How to smoke your own salmon

You are at a dinner party. It is the 70s. The guests have arrived, the lava lamp is low and the mood is ravenous. You are just dredging the bowl for last of the pre-dinner nuts when your host, the impeccably permed Sue, finally emerges through the saloon doors, platter in hand. ‘Anyone for hors d’oeuvres?’ 

Sue approaches your perch on the chaise longue, masterfully navigating the standing lamp with her impossibly large shoulder pads,  her smug expression fixed like aspic. She proffers the tray in your direction. You glance down and see displayed before you tonight’s canapé selection, arrayed on the platter like vivid pink islands in a plastic polkadot sea. Ah the joy of smoked salmon rolls.

Smoked salmon, I’m a big fan. What’s not to love about this garishly-hued bastion of the brunch menu? I have so far been deterred from attempting to create this delicacy for myself due to my lack of the central piece of kit, a smoker. However if this blog has taught me anything it’s not to let such small things as lack of equipment and expertise get in my way.

All men’s gains are the fruit of venturing.

–Herodotus, another dead Greek guy with thoughts.

Artily arranged salmon and even more artily arranged table runner (crumbled for your aesthetic enjoyment)


The humble salmon has a long history in the UK. It plays a particularly prominent role in Celtic mythology, for example in The Boyhood Deeds of Fionn. This Irish folktale features the fabulously named Salmon of Knowledge, an enigmatic being who grants wisdom to anyone who eats him. I don’t think he thought that one through, what a plonker!

Although fresh salmon has always been readily available the smoked product was not introduced to Britain until the 1800s. It was in the Jewish communities of London’s East End that first popularised the foodstuff in the form of the legendary cream cheese beigel. You can still find many authentic Jewish bakeries selling these breaded wonders across the capital. I particularly recommend the fine establishment on brick lane which is open 24 hrs. Very handy if you find yourself in need of sustenance at 2am.

WARNING: Your steamer insert will not remain this pristine


Use in quiches, pâtés, out-dated canapés and inauthentic sushi. Crown your Eggs Benedict with smoked salmon to create the lofty Eggs Royale.

The process

There are types of smoking, hot and cold.  The fundamental difference between them is that hot smoking cooks the salmon whereas the fish will remain raw in a cold smoke. The other difference is that cold smoking requires 12 hrs and a full-blown smokehouse whilst hot smoking needs only 15 minutes, a ramshackle collection of kitchen equipment and optimism. No prizes for guessing which option I selected. I always like to be smokin’ hot.


Large lidded plastic or glass container
Large stove-top pot with lid (preferably one that is not warped and has an unmelted handle. I speak from experience)
Steamer insert
Roll of foil



4 fillets wild salmon (skin on)
1/2 orange, rind of
2-3 sprigs of thyme
2tbsp woodchips (alder)


1/2 onion, finely chopped
1/2 bulb fennel, finely chopped
1 stick celery, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 bay leaves
4 peppercorns
30g brown sugar
30g salt
1L water


Method: ATTEMPT AT OWN RISK (please see verdict…)

  1.  Combine brine ingredients in container.
  2. Release salmon back into the water.
  3. S-eel and refrigerate for 8-12 hrs.
  4. Sprinkle salmon with orange and thyme. Dry on wire rack for at least 4 hrs.
  5. Sandwich wood chips between two layers of foil and put at the bottom of a large stock pot. Plaice steamer insert AS FLAT AS POSSIBLE on top of the wood chip sandwich.
  6. Perch salmon on the steamer insert, skin side down
  7. Replace the pot lid. Wrap foil reely tight around the lid and plug the steam hole. There should be no oppor-tuna-ty for smoke to escape, think Alcatraz for particulates.
  8.  Place pot on hob and heat on high until the chips begin to smoke. Drop heat to medium/low and smoke for 15 mins.
  9. Turn off fire alarm and remove the lid.

Serving suggestion: Dress with sesame oil, maple syrup, chilli flakes and preserved lemon.

The moment of truth

The cost

Fresh salmon is about half the price of its smoked equivalent, when the fish used is of comparable quality. Therefore, notfishstanding the price of the brining ingredients,  it makes economic sense to smoke your own.


The taste

Mine: It’s sweet and earthy, with a gloriously autumnal flavour. Imagine the taste of jumping in a pile of crunchy leaves. The reasonably lengthy brining period means that the flesh inside is still delicate and moist. I really like the more robust flavour imparted by the hot smoke. It brings out the salmon’s more meaty characteristics, rather than its fishier side. If I have a criticism for shop bought smoked salmon it would be the slimy texture which is definitely absent here.

Evil corporate brand: It lacks the same intensity, the taste is fairly one note. The texture is a whole other kettle of fish.

Lightly distressed smoked salmon, resting on a bed of gently tousled lettuce and dressed with a preserved lemon, sesame oil and high expectations.

The verdict

So was it worth it? Considering the taste alone without a doubt.  Considering the potential fire risk perhaps not…

It is at this point that I should reveal that following my success with the fish I attempted to smoke a chicken breast. This was somewhat less successful. The smoking process was underway and I was minding my own business win the adjoining room when the stench of burning hit my nostrils. I walk-jogged apprehensively over to the stock pot to find that the steamer insert had somehow upturned and my poor chicken was aflame.  My dinner plans quite literally went up in smoke!

This leads me to conclude that whilst the salmon was fantastic (8/10)  the process was perhaps not the best thought through (☠/10).

The man who has planned badly, if fortune is on his side, may have had a strokesmoke of luck; but his plan was a bad one nonetheless.

–More wise words from Herodotus

Refinement will be needed to avoid igniting any more of my dinners.

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