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King Salmon Fillets Drying

King Salmon fillets laid out for drying and "painting" with a rum-sugar glaze.

Learn How to Make Delicious Kippered Salmon at Home! SausageMania will reveal all the closely-held secrets for making perfect Kippered Salmon, secrets that you've not found elsewhere on the Web, or otherwise you wouldn't be reading this page!

• Kippered Salmon is a variant of hot-smoked salmon. Hot-smoked salmon is cooked in the process of smoking, whereas cold-smoked salmon (like Lox) is cold-smoked, with the product never exceeding 85° F. Hot-smoking accomplishes two ends: (1) flavoring and preserving the fish with smoke, and (2) cooking it just until the flesh is "denatured," or opaque. Further hot-smoking dries out the product and gives it the remarkably unpleasant sensation when eaten of fish-flavored sawdust or cotton. If you really oversmoke your salmon — like for several days — you get, well, salmon jerky, and if you like salmon jerky, leave this page and Google "Salmon Jerky." In KipperMania's view, making salmon jerky from wild Alaska king salmon is like using a Stradivarius violin for kindling in your fireplace!

The only critical step in making perfect Kippered Salmon is bringing the product to the proper temperature (130°-132° F.) in the smoker. None of the other steps has to be perfect. Only the temperature is critical, so don't set the pieces in the smoker and go watch a movie — you really have to babysit the product!

There are five species of Alaska salmon: King (Chinook), Silver (Coho), Red (Sockeye), Pink (Humpy) and Chum (Dog). (For more details, see below) King salmon is the fattest, and makes the best kippered salmon, although any salmon is better than no salmon, if you are really trying to kipper! Pink is generally canned.... Dog salmon, so-called because of the spawning males' prominent canine teeth, are spurned by many Alaskans, but some consider this pale-fleshed species to be superior. It's also said that they're called Dog Salmon because Alaska Natives dry them and feed them to their sled dogs in the winter.

• There's nothing really difficult about kippering salmon, as long as you have appropriate trays and bins and a good smoker. But the process demands your close attention for 24 hours...... if you do everything right, you'll be rewarded with the best kippered salmon you've ever tasted — Kippered salmon that sells for as much as $35/lb or more at gourmet shops!

• There are four main steps in making kippered salmon:

1. Filleting the salmon, cutting into serving size pieces and scoring the skin

2. Dry salting (12 hours)

3. "Painting" with a rum and brown sugar mix (4-6 hours)

4. Smoking (3-4 hours) Critical step!!!

• First of all you need fresh fish, not thawed-out frozen fish, whose flesh is somewhat broken down by the freeze-thaw cycle. But if you cannot get fresh, you'll have to make do with frozen, as it's better than nothing. Treat your fresh salmon as the precious commodity it is! Keep it well-refrigerated or on ice until you start processing it: letting unprocessed fish sit around at room temperature even for an hour will noticeably degrade it.

• Fillet the salmon, but leave the skin side intact. Cut into serving size pieces. IMPORTANT NOTE: If you are using King Salmon, try to stay with fish under 20 lbs: larger fish yield such thick pieces that it's difficult to cure them and smoke them

• Score the skin side with a razor blade in parallel cuts (to allow the salt-sugar mix to be absorbed). Don't cut the flesh — only the skin!

• Prepare a dry mix in the proportion of 3 parts coarse salt to 4 parts brown sugar. Avoid iodized salt.

• Sprinkle a layer of the salt-sugar mix on the bottom of a glass/plastic/stainless steel/porcelain tray or bin (never aluminum).

• Make a layer of the filleted pieces, cover with the salt-sugar mix, put another layer on, and so forth, until the bin/tray is filled. Put more mix on the thicker pieces, less on the thinner pieces. Sorry... can't quantify any better than this. It's just a matter of learning....I call it "differential salting."

• Let the bin sit for 12 hours. Lots of syrupy liquid will appear (as the salt and sugar draw water from the fish). As the salt and sugar pretty much stop any decomposition, the bin need not be refrigerated, but try to keep it in a cool place.

Remove the pieces and rinse off any remaining salt-sugar mix with cold running water.

• Spread the pieces, skin side down, on a large towel on a table.

• Prepare a syrup of brown sugar and dark rum...... say, two pounds of sugar to a fifth of rum..... pretty thick.... you have to heat it to dissolve the sugar. Use a full-bodied, dark rum such as Myers or Coruba. The molasses flavor of the dark rums harmonizes with the brown sugar — after all, both are made from the same cane. Light rums just won't do the trick.

• Brush the syrup onto each piece. Set a fan at the end of the table where the fish is laid out. As the syrup is absorbed, brush on a new layer. Do this for 5-6 hours until a pellicle (or "skin") of syrup forms on the surface of the fish. Don't worry: when it's all done, the surface will not be tacky or sticky.

• Then, put the pieces into a smoker, the thicker pieces closer to the heat source, and the thinner pieces farther away. Smoke for about 3-4 hours.... with hickory, alder, cherry, apple.... anything but mesquite.

THIS IS THE CRUCIAL STEP.... slowly raise the temperature of the pieces to 130-132° F... to just where the fish flesh denatures and turns from translucent to opaque. Too high, and the product will be dry. Too low, and it will be raw. I use two of those Polder Remote Thermometers with a remote cable, the probes stuck into the pieces nearest the heat source, (these pieces will be done first). If you heat the pieces too quickly, ugly blobs of white curd will form on the surface, and the product may be cooked on the outside while still raw on the inside.

• As the pieces reach temperature (they will not all be ready at once, of course, unless you have a giant professional, temperature-controlled smoker), remove them, let them, cool, and pack for freezing.

• NOTE: Unlike frozen fresh fish, which, even when vacuum-packed, goes "off" in six months at the most, frozen, vacuum-packed kippered salmon will endure for up to 4 years in a freezer that holds temperatures at or below 0° F.

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More on Alaska Salmon

Alaska Salmon, of which there are 5-1/2 species, comprise one of the most valuable fishery resources of the United States. The "1/2" species refers to steelhead trout, which are similar to Atlantic salmon.

Chinook or King: Soft in texture, very rich in oil, and separates into large flakes, making it excellent for salads and recipes calling for large pieces. "Small" kings are 20 lbs, 30 lb kings are common. One sub-species of King, that returns to the Kenai River in southcentral Alaska, can be gigantic: the record stands at 97 lbs!

Sockeye or Red: Has deep red meat and considerable oil, is of firm texture, and breaks into smaller flakes, making it attractive for hot dishes and salads.

Coho or Silver: Is large-flaked, a lighter red than sockeye, and is good in all dishes. Excellent for Lox.

Pink or Humpy: Smallest and least interesting of the species; light pink lfesh, used for canning.

Chum or Dog: Is large-flaked, very light in color, low in oil, less strongly-flavored than the other four species and is especially suitable for cooked dishes where color is not important.

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