Thursday, August 2, 2012

Juniper Smoked Salmon

Smoking salmon has become a favorite hobby of mine. Riley and I grew up with smoked rainbow trout. I moved to the PNW (salmon capital of the US) about four years ago and couldn't afford to buy smoked goods so ended up trying my hand with the Little Chief electric smoker. The first couple of rounds were overly salted. Ended up reducing the amount of salt in the brine and rinsing the fish more thoroughly post-brine bath.

After fine-tuning a basic brine, I've been using that as my control while experimenting with some different flavor profiles. My favorite so far has been adding crushed Juniper Berries to the brine. It sounds a little counter-intuitve; typically with smoking we want to avoid using any piney woods or cedar because the smoke renders the fish sour. However, balanced out with some sugar and spices, the Juniper berries offered up a nice unexpected tang that complemented the sweetness of the maple syrup I use in the brine. Juniper berries do get pricey though so if you plan on trying them out, do a small batch of fish first. Haven't tried them on trout yet but reckon the trout may be a little delicate for the strong flavor of Juniper, could be a hit though–let ya know when I get there.

Rubbing the brown sugar into the flesh
Juniper Brine:

4 Cups water
1/4 Cup Salt
1/4 Cup Sugar
1/4 Cup Brown Sugar
2 Tbsp Maple Syrup (or you can use Agave if    
   the maple is too bold for you)
Juice of 1 organic lemon
10 Cloves crushed garlic
2-4 Tbsp crushed Juniper Berries (depending on
      how much you want to taste)

I like to let it brine for at least 12 hours, sometimes longer. Rinse the fish really well to get the excess salt off (the majority of the salt has seeped into the fish which acts as the preserving agent), otherwise your fish is going to taste extremely salty. Then rub some more brown sugar into the flesh, you should see the sugar melting a bit to create a thick syrup on top. Fresh cracked black pepper is optional but highly recommended. I like to let the fish sit on the smoke racks for about 30 minutes to let any excess moisture from the rinse run off. Depending on your smoker and whether you like the salmon more dry or moist, smoking times vary. Again, this is a pretty sweet brine to balance out the tartness of the Juniper, but I think you'll be pleased. Enjoy.

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