Thank you for smoking (salmon)
Hot smoking is the process of cooking a fish, or whatever you’re smoking, in a chamber with smouldering woodchips. In this instance, only gentle heat is applied. The fish cooks quite slowly and retains great moisture. Sometimes hot smoking involves creating smoke in a separate chamber, which is then forced into an oven where the fish or other meat is slowly being cooked.
Cold smoking, conversely, involves placing fish or meat into a refrigerated chamber, with smoke pumped into the unit. The smoke is usually cooled in a longish pipe before it hits the chamber. The process is slower and happens over a longer period. The final texture is completely different. While in both techniques the meat or fish is cured before smoking, cold smoking leaves the protein essentially raw.
When I hot smoke at home I take a heavy, deep roasting tray and place it directly on a burner. While the tray is heating, I lay the fish on a cake rack that will fit tightly into the roasting tray and sit about an inch off the base. When the tray is hot, I sprinkle in a few teaspoons of woodchips and immediately fit the cake rack over the top and seal with a few sheets of aluminium foil. Another way to do this is with a wok, a round wire rack and a lid. Depending on what you are cooking, I would usually leave the burner on a low heat for five minutes and then turn it off, leaving it another five minutes to cook in residual heat.
I use quite small woodchips, which are almost like a powder. As a rule, softer woods – such as fruit tree and nut woods – are used for white meats. A harder wood such as hickory is used for red meats. I like birch wood for the way it burns, but one of the reasons to smoke at home is to try different woods and form wholly unsupported but deeply held views about which are better. Apple is supposed to give sweetness. Birch is similar to maple. Grapevines are heavy in flavour and can be tart. There are all sorts of things on the market: chipped whisky barrels, and various teas and herbs, which I wouldn’t recommend for this recipe.
The final hot smoked fish in this recipe can be served straight away, ideally alongside some boiled potatoes tossed in butter with black pepper and salt. If you do keep it for a day or two, it would also work well flaked into a salad of asparagus.
Hot smoked salmon, dill and salted onions
If making dill oil seems tedious, picked dill fronds served with the smoked fish is a good substitute.
– 1 tbsp sugar
– 2 tbsp sea salt
– 600g piece salmon fillet, skinless and boned
– 1 bunch dill, fronds picked
– 80ml grapeseed oil
– 2 tbsp woodchips
– 3 pickling onions, sliced into rings
– salt and pepper
– 80g crème fraîche
Mix the sea salt and sugar together then lie the salmon on a plate and season the underside of the fillet with half of the mixture. Turn the fish over and season with the remainder of the salt-sugar mixture.
Cover with plastic wrap and leave in the fridge to cure for six hours.
Meanwhile, make the dill oil by quickly blanching the dill in a saucepan of boiling water for 10 seconds. Refresh in iced water. Chop the blanched dill and puree with the grapeseed oil in a stand-up blender for one minute.
Transfer to a bowl and leave in the fridge for an hour to infuse. Once infused, strain the oil through a coffee filter or fine sieve.
To smoke the fish, rinse the salmon under cold running water and pat dry.
Place the fish fillet on a wire rack. Place a baking tray over a flame and sprinkle your smoking chips on the heated section of the baking tray (your woodchips should start to smoke immediately).
Quickly place your fish over the smoking woodchips and cover with aluminium foil, pinching the edges of the foil firmly around the tray to ensure no smoke escapes. Gently cook for five minutes. Turn off the heat and leave the fish to continue cooking in the residual heat for another five minutes.
Meanwhile, season the onion rings with salt and leave to drain on a paper towel.
To serve, flake the fish into a bowl and season with a little salt and black pepper. Arrange along with a spoon of crème fraîche and the salted onions. Drizzle a little of the dill oil or scatter dill fronds on and around the fish.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Oct 24, 2015 as "Thank you for smoking". Subscribe here.