Once you’ve had this brined smoked salmon, you won’t want to have it any other way. Eat it hot one night and on bagels the next morning. It melts in your mouth. Let me show you how to brine salmon for smoking.
You might like this smoked turkey recipe too!
My husband and I fell in love with smoked salmon in Latvia. We lived in England for a year which made visiting different places in Europe very affordable. Hubby had a good friend Alvis who lived in Latvia and he and his family were wonderful hosts.
One day, he took us to a huge market in Riga that was held in old blimp hangers and had all kinds of crazy good food. Alvis bought some fresh salmon from one of the stalls and when we got home, he brined it with salt and sugar and left it in the refrigerator over night. Then next morning we ate it over a brown bread spread with butter and topped with thinly sliced onions, black pepper and a few squeezes of lemon. It was so absolutely delicious!
I am still not adventurous enough to try our friend’s method for smoked salmon which is more of a cold smoking but thought we could handle a hot smoking of salmon. So I bought my husband a small smoker for Christmas to try and he’s been a smoking everything since.
Steelhead trout vs Salmon
We make this recipe quite often. It’s a big hit for parties and usually the first dish to go. I wanted to update the photos on this post and today we used steelhead trout instead of salmon. We use it because it tastes just like salmon and is sometimes cheaper but note you can use either fish with this recipe. Here is what they both look like. The steelhead trout is on the left and the salmon on the right.
Steelhead is actually a trout and not a salmon but it looks and taste just like salmon and often much cheaper. So if you see any at the market give it a try. I know I bought it at Costco by accident because it was cheaper and was pleasantly surprised with the taste.
We smoke either salmon or steelhead at least once or twice a month and eat it for dinner. With the leftovers, my hubby prepares an Alvis-like dish on an everything bagel for breakfast and I eat the fish on top of my salad for lunch. We get many meals from this fish and it’s oh so good.
Easy Brined Smoked Salmon Recipe
The first thing you have to do is make a brine for smoked salmon. You use a lot of salt but it also gives it a lot of flavor. I originally got the recipe here and adapted it a bit. I’ve decreased the salt and added a few things and I suggest you do too.
Mix the ingredients in a 4 cup measuring cup or large bowl. Place your salmon in a marinading container or a large ziplock (if it will fit…you may need two) and then pour the brining solution to cover the fish. Refrigerate overnight and until 1 hour before you are ready to smoke take it out and lay on a cookie tray.
How long to smoke a salmon
It takes us about 2 to 2 1/2 hours to smoke a 2.5lb salmon so I take it out at 1pm or 2pm and let it sit on on a cookie tray for an hour. (See pics above) You let the salmon dry before smoking in order to form a pellicle which is a coating of proteins on the surface. This allows smoke to adhere on the surface while smoking. It’s an important step so please don’t skip it.
Smoking times will vary from smoker to smoker. As I’ve mentioned it takes us 2 to 2 1/2 hours to smoke in his bullet smoker.
The easy salmon brine recipe
I love this brine recipe but let me tell you from brining both fish and chicken with this, you can break it down to the basics :
4 cups of water to 1/4 cup of sugar to 1/8 cup of salt
If you just use these you will be fine. In this recipe I use water, brown sugar, salt, garlic, bay leaf, fennel seed, celery, onions, cayenne and mustard seeds. The extra spices and vegetables just give it a little more depth of flavor. If you have them use them. If not, don’t sweat it.
Keto Smoked Salmon Brine
To make this low carb I used Lakanto golden sweetener for the sugar. Below are 4 low carb brown sugars I use a lot in my low carb or keto cooking.
- Just Like Sugar Brown is made mostly from chicory root fiber and has no calories or carbs.
- Lakanto Golden is made from monkfruit and also has no calories or carbs.
- Swerve Brown Sugar is made from erythritol and has no calories or carbs.
- And finally Trivia Brown Sugar uses erythritol and molasses and has 10 calories and 2g net carbs per 1/2 cup.
What kind of smoker we use
We have two smokers right now. For this recipe we used our older smoker, an inexpensive bullet smoker and the easiest to use for fish. It’s electric and has no controls, just on and off. It uses a paddle heater on top of lava rock to generate heat.
The second is a “box” smoker. It uses propane and has a knob for gas feed control and a thermometer for internal box temperature. This smoker allows you to maintain a certain temperature for longer periods of time compared to the electric one. We use this for beef, chicken, pork, etc.
How we like to eat our smoked salmon
This is how we like to eat our smoked salmon or steelhead. Just a squeeze of lemon, salt, course black pepper, thinly sliced onions and capers. My hubby eat this over an everything bagel and I have to admit it’s awesome. My son just likes smoked salmon with cream cheese on an everything bagel.
I however, just eat it like it is below for a low carb dish. Sometimes I add avocado which goes great with smoked salmon. And I also like to eat it on a salad.
As I mentioned before we use this brine on other things such as chicken, cornish hens, turkey breasts, etc. As a matter of fact I’ve used a version on a very successful brined rotisserie chicken in the air fryer recipe. Worked out great! I hope you enjoy this smoked salmon and steelhead recipe. Just comment below if you have any questions.
- 2 1/2 lbs fresh salmon
- 4 cups water
- 1/2 onion chopped
- 2 stalks celery chopped
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon crushed garlic
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
- 2 Tablespoons salt
- 4 Tablespoons brown sugar
Add all ingredients in a bowl and mix. I used a 4 cup measure bowl.
Pour over your salmon and brine over night in the refrigerator.
One hour before cooking, take out your salmon and let set out on your rack.
Cook in your smoker until done. Different smokers work differently so I can't give you an exact time. Ours takes about 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
Enjoy hot or cold, on bagels, salads, etc.