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


David Ross
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David, I'm curious.  Do you worry about parasites?  The issue was mentioned upthread but never got any traction.

Did a lot of research last year and decided to stop using fresh wild salmon for gravlax, etc. unless previously frozen.

Noticed almost no one in salmon country (especially, Northwest U.S. and Alaska) even mentions the issue.

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You know, that's a good question and honestly I don't have a good answer.  Certainly no scientific answer, but I can say that no one has ever gotten ill from the Indian Candy style of salmon I make.  In the Northwest, it's just how we've always done it, which doesn't answer the question other than to say it's based in tradition.

 

Freezing the salmon would seem to break down the structure of the meat.  In some dishes I think frozen salmon can work, like in a stew or soup.  But in smoking and curing, I've always felt that freezing the salmon breaks down the structure of the meat.  Little shards of ice seem to form in the flesh, even if the fish is sealed in a tight plastic "food saver" type of bag.  Those little ice crystals that form in the meat break down the fibers, thus when the salmon thaws it becomes somewhat soft and mushy.  Again, not a scientific statement but my own personal experience.  Using the salmon in my method ends with a firm fish, yet moist and juicy. 

 

The brining may prevent parasites or food-borne illness.  The thing that probably surprises folks is that we pull the salmon out of the brine and let it air-cure, unrefrigerated, for about 4 days.  One would worry about flies and such.  I suppose it could be air-dried in the fridge for added safety.  I dry the salmon on a rack in a back pantry and sometimes, not always, put a loose piece of cheesecloth over it.  I have a close friend who is a member of the Duwamish Native American tribe from Western Washington, and they air-dry their salmon outside after brining and prior to smoking. This time of year temperatures during the day in the Seattle area can reach above 80, lows sometimes in the mid 40's.

 

Sorry to not have given a better response to the question, but those are my methods and thoughts. 

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Hey David.  Don’t want to make a mountain out of a molehill, but this is a nontrivial issue.  Call it a 3 on a scale of one to ten.  Rather than try to summarize, I’m gonna post a few links.  Those who are interested can read as much or little as they like and make their own decision.

 

FDA Food Code, § 3‑402.11 (2/3’s down page) (requiring freezing for most seafood served raw)

FDA Bad Bug Book, 2d ed. 2013, pdf at pp.149-151 (symptoms).

CDC Anisakiasis FAQs (same, less detail but easier to access).

Article by Audicana & Kennedy (2008) (link) (epidemiology). 

 

Bear in mind “been doing this for years” is slim statistical support.  For one thing, your sample size is limited.  For another, there’s no reason to assume folks would correctly associate symptoms with the cause.  Also, while never fatal and generally resolves in about three weeks without intervention, a growing problem is allergies, which are permanent and will be triggered by cooked nematodes as well as live ones.  In effect, the person loses the ability to eat salmon and probably assumes it’s because of the fish.

 

FWIW, I’m not generally paranoid about food risks.  This one I can’t get comfortable with.

Edited by pbear
formatting (log)
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Indian Candy is brined and hot smoked. It's usually a fairly salty brine which is the first part of the process to dehydrate the nematodes and their eggs. The hot smoking process which reaches 150º F finishes them off. If you are going to cold smoke fish and/or lightly brine then freezing it first for 2 weeks to kill the beasties is a good plan. 

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  • 2 months later...

 

I've cured and smoked some of the catch from a recent fishing trip.

 

Starting material: These are the 'tails' (fillet posterior to the vent) from four freshwater Chinook/King/Spring salmon. Caught weight was 23, 21, 16 and 11 lbs. The tails on the lower right have a different colour due to that individual's diet.

 

Dried Tails.JPG

 

Fillets were dry-cured with a coarse salt, brown sugar, black pepper, touch of mustard powder and fresh tarragon.

 

Tails and Cure.JPG

 

Fillets were then bagged and weighted and allowed to cure for four days. Turned every day. They were then rinsed, dried and allowed to form a pellicle overnight. The cure resulted in a 14% weight loss. Ready for the smoker.

 

Post Cure.JPG

 

Smoked at 200 F. to an internal temperature of 140 F. with some pecan chips. Since I was using the smoker I also smoked these Jalapenos from the garden.

 

Japapenos.JPG

 

Final product:

 

Final.JPG

 

Turned out very nicely. They're headed north with me (except for the piece I tasted in the lower right corner). Jalapenos got skinned, seeded and will be frozen for winter use.

 

 

Edited by Wayne (log)
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I know it's stew. What KIND of stew?

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  • 3 years later...

Since 2012 we've been going back to this Cook-Off for tips and ideas on curing, brining, smoking and salting fish.  Now seems to be a very good time to delve back into this creative topic and see what we come up with.  

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  • 2 weeks later...

I was thinking this morning about what type of fish I was going to use to cure and smoke.  Three years ago right now I was buying the first of the season Copper River Salmon, but these days that is probably going to be out of the question due to price and demand.  Trout would be an alternative, but a totally different fish in terms of flavor and oil content.  I can find a lot of frozen fish in the Asian market, so I'm wondering if anyone has suggestions or recipes you have used to salt, cure or smoke fish using an Asian style recipe? Is mackerel a good fish for smoking?

 

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David, I would think mackerel would be excellent for smoking.  Any oily fish works well.  
 

I don’t always do a cure on my hot smoked salmon.   Most often just salt and brown sugar for a few hours but hard to call it cured.  For an Asian inspired direction a brine using sake, rice vinegar, black vinegar  or similar would be a good start.  

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@David Ross , in my experience at sushi bars, I've had "saba" (mackerel) that tasted pickled & sweet, to some degree. I never knew or remembered what it was called. But I think it's called "shime saba." (Shime pronounced shi-may, I think.) Here's a link:

 

https://monahansseafood.com/shime-saba-japanese-pickled-mackerel/

 

I have no experience with Monahan's, but just trying to post an idea with a photo.

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9 hours ago, David Ross said:

I was thinking this morning about what type of fish I was going to use to cure and smoke.  Three years ago right now I was buying the first of the season Copper River Salmon, but these days that is probably going to be out of the question due to price and demand.  Trout would be an alternative, but a totally different fish in terms of flavor and oil content.  I can find a lot of frozen fish in the Asian market, so I'm wondering if anyone has suggestions or recipes you have used to salt, cure or smoke fish using an Asian style recipe? Is mackerel a good fish for smoking?

 

I've never smoked any fish myself, but here on the west coast sometimes you can get smoked black cod. I'm crazy about it, and buy some whenever it is available. There used to be a smoke shack up the coast near Bodega Bay that had it, but the last time we were there, a few years ago, they didn't have any. Have you ever done that? Buying black cod to smoke surely doesn't cost the price of Copper River salmon. Not that black cod is a steal, exactly.

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I saw some fresh trout in the market this morning, which reminded me of the smoked trout I made when we launched this Cook-Off.  But it was almost $6 per lb which is more than double what it usually is around here.  I guess in addition to meat seafood is also going up in price.  So still thinking about which fish to smoke this time around.

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15 hours ago, Katie Meadow said:

I've never smoked any fish myself, but here on the west coast sometimes you can get smoked black cod. I'm crazy about it, and buy some whenever it is available. There used to be a smoke shack up the coast near Bodega Bay that had it, but the last time we were there, a few years ago, they didn't have any. Have you ever done that? Buying black cod to smoke surely doesn't cost the price of Copper River salmon. Not that black cod is a steal, exactly.

Black Cod, or sometimes called sablefish, is one of my favorites dating back about 10 years ago when I had it in different dishes, smoked, in Vancouver, B.C.  

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  • 6 months later...
On 4/15/2012 at 6:29 PM, ChefCrash said:

My fish curing/smoking experience has been limited to dry curing and hot smoking. Always came out ok, but never could nail down the saltiness.

This is the last smoked trout I made two weeks ago. I was in a rush and slit the fish down to the bone to speed things up. Then I decided to debone and butterfly it.

The fish was covered thoroughly in a mixture of:

1/2 c Diamond Crystal kosher salt

1/4 c dark brown sugar

1 tsp black pepper.

It sat in the cure exactly one hour then rinsed, dried with paper towels and went on my smoker, so no drying.

It was smoked for about 1.5 hours. It came out great.

I have tried several cure ratios and curing times, sometimes twice with seemingly same weight and thickness of fish, and yet came out with different results.

Perhaps if I knew what a final (acceptable) salt content in the fish before smoking, I could calculate a brine saturation based on weight and let brine to equilibrium.

P4045061.jpg

P4045079.jpg

Another one of our Cook-Off's that's appropriate to revisit during the holidays and you appetizer dishes.

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Sadly my fresh fish access sucks now. I am "this close" to ordering a mini Weber though I could somehow make the fire pit I also am close to clicking on work.  My wood pile is all eucalyptus and pine though? I remember seeing some beautiful gravlax style here. I think it was @rarerollingobject with beetroot (how OZ) and Szechuan peppercorns. 'A hunting I will go. My favorite clerk at Kroger showed me some beautiful fish he caught recently (image on his phone) - I may have to close my mind to the pollution issues in our bay and see if he will share next time. 

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20 hours ago, heidih said:

Here she is from earlier - but so you do not have to scroll the whole - although it is inspirational. David's Indan Candy salmon is wow   https://forums.egullet.org/topic/142515-cook-off-59-cured-brined-smoked-and-salted-fish/?do=findComment&comment=1875032

 

 

 

Thanks I was just thinking about that recipe yesterday.  So incredibly delicious, sweet, smoky and savory.

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I ventured to Kroger today and asked the sweet fisherman clerk to send me photos of their last catch. Looks like mostly carp/catfish. They were a tad "over the limit" so he wouldn't tell me where caught.  Any brine/smoke salt treatments you like in case he gifts me next time?

 

fish1.JPG

fish2.JPG

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  • 6 months later...

I caught a few Rainbow Trout on the weekend from a lake here in Victoria, Australia, and plan to smoke them.
There is quite a bit of size difference, so I will probably smoke the smaller one whole, and fillet the larger one.
One thing that has confused me in reading this thread and other references on the net is that few recipes actually specify weight, and with salt, that can be dangerous due to size difference of crystals.

Just to confirm - roughly 3% salt, 3% sugar, and 3 litres of brine per fish for 8 hours?

Thanks

Luke
 

IMG_2668.jpeg

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24 minutes ago, Luke said:

I caught a few Rainbow Trout on the weekend from a lake here in Victoria, Australia, and plan to smoke them.
There is quite a bit of size difference, so I will probably smoke the smaller one whole, and fillet the larger one.
One thing that has confused me in reading this thread and other references on the net is that few recipes actually specify weight, and with salt, that can be dangerous due to size difference of crystals.

Just to confirm - roughly 3% salt, 3% sugar, and 3 litres of brine per fish for 8 hours?

Thanks

Luke
 

IMG_2668.jpeg

Wow those are beauties especially that bigger fish.  The ratio is about what I use.  For trout I like the brine more salty than I do for the scallops I showed upthread.  That is going to be delicious.

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