Mr. Completely’s Alder Smoked Salmon Jerky
I’ve been catching and smoking salmon for most of my life. I grew up on the beach, in, around, and under-foot at a salmon fishing resort, in fact.
Good smoked salmon is truly something to taste. Unfortunately, most of it is terrible, often under-smoked, fishy tasting, and just generally bad. I hate it when a new smoker gives me a sample of his first batch of smoked fish, and I can barely swallow it. You don’t want to discourage ‘em, ‘cause you know they did their best.
I’ll bet Acidman at Gut Rumbles has the same problem with his buddie’s first batches of moonshine. (Wonder if he’d trade some ‘shine for some good smoked salmon? Wonder if we’d get caught? Wonder if we’d end up in jail?) Lessee, where was I?
When I smoke up a batch of salmon, I usually smoke it up into jerky. A couple of chunks in your shirt pocket is great to chew on when you’re fishing. (Warning: Not such a good idea in bear country, for obvious reasons!)
Good smoked salmon, and most fish, for that matter, begins at the time you catch the fish. You should cut a gill and bleed the fish immediately, clean it right then if you have time, and keep it as cool as possible. Putting it on ice isn’t always possible, but do it if you can. Most fish can spoil in a matter of hours, resulting in a strong fishy taste. Maybe good as crab bait, but certainly nothing you’d want to eat.
When you get home, fillet out the fish, and skin it. Just under the skin, along the lateral line, you’ll see some darker colored meat. That’s fat. Trim it all out. Trim out all the bones too, if you can. The size of the fillets kinda determines the final size of the chunks, but I try for between one half and one inch thick, an inch or so wide, and six or eight inches long.
After you’ve cut them to size, rinse them off well, and lay them out on a glass or plastic tray of some sort. I use those big plastic containers from Walmart. Liberally sprinkle rock salt over the fillets, and let it sit for ten to twenty minutes, depending on the thickness and the degree of saltiness you like. Rinse ‘em off again, dry them with a paper towel, and let them sit for fifteen or twenty minutes, and they’ll get a little bit of a glaze. If you don’t see it, don’t worry.
I use a couple of “Little Chief” and “Big Chief” smokers, but there are several similar electric smokers out there, and they all work about the same. Spray down the racks in the smoker with anti-stick stuff like PAM, and cover the racks with the fish. Fill the chip pan with ALDER repeat ALDER chips! Hickory if for smoking pork, mesquite for beef, I guess, but there’s something about the flavor of salmon and alder being a perfect match. Keep the chip pan full of chips, and when the chips are burned down and have stopped smoking, dump the pan and re-fill it. Keep the smoke going for at least the first six hours, or so, longer if you like it smokier.
When the fish starts to look like, well, jerky, you’re done. They will come off the racks easier if you let them cool a bit. It’s not a bad idea to throw the salmon onto some cookie sheets and put them in the oven for twenty minutes at 165 degrees, to make sure any residual bacteria is killed off.
Final thoughts: Good fish doesn’t need a lot of herbs and spices to taste good, and all the spices in the world won’t make bad fish taste good. However, here’s a couple of variations. Try sprinkling brown sugar, or pepper, or soy sauce, or a combination, for that matter, on top of the fish before smoking for a little variety.
Although this is primarily for salmon, it should work great on almost any fish that’s big enough you can get some reasonable sized fillets. What species of salmon do I prefer? For smoking I prefer chum salmon, but they ALL smoke up well.
When you get the batch done, give me a call, I’ll be right over. Dang, I’m getting hungry just thinking about it!!