Number of Servings: Varies
Little Lake Lodge Brine
3 gallons water
4 pounds salt (non iodized)
1/2 pound brown sugar
10 ounces vinegar
Clean and fillet salmon, steelhead or large trout. If going to hang in smoker, leave collarbone just below gill to give it support while hanging. Small fish should be cleaned and left whole with heads on. Large fillets should be cut into 2 or 3 pieces, depending on size. Ideally the fillets should be less than 1 inch thick - if thicker, trim flesh from top. Trimmings can be used in other dishes. Always leave skin on.
When preparing brine, boil the water and then add dry ingredients, mix well until dissolved. Cool and then add remaining ingredients. Layer fish pieces flesh side down in the brine and weigh down. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for approximately 8 hours. If fish are fairly slimy when getting ready to brine, rinse and soak fish in a 70% brine solution (1/2 cup salt in a quart of water) for 30 minutes. Wash with clean water and put into the brine.
After brining, rinse and rub the fish under cold running water to remove all traces of salt and spices. Dry and hang or lay flat, skin side down on racks to dry in air (2-3 hours) until thin shiny skin (pellicle) has formed all over outside. Fish should feel firm and have a glazed look. This is a protective skin on the surface which seals in fish juices and prevents protein in the flesh from coagulating and forming white curds on the surface.
Add wood chips, start your smoker and heat it up prior to placing the fish. Hang whole fish or fillets with collars with “S” hooks through gills or under collars. Place fish fillet pieces on greased racks, skin side down and smoke 6-10 hours, refueling with wood as needed. Alternate lower rack and upper rack during smoking.
When finished smoking, fish should be firm but not dry and leathery. If no temperature control in smoker or internal temperature has not reached 145 degrees F, the fish can be microwaved on high for 1 1/2 minutes, turned, and microwaved another 1 1/2 minutes.
Cool, wrap in wax paper, package tightly and refrigerate. Fish should keep at least 3 months in refrigerator.
Notes & Variations:
Woods that can be used include alder, apple, hickory, maple, birch, ash, oak and willow. Soft or resinous wood should not be used, as it will blacken the fish and give it an undesirable flavor. This would include pine, fir, etc. Try soaking wood in fruit juice - apple, orange, etc.
Contributor: Jerry Zeitler, RRGC