Smoking fish

I enjoy eating fish that’s been smoked (and salted, probably over-salted, to my taste). But smoked whitefish and salmon is very expensive stuff which restricts me to eating it as a luxury. Is it very difficult to achieve the same effect in a smoker? Has anyone smoked their own fish? If so, how did that work out? Too much trouble? Ineffective results? Not cost-effective? Someone, please talk me out of buying a fish smoker and ruining my health by living on smoked fish.

I would be surprised if you saved money if you bought a smoker, bought the fuel and fish and smoked it yourself. There is also the opportunity costs (what else could you do with your time and money instead of smoking your own fish).

Mostly it would be something you’d do because you enjoy doing it and can manage the outcomes to your particular liking.

Or, you are Grizzly Adams living off the grid and catching your own fish in which case you’d want to smoke your own fish. Since you have an internet connection I am not betting on this being the case.

My uncle was a commercial fisherman on Lake Michigan, and had a smokehouse in his own backyard where he’d make his own smoked whitefish and trout. Of course the smokehouse was a great mystery to me at age 4 or so, and when I asked my aunt what it was, she said “that’s where your uncle Tom smokes his fish”. Over 6 decades later with both of them long gone, when I think of uncle Tom I still have an image of him out in his backyard with a lit fish in his mouth, puffing away happily.

Discussing this with my cousins, who helped him smoke the catch, they didn’t feel it was complex or problematic at all to set up and do. Of course a steady stream of fresh fish is required.

A neighbor down the beach from me was an avid sport fisherman also had his own smoker, which he used on salmon and trout. It was delicious!

Thinking back, I’d say about 1 neighbor out of every 20 or so along the beach had a smokehouse on their property.

So I grew up on smoked fish, and I’m still kicking at age 65.

I cold smoked my own salmon in my electric smoker and while not perfect, it was good enough for me to tweak the recipe and I expect the results to be phenomenal. I have a thread on it if you want me to link it. One question I have is are you trying to hot smoke or cold smoke your salmon because that is a huge difference in technique.

I also smoked salmon in an electric smoker. I happened to be in a grocery store which overstocked their salmon so I picked up a great deal for one of my first adventures in smoking food.

Alton Brown in good eats did some hot smoked salmon in a cheap macgyvered rig which would probably be worth trying before any big equipment investment.

My FiL smokes and IMHO the cost savings of doing so isn’t really the point when you factor in all the associated costs. It’s about having the product your way. The only exception so far was when smoking a product whose quality you couldn’t otherwise secure. In our case pre COVID he did an Alaskan fishing trip and came back with a minor glut of amazing salmon. That was epic smoked at home.

But the rest of the time. +/- 0.

Moving from FQ to the Cafe.

As an easy alternative, I often cure salmon. Simply cover it with salt (I also add a bunch of dill, but that’s optional), wrap it tightly in plastic wrap, stick it in a container and put it in the fridge for at least 3 days. I drain off any accumulated liquid every day. This comes out more like lox.

I have a vertical pellet smoker and have wanted to try smoking salmon for a while. For those who have done it, what prep is required for the fish, and what type of pellets would you recommend? Pellets come in all kinds of flavors.

I can always find a recipe on the web if I need to. Last time I was at Costco the cost of a half of salmon with pretty high, and unfortunately I live nowhere near the ocean. Trout might be good too, but it wouldn’t be salmon.

I think I commented in that thread. But cold smoking does not have to be costly. Once you have the basic supplies, at least. I figure if I take a side of raw salmon and cold smoke it I’ve probably increased it’s value by 3. Of course that value never materializes because it’s always enjoyed at home.

That was my first thought when I saw the title of this thread. That or a dead body on the floor with the “smoking fish” lying beside it.

@slicedalone (Points for screen name/thread title combo) At my fancy-schmancy gourmet grocery store you can buy random ends and pieces of smoked salmon which taste just as good as the nicely sliced pieces. (Now I want some…)

And I already had the electric smoker so no cost there. The only issue is the minimum temperature of the smoker is 100 degrees and technically it should be closer to 80. However when only smoking a couple of hours I don’t think it makes enough difference to go through the whole process/cost of having your smokebox outside of the smoker.

Yes, please, link.

I don’t know the difference between hot and cold smoking. Probably whichever one is less difficult, given similar results.

Depends on the smoker re: difficulty. An electric smoker there is no difference.
As for the end product it is about the texture. Have you had lox or a good rare salmon? That’s cold-smoked. Hot-smoked actually cooks the salmon through.

There were times I lived on lox. Wonderful stuff.

Did you know that the Swedish word for smoked salmon is “lachs” (or something like it? Only cognate I’ve found between Yiddish and Swedish, with admittedly little methodical searching.) Did that link appear and I missed it?

FTR: Here’s my thread I alluded to.

So if you read Wiktionary, they both derive from the Proto-Germanic term “lahsaz”, which was the word for “salmon”.

It went…

Proto-Germanic “lahsaz” → Old High German “lahs” → Middle High German “lahs” → Yiddish “laks” → English “lox”

Proto-Germanic “lahsaz” → Old Norse “lax” → Old Swedish “lax” → Swedish “lax”

It doesn’t even start with the Proto-Germanic language. The word “lahsaz” came from Pre-Germanic “laksos” which came from Proto-Indo-European “laks”.

It’s just a really old word that has spread (schmeared?) all over.

Speaking of fancy-schmancy gourmet grocery stores and slicing salmon, the best smoked salmon I’ve ever had – which leads me to be a bit skeptical about whether this can be achieved at home – is from the fish counter at our local version of said fancy-schmancy gourmet store. This stuff is without parallel, and is never pre-packaged.

It’s not entirely clear to me what makes it so incredibly good, but I can point out some factors. One is the use of top-quality salmon. It has a magnificent texture and an underlying fattiness reminiscent of otoro, a luxurious sushi made from the fattiest part of tuna belly, and often has visible marbling.

Another is that it’s noticeably smokier than other types of smoked salmon. Whether it’s cold smoked or hot smoked and for how long I have no idea, but they definitely know what they’re doing.

But the third part that’s challenging to do at home is that it’s expertly sliced into very thin slices, possibly by machine but maybe with a very sharp sushi knife and someone who really knows how to use it. The slices are carefully laid out on a clear plastic sheet, about a dozen per sheet, and the sheets are stacked in the display case. I firmly believe that this third element of thin, even slicing is not just a matter of visual presentation, but directly affects taste and texture.

I would humbly venture to guess that anyone with access to a top-tier fish market would likely get a better product there than they could make at home, at least not without a lot of practice and expense. Besides smoked salmon, smoked trout is also excellent. I once had sushi that was described as “straw smoked tuna” that was absolutely fantastic. Unlike much of the fish that this sushi restaurant imports from Japan, they said that this particular smoked tuna was from somewhere in the Canadian Maritimes (I forget exactly where) but I’ve never been able to find it.

Can anyone recommend a cold smoker?

For smoked salmon the real recipe is with the brine. I like to dry brine with salt and brown sugar. The texture, the mouthfeel, the shiny sticky meat. That is all brine. The smoker just adds a bit of flavor and can often be overdone. If you’re trying to improve smoked salmon with more smoking you’ve already failed in the brine stage. After the brine, I want the fish firm enough to be able to pick up and a filet by one side and have it stick straight out from my hand.

After the brine, the smoking is the easy part. Just don’t overdo it. If you’re canning or cooking with the fish I’d just smoke it for an hour or two. The smoke flavor can go along way.