Jenny Chandler expounds on the benefits of batch cooking as a way of saving time and money, through cooking one ingredient in bulk and using it for myriad recipes. This time: hot smoked salmon
Smoking food at home may seem a little ambitious—it certainly did to me until I tried it—but this method’s an absolute cinch and will provide you with a supply of subtly smoky, cooked salmon ready for any number of dishes. You’ll need to begin the process a few hours before cooking but it’s very straightforward.
If you’re a home-smoking virgin then salmon’s a great place to start: oily fish doesn’t dry out easily, fillets cook fairly quickly and the results are superb every time. Once you’ve sussed the method, you may move on to mackerel, sardines or even duck breasts—but let’s kick off with individual salmon fillet portions, each weighing around 150g. Preparing a whole side of salmon may be tempting, but the smoky flavour permeates smaller pieces of fish more efficiently in the relatively short cooking time.
First, make a brine—quite simply a 50-50 mix of salt and brown sugar (I used about 3 tbsp each for 800g salmon). Place the salmon pieces in a large dish and rub over the brine mixture. Turn the salmon skin-side up and place in the fridge for at least a couple of hours or even overnight. During this time the fish will lose some moisture and the texture will firm up. You can experiment, adding grated citrus zest or spices to the brine: I tend to leave mine plain so that the fish is more of a blank canvas to play with later.
Rinse off the brine and then dab the fish with a paper towel and put it back in the fridge for another couple of hours so that the surface becomes sticky and dry, forming what the experts call the ‘pellicle’ that will seal in the moisture and really absorb the smoke.
Now we come to the smoking itself and you’ll be relieved to hear that it requires no specialist equipment at all—just an effective extractor fan and an old wok or roasting tin with a lid or baking tray that will effectively trap the smoke. Line the bottom with tin foil and then choose what to smoke: you just might have a supply of dry oak, beech, apple, cherry or hickory shavings (available online or perhaps from the log pile—be sure that it is untreated wood).
You could go for the Chinese tradition of an equal three-way mix of loose tea leaves, sugar and a bit of rice from the cupboard. Add 3 tbsp shavings or 6tbsp tea mix (which doesn’t smoke quite so readily) to the wok or tin. Lay your salmon skin-side down on a rack, one of those petal-like vegetable steamers, or even another layer of foil that you’ve poked with holes—the idea is that the smoke will be able to waft around the fish. Cover—you may want to add a layer of foil if the lid doesn’t fit too well.
Opaque and flaky
Place your ‘smoker’ on the hob over a medium heat, crank up your extractor fan and wait until you see wafts of smoke before turning the heat down low for 20 mins. Switch off the heat and wait until the pan has stopped smoking before opening (maybe outside the back door if you have a sensitive smoke detector anywhere nearby). Check that the salmon is no longer opaque and flakes easily—if it does still seem a little undercooked, you could always add a bit of water to the bottom of the pan and steam it for another couple of minutes.
The cooked salmon will keep for 3 days in the fridge or a couple of months in the freezer.
Now, what to do with your salmon?
The smoking seems to intensify the salmon’s richness and so rather than serving as individual portions, the flesh works fabulously well flaked into, or over, a dish:
—Heaven in a brown bread sandwich with plenty of butter, pickled cucumber and black pepper.
—Flaked over scrambled egg on a muffin for a great brunch dish.
—Added to a classic kedgeree.
—Made into fishcakes with mashed potato, plenty of capers and fresh tarragon.
—Broken up and stirred into pasta with lemon zest, crème fraîche, parsley.
—Served on top of blinis with soured cream, dill and pomegranate seeds.
—Sprinkled over a warm potato salad.