I think we are all looking for the same thing when it comes to turning our hard won Salmon, Steelhead and Trout into the Northwest’s favorite fishermen’s snack. For most, it boils down to two things: Appearance and Flavor. Put simply, we want it to look great and taste even better. After years of smoking fish using a variety of traditional recipes and techniques, I came to the realization that I required it have one more attribute. It needed to be easy! After a long day on the water the last thing I looked forward to was sourcing a pinch of this and a scoop of that marinated in 3 cups of whatever. So I started experimenting. I had three criteria: First… I wanted my smoked fish to taste like smoked fish, it always seemed like a crime to take prime fish and mask its natural flavors with ingredients better suited to making pasta sauce. Second…I wanted a dry cure that relied on a ratio instead of specific measurements. This would allow you to scale the amount of cure you make to the amount of fish you needed to cure. It would also allow you to make it ahead of time and store the shelf stable cure to be used as needed. And finally, Third… It needed to be an easy process that required minimal, easily sourced, inexpensive ingredients.
Master Ratio for “Dead Nut’z” smoked fish
The great thing about a ratio is it doesn’t matter what you use for the “part” measurement so long as you maintain the ratio. You could use anything from a teaspoon, to a coffee cup to a snow shovel to measure the ingredient amounts and as long as you stuck to the ratio the final product remains consistent.
3 parts Brown Sugar (dark or light, your preference, I prefer dark)
1/2 part to 1 part Pickling/Canning salt (adjust to suit your salt preference)
1/4 part “Morton’s Smoke Flavored Sugar Cure” Found in the spice isle of most large supermarkets (discard the flavor pack that comes with the cure)
- In one container throughly combine the three cure ingredients.
- In a separate “Cure bowl” add a generous amount of cure and “fluff” it up so the cure is not packed down.
- Drop a piece of fish (patted dry) in the “Cure Bowl” and roll it around till all sides are coated with cure. Don’t pack the cure onto the fish just lightly roll it around in the cure “what sticks is all it takes”.
- Toss the fish into another container/zip top bag.
- Re fluff the cure and repeat with the remaining fish adding more cure to the “Cure Bowl” as needed.
- When all the fish has been coated dispose of any leftover cure in the “Cure Bowl”, and save any unused cure still in the original container for next time.
- After 2-4 hours you want to “overhaul” the curing fish, mixing it up, turing top to bottom throughly mixing the fish with the cure. At this point the fish will have released a generous amount of liquid and you want all the fish covered or at least in contact with this liquid (this is were zip top bags are great as you can squeeze out excess air and guarantee that the fish is in contact with the liquid during the entire curing process. Free free to “overhaul” the fish again, as many more times as you see fit during the curing process.
- Let the fish cure in the fridge from 6-14 hours depending on thickness. Most average salmon/larger steelhead sized pieces take 10-12 hours smaller steelhead/trout need much less time. The fish is ready to smoke when its semi firm to the touch and has taken on a deeper color.
- Completely rinse ALL the cure off and pat dry.
- Place fish on OILED smoking racks and let air dry for 1-2 hours until tacky and glossy (this is a great time to lightly sprinkle cracked black or lemon pepper onto the fish before it goes into the smoker).
- smoke until your desired level of doneness is reached. I aim for 6-7 hours (start to finish) and an internal temp of 143* for 15 minutes. ENJOY!