Smoke 'Em if You Got 'Em
Luxury circa 2009: salmon, a grill, and some wood chips.
By Meg Favreau
We shove plenty of foods in our face holes without thinking much about them. What’s in a Twinkie? How was the slurry that becomes a McDonald’s chicken nugget actually formed? What the hell combination of black magic and ingredients is needed to make Mountain Dew Code Red? When we decide to consume foods and drinks like these, we know we’re heading into a bit of a mystery; there are ingredients and processes involved that we will never truly understand. So it goes.
There is another class of foods we frequently eat without thinking about, but for very different reasons. These are luxury foods. They are wholesome, good, even healthy foods but, because they’re fancy, we almost never consider their creation. We assume they have to be crafted with a certain level of quality, but beyond that, do we think about how caviar is harvested? How champagne is fermented? How salmon is smoked?
Let me give you an example of how little people think about smoked salmon by providing a little quiz. If all smoked salmon is hot smoked or cold smoked, how is lox smoked? Answer: it’s not. Lox isn’t smoked at all — it’s simply cured in a brine that can keep it safe to eat without refrigeration for up to a year. This also means that lox isn’t simply a tasty pairing with cream cheese, you pretty much have to eat it with a good slathering of Philadelphia to not gag on the salt content.
If you didn’t know that lox wasn’t smoked though, it’s probably not your fault — many delis have replaced their lox with less-salty smoked salmon over the years to keep up with changing tastes. It’s possible that you’ve been going to your local deli and ordering for years what you thought was lox, only to never have bitten into the real stuff.
For both lox and smoked salmon, it’s these preservation methods that bump salmon from the status of Pretty Awesome Fish to Luxury Item. And while the time and effort behind brining and smoking contribute to its image, any diamond-wearing lady can tell you that the real marks of a luxury item are how unnecessary it is and how difficult it is for people to get. Canning and refrigeration have certainly made smoking unnecessary. And cold-smoking salmon — the process by which most of what we know of as smoked salmon is created — requires keeping the salmon in 90-degree wood smoke for several hours. It’s incredibly difficult for the layperson to do, and even if John Doe Smoker could keep his smoke at 90 degrees, cold-smoked salmon is susceptible to bacteria if not handled properly.
But then…then there is the hot-smoked salmon. The texture is more like that of a grilled salmon fillet than the soft, chewy slices of cold-smoked salmon, which might cause the diamond-wearing ladies to poo-poo hot-smoked salmon as an imposter. But hot-smoked salmon is simply different. It’s juicy and smoky. It tastes as if a typical salmon fillet went up to Canada for a while, worked the land, and learned traditional crafts. When the fillet comes back home, his skin is ruddy, his muscles are strong, and his musk has changed. Now he smells like Earth, like trees, like sweat.
Basically, hot-smoked salmon is easy to make, but still unnecessary, making it a different kind of luxury to shove in your face hole…but a luxury all the same. • 23 October 2009
It can’t replace the texture of cold-smoked salmon, but hot-smoked salmon makes amazing smoked-salmon salads and sandwiches and is beautiful sitting on top of a salad or as the main course of a meal.
1 pound salmon as two skin-on fillets
Brine the salmon
Cure the salmon
Soak the chips
Make sure the temperature stays between 160 and 200 degrees. The smoking process should take approximately two hours. If you’re fish looks done but you’re not entirely sure, try opening it with a fork — it should flake like you’ve cooked it in a traditional fashion.
Meg Favreau is a writer and comedian living in Philadelphia. She blogs at ihearyoulikestories.com.
Recipe photo by Meg Favreau.