Brine for Smoked Salmon

Karen Frazier
Smoked salmon and bread

If you'd like to try your hand at smoked salmon, then brining is your first step. It's a relatively simple undertaking. There are only a few basic ingredients in smoked salmon brine, although many experienced salmon smokers vary their recipes to adapt for personal taste.

Key Ingredients

Brine for smoked salmon (both wet and dry) contains two key ingredients: sugar and salt.

Salt

Salt for salmon brine should not be iodized. Pickling salt and kosher salt are two good choices. Since kosher salt takes up more volume for the same amount of salt, if you substitute kosher salt for pickling salt in a recipe, you will need roughly twice the amount of kosher salt to other types. The salt in salmon brine serves a number of purposes:

  • Improves the flavor - In the case of salmon brine, it brings out the natural flavors of the fish.
  • Breaks down the proteins - This changes the texture of the proteins and gives you the more classic smoked salmon texture. These changes in protein structure also allow it to stay moist longer without drying out.
  • Acts as a preservative - This shouldn't be a surprise, since salt has been used for centuries as a protein preservative.
  • Removes excess water from the salmon - This allows the salmon to smoke properly.

Sugar

The sugar used in brining salmon also performs important roles. Most salmon brines call for brown sugar. In a brine for smoked salmon, brown sugar:

  • Adds sweetness - This balances out the salt and fish flavors.
  • Adds a depth of flavor - The flavor added to the fish and smoke comes from the molasses in the brown sugar.
  • Extends the shelf life of the salmon - The brown sugar inhibits bacteria growth.
  • Attracts and holds water - This adds to the overall moistness of your finished product.

Other Ingredients

Depending on your tastes, you can also add other flavors to your brine such as herbs and spices, peppers, garlic, and soy sauce just to name a few.

Making a Brine for Smoked Salmon

Brining salmon before smoking it imparts flavor and helps to preserve the fish. Salmon can be brined following two methods - either wet brining or dry brining. In both cases, the salmon usually needs to be brined for about six to seven hours, depending on your taste. Most smoked salmon aficionados recommend wet brining, although others swear by dry brining.

Wet Brining

For every pound of salmon, you will need about one quart of cold water.

Ingredients

  • 3/8 cup of pickling salt
  • 3/8 cups of brown sugar

Instructions

  1. Mix the salt into the water. The water has enough salt in it if provides buoyancy for an egg in a shell. Add a little additional salt if needed.
  2. Add in the brown sugar.
  3. Stir until both ingredients are well dissolved in the water.
  4. Lower the temperature of the brine to 40 degrees or lower before adding the fish to prevent warming the fish to an unsafe temperature.
  5. Add the salmon and cover. Make sure the entire piece of salmon is covered with brine. Store in the refrigerator - or in cases of larger batches, in an insulated cooler - for six to seven hours.
  6. Remove the salmon from the brine, rinse it and dry it. Continue smoking the salmon using your favorite smoking method.

Dry Brining

A dry brine is essentially a dry rub that is rubbed on the salmon and left for about 24 to 36 hours, covered and refrigerated.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of dark brown sugar
  • 2 cups of light brown sugar
  • 3/4 cups of pickling salt

Instructions

  1. Mix the ingredients until well combined.
  2. Using a container or dish that will fit the entire filet of salmon without folding it, sprinkle a thin layer of dry brine so that it covers the bottom of the container.
  3. Place a layer of salmon, skin side down, on the brine.
  4. Cover the salmon with a 1-inch layer of brine.
  5. Place another filet skin side up (with the flesh touching the brine below) on top of the layer of brine.
  6. Add another inch of brine over the top of the second salmon filet.
  7. Cover tightly and store somewhere cool and dry (such as the dehumidified section of your refrigerator) for 24 to 36 hours.
  8. Remove salmon from dry brine and rinse it well.
  9. Air dry the salmon on wire racks (uncovered) for 24 hours.

Additional Tips

A few additional tips for salmon brine include:

  • Use the brine only once. Never reuse brine.
  • Keep the brine at a temperature under 40 degrees at all times.
  • Use only pickling or kosher salt.
  • Don't decrease the amount of salt out of fear that the end product will be too salty.
  • Feel free to adjust the amount of sugar to your taste for sweetness.
  • Go ahead and experiment with other flavors and ingredients to find the recipe that is perfect for your tastes.

Create a Delicious Salmon Dish

A basic smoked salmon brine can easily be accomplished. Once you've brined your salmon, then you are ready to smoke it and enjoy the delicious, sweet, smoky flavor of homemade smoked salmon.

Brine for Smoked Salmon