen anything like that anywhere, so suffice to say, I'm (nicely) green with envy.

Thanks also to ChefCrash, bmdanial and jmolinari - I'm learning :smile: (but not enough apparently).

My initial 1.4 kg (half of an unprepped) salmon, prepped to +/- 1 kg on Sunday, is definitely 'eqiulibrium challenged' as it's way too salty. It was a big Norwegian salmon, I bought the 'bottom' half and in the end I used more salt than I have ever used, 130g. I've paid the price and am now drinking litres and litres of water. Truth be told I'm not unhappy as it's only when things go wrong that I really start to question the underlying process.

My question is, if next time I do a dry cure (salt) of 3% or 5% or whatever %, how do I know when equilibrium is reached, especially if I do the cure under vacuum?

(I have a LAVA vac packer so I could do it under vacuum - the reason I haven't done so thus far is that I was trying to get things 'right' following the recipe I linked which does not vac pack).

Thank you again, apologies in advance for typos and grammatical errors.

BB

Edited by Belgian Blue (log)

Belgian Blue

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Hi BB

Understand your frustration:) How long did you cure your salmon?

According to Jmolnari for one kilo of fish you'll need 30g of salt and 15g sugar. Jmolnari mentioned curing for about two days. Depending on thickness, your fish may equilibrate sooner but will not get saltier if left another day or two.

Vacuum wrapping is probably done to keep brine in contact with all surfaces. Same thing could be achieved with a well purged ziplock bag.

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Hi BB

Understand your frustration:) How long did you cure your salmon?

According to Jmolnari for one kilo of fish you'll need 30g of salt and 15g sugar. Jmolnari mentioned curing for about two days. Depending on thickness, your fish may equilibrate sooner but will not get saltier if left another day or two.

Vacuum wrapping is probably done to keep brine in contact with all surfaces. Same thing could be achieved with a well purged ziplock bag.

I've got to try the vacuum technique. In the old days we were taught to weigh down the salmom in the brine using a can of beans!

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My second experiment involved cold-smoking Halibut Cheeks. If you aren't familiar with Halibut Cheeks, we consider them a rare delicacy here in the Pacific Northwest. Years ago, the only wise people that cut the cheeks out of the Halibut were Native Alaskans or Fishermen. Probably no fish buyer in his right mind would buy Halibut Cheeks and resell them on the retail market. Who would buy the cheek out of a bottom-feeder?

The Father of a lady I work with runs a fleet of fishing boats in Alaska. He barters with Japanese fishermen, trading Halibut Cheeks for Tuna. I don't think there's a loser in that transaction.

Of course, people like us who crave the unusual have pushed the Halibut Cheek into popularity among the food cognescenti. Halibut Cheeks have found their way into the lexicon of Chefdom today and you'll find them in trendy guises on restaurant menus. If Halibut Cheeks are the daily special, order them.

The texture of a Halibut Cheek is akin to Skate Wing-tender, white flesh with strands of meat rather than the large, chunky flakes of a halibut filet. The flavor is buttery-soft. There isn't a lot of oil in the flesh of a Halibut, so you have to treat it accordingly--a light touch in the skillet, oven or smoker so the fish doesn't dry out. Because it has a tender nature, I decided to cold-smoke the Halibut Cheeks.

As you can see, the unwanted parts of a Halibut don't come cheap-

Halibut cheeks (2).JPG

My Fishmonger told me these cheeks came from Halibut in the 30-50lb., range. (You've probably seen photos of fishermen posing beside a 400lb. Halibut. It makes for a nice memory of a vacation, but those behemoths aren't prized for tender meat)-

Halibut cheeks (1).JPG

I used the same basic brine for the Halibut Cheeks that I used for the Smoked Trout with a few changes-

10 cups water

1/4 cup Kosher salt

1/3 cup honey (substituted for the brown sugar)

1 tbsp. peppercorns

2 cloves garlic

1 bay leaf

1/2 onion, chopped (not used for the Trout)

2-3 stalks fresh parsley (not used for the Trout)

Halibut Cheeks (4).JPG

The Halibut Cheeks were left in the brine overnight. (The Trout was brined for 7 hours). After brining, I let the Halibut Cheeks rest at room temperature, uncovered, for about 4 hours to form a "pellicle," drying out the flesh and allowing for more smoke absorption.

The Halibut Cheeks laying on the "screen" on top of the smoker rack-

Halibut Cheeks (3).JPG

The Halibut Cheeks into the smoker-

Halibut Cheeks (6).JPG

I cold-smoked the Halibut Cheeks for 2 hours using Alderwood. Alder is the wood we traditionally use in the Northwest to smoke and cook salmon. It gives a mild, herbal-woodsy tone to fish without overpowering it with an acrid smoke taste. At this point the Halibut Cheeks weren't cooked, so I had to find a delicate dish that I thought would bring out the smoke flavor and relate to my roots in the Northwest.

Seasoned with a very light sprinkle of salt and pepper, I sauteed the Cheeks in butter and olive oil. The Halibut was paired with a Spring Pea Risotto with Bacon and Morels. What can be better than Smoked Halibut and a Creamy Risotto?

Halibut Cheeks (5).JPG

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Have you got photos of it so we can see how it works?

It's very simple. You light the end of it, and it burns like a giant mosquito coil:)

ProQ%20Smoke%20Gen%20in%20smoker%20400.jpg

Looks really convenient. So do you just restock it with wood chips each time you use it? How much does a unit like that cost? Seems easy and probably economical for smoking for those who don't want a big unit like I'm using.

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Have you got photos of it so we can see how it works?

It's very simple. You light the end of it, and it burns like a giant mosquito coil:)

ProQ%20Smoke%20Gen%20in%20smoker%20400.jpg

Looks really convenient. So do you just restock it with wood chips each time you use it? How much does a unit like that cost? Seems easy and probably economical for smoking for those who don't want a big unit like I'm using.

Yup. It burns for about 10-12 hrs making heatless smoke since it just smoulders. The unit is abuot $20 + shipping (the ProQ comes from England...i think its about $30 shipped). The A-Maze-N is a very similar design and made here in the US and costs about the same. It was $30 very well spent for me.

Cold smoked ribeye steak for 1 hour, then grilled is crazy good.

The hardest part is finding wood "dust" that works...it isn't easy honestly to find some that isn't rediculously overpriced, thoug the A-Maze-N dust should work as well. It has to be just right. Too coarse and it doesn't burn and too fine and it doesn't work well either.

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David that cheek dish looks amazing

Thanks. The halibut turned out with just a hint of smoke. It's so easy to prepare once you get through the brining and smoking steps--just sauteed for 2 minutes or so on each side. I was worried that a creamy risotto would be too heavy for the fish but it worked out just fine.

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Hi BB

Understand your frustration:) How long did you cure your salmon?

According to Jmolnari for one kilo of fish you'll need 30g of salt and 15g sugar. Jmolnari mentioned curing for about two days. Depending on thickness, your fish may equilibrate sooner but will not get saltier if left another day or two.

Vacuum wrapping is probably done to keep brine in contact with all surfaces. Same thing could be achieved with a well purged ziplock bag.

I've got to try the vacuum technique. In the old days we were taught to weigh down the salmom in the brine using a can of beans!

The dry cure technique works well in a zip bag too but i've found that in a vacuum bag everything stays cleaner, no chance of leaks and i'm sure that the cure mixture stays in proper contact with the meat without having to turn the bags.

I cure my meats the same way. Salt and vac pack.

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Hello,

The 'traditional' method requires two equally sized pieces of salmon, flesh sides together, and adds weights etc. etc.

If doing the salmon under vacuum, is it necessary to have two pieces of salmon or can one simply do one side of salmon spreading the dry cure (3% salt/1.5% sugar) on both sides of the salmon (as the vac pack will keep the flesh directly in contact with the cure)?

Thank you for your help so far - it is much appreciated.

BB

Belgian Blue

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