Why King Salmon Is Your Best Bet When Cold-Smoking Fish

Cold-smoking is a process by which wood smoke is used to flavor food, rather than cook it. Intentionally remaining below 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the smoke will envelop and flavor such foods as Virginia hams and mozzarella cheese. But perhaps the greatest beneficiary of this method of smoking is salmon. And the best kind of salmon for cold smoking is the vibrantly colorful, and fatty, king salmon.

Also known as the Chinook salmon, this enormous fish is prized among salmon lovers for its intense flavor and succulent texture. Its meat is a vibrant orange color, filled with high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids. It is this high fat content that makes king salmon ideal for cold-smoking. As fat is indicative of flavor, the king salmon's fat allows the flavor of the fish to come through against the smoke. The smoke, in turn, mingles with the fish to create a wonderfully complex flavor profile and brings out the color of the flesh.

If you're new to smoking food, cold-smoking a large filet of salmon is a great way to get started. It's a time-consuming process from start to finish. The temperature needs to be watched so it doesn't get too high, but this is all manageable with the right know-how. 

How to cold-smoke king salmon

Here's what you need for cold-smoking: a grill, your salmon, a tray of ice cubes, and wood pellets or chips. A maze or tube smoker, which is a perforated metal box or cylinder, will hold the pellets in place while they give off smoke. You could also improvise with different kitchen equipment, like sheet pans or perforated packets of aluminum foil. 

The ideal temperature for cold-smoking salmon is below 86 degrees. This allows the smoke to cling to the salmon without it cooking and turning it flaky. You should cure the salmon well in advance of smoking it. Salt and brown sugar is applied to the filet and allowed to cure for up to 48 hours, drawing out any moisture in the fish and giving it a smooth texture. After the initial curing, you'll wipe away any excess salt and sugar, and leave the salmon uncovered in the fridge overnight so that it will form a pellicle, a thin, dry layer around the skin that will help the smoke adhere to it.

Get the smoke going and place the salmon over a tray filled with ice cubes. This will help regulate the temperature. Then it's just a waiting game. It'll take about 4 hours to get a good smoky flavor on the salmon, and another 4 hours of resting before it really sinks in. However, once you slice and taste the results, you'll know it was worth the effort.