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Smoked Salmon

December 7, 2007 | By More

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Salmon is smoked by one of two methods: hot-smoking or cold-smoking. Hot-smoking effectively ‘cooks’ the fish, because it’s smoked at temperatures of 50C/120F to 80C/180F for six to 12 hours. This method can be used for salmon, but is more commonly used for smoked mackerel or Arbroath smokies. This type of smoked fish doesn’t keep for long and is best eaten on the day of purchase. Cold-smoked fish is first cured or preserved either in dry salt or brine (so it keeps much longer) and is then smoked at much lower temperatures (21C/70F to 32C/90F) for anything from one day to three weeks, although 24 to 48 hours of smoking is common. This is the style that most people associate with ‘smoked salmon’. The actual smoking process varies a great deal, with each smokehouse using its own techniques. Generally, the fresh fish is first salted, then dried overnight. It’s then washed and strung up to be air-dried. Wood chippings are smouldered in a kiln and varying levels of heat and smoke are used, depending on the style of salmon the producer is aiming for. Michael Leviseur and his wife Debbie run The Organic Smokehouse in Shropshire. Their organic smoked salmon has twice won a Soil Association’s Organic Food Award in the fish and seafood category. Debbie and Michael have refined their technique over several years and now cure their fish with Maldon sea salt before air-drying it, then smoke it in small batches over local Shropshire oak chippings, resulting in a product with a very mild caramelized sweetness.

Styles of smoked salmon

Smoking fish was originally a form of preserving, so in the past it would have tasted very smoky and salty. But now, smoking is really more a means of flavouring, rather than preserving, the fish. Michael Leviseur explains that there are two main cures used today: “The Highland cure is a smokier cure. The fish is smoked for longer (at least 48 hours) to produce a full, rich smoked flavour. The London cure has a more delicate flavour and a more subtle smoked taste. It’s more similar to the smoked salmon produced by the original East End smokehouses.” Smoked salmon varies in colour from a pale pink to a reddish brown colour, depending on the type and strength of the cure and the length of time it’s smoked for. Some producers aim to enhance the flavour by smoking the fish over molasses or old whisky barrels, or perhaps adding flavourings to the flesh, such as juniper berries or demerara sugar. It’s a matter of personal taste whether you like these additions. Many traditional curers think they’re unnecessary and that they mask the true flavour of the fish.

Deciphering the label

Learning to read the labels on smoked salmon will help you choose the best that you can afford. Whether sold loose at fish counters, or pre-packed in chiller cabinets, the same labelling regulations apply (at a fish counter, the information will generally be displayed on a sign next to the fish). The label must show how the fish has been produced: for example ‘farmed’, ‘cultivated’ or ‘caught’. The label must also state the name of the fish and where it was caught – for example, ‘north-west Atlantic’. Joanna Blythman is an investigative food journalist and author of The Food We Eat. In a chapter dedicated to buying fish and shellfish, she recommends buying salmon that clearly states that it has been smoked where it was caught or harvested. “A label that states ‘Scottish salmon smoked in Scotland’ is preferable to either ‘Scottish smoked salmon’ or ‘Smoked Scottish salmon’,” she says. Confusingly, though, smoked fish with additional ingredients other than from the smoking process and salts (that is, those with colourings and flavourings, such as ‘smoked salmon with honey and sugar’) aren’t subject to the labelling requirements. Look out for the Marine Stewardship Council’s logo, which ensures that the product comes from a sustainably managed fishery. The RSPCA’s Freedom Food label also specifies particular welfare standards.

Wild versus farmed

The best salmon is undoubtedly caught in the wild, but because of overfishing, it’s in disturbingly short supply. Since the 1970s, the numbers of wild salmon returning from the sea have fallen by more than half, according to the Atlantic Salmon Trust.An increasing percentage of fish on sale is farmed. Farmed salmon is an acceptable substitute when purchased from a reputable supplier who farms to high standards, giving the fish quality feed and plenty of room to swim. Farming has brought down salmon prices, but the reputation of intensively farmed salmon has been ruined with disreputable producers using chemicals, antibiotics, artificial colouring and growth promoters to produce the fish as cheaply as possible.

Category: Food

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