Preparation / Directions:
IMO Fresh Chinook or King salmon are the best and Coho or Silver salmon run a weak second for a sweet buttery flavor. Scale, remove the head, fins and cheeks. Filet the fish, removing the backbone and rib bones. Leave the skin on.
Lay the filets out and dry salt-Use a kiln dried medium or medium fine salt and apply the salt just a little heavier than you would salt to eat. It will look like fresh fallen snow - not completely white all over - the
belly and thinner tail areas will have less salt than the thicker mid-body areas. I don't brine in a solution because it is difficult to predict the amount of salt in the thin areas. To put a whole filet into a brine and have it come out with even salt is difficult if not impossible. Dry salting allows for proportionate distribution according to thickness, and I believe it is much more accurate. Too little salt will not hurt anything, if it is fresh fish to begin with and it is kept cool before smoking, I wouldn't worry about it - kippered salmon is smoked without any salt at all.
Stack the filets on top of each other in a container that will permit drainage, cover with plastic or a lid and let it sit in the refer for about a day (if you butcher and salt early in the morn, it will be ready to smoke the next morning). Before smoking, gently rinse the filet and squeegee the excess from the surface with your hand. The surface of the filet should be allowed to dry - I do this in the smokehouse as I am getting the fire started, I leave the doors open just a crack for a couple of hours to let out the excess moisture.
After the surface becomes somewhat dry to the touch, close the doors and slowly bring up the temp to about 100F. I'll try to maintain this temp for about 4-5 hours and then slowly bring the temp up another 20F. For the next 3-4 hours try to hold at about 120-130F or so. For the last couple of hours I'll bring the temp up another 20F so that the internal temp will be 140-150F for the last 30 min. and take the fish out and let it cool.
This process isn't really a cold smoke or a hot smoke, it's sort of in
between. The filets are cured with salt and then smoked. I've been smoking salmon this way for many years and have never had any problems with spoilage or sickness. The USDA says that the internal temp should reach a minimum of 180F for thirty minutes for salmon, but there is no viable reference as to the salt content. I have tried to smoke at 180F for thirty min and the results aren't nearly as moist. I think that 150F is stretching it. In the last hour or so of the process, 40F makes a hell of a difference in the finished product. Just a note, during the smoke cycle the thin areas will be done and drier before the thicker parts - I will cut the filets into three pieces across, put the tail sections on their own tray so I can move them around and take them out when they are done.
If I'm smoking for myself I usually cut the entire filet crossways into 2" strips and load the trays with a fingerspace between the strips. The pieces are just about right for snacking or handing out without having to tear into a larger piece. Smaller pieces seem to smoke up a lot better than a whole filet. I've always just used salt and no other seasonings, but I think white pepper as Charles recommends, would be pretty tasty. A lot of ways to smoke salmon - finding the one you like the best is the