At school, the marking system worked like this. A-E for achievement (A being the highest) followed by 1-5 for effort (1 being the highest).
In my Dad’s eyes, A5 was obviously the best. It showed natural aptitude with minimal effort. Which, in his eyes, basically translates into “good genes”, thus allowing him to take some of the credit.
A1 was ok. But on the (odd) occasion this made it onto an end-of-term card, then I’d have to be prepared for my grandad to call me a “class swot” for the first couple of weeks of the holiday. He’s A5 through-and-through, and despite never prioritising work over pool, football or bridge, was always top of the class. Well, apart from the time that he came second to Beryl Bloxham. A traumatic enough event that he’s still talking about it 70 years later, and swotty old Beryl has become a household name in our household at least.
Grandad – ALMOST always top of the class…
Somehow this marking system has been hard to shake off, and I can’t help looking for the A5 solution in all sorts of situations. Take cooking, for example. The cover of this months BBC Good Food magazine is A1 through and through. If anything, the effort will exceed the achievement.
BBC Good Food A1 Rainbow Sponge Cake
Because after messing about with all of those different layers of different coloured sponge, the best scenario is that you end up with a multi-coloured sponge cake, thinking ‘was it all really worth it?’
Anyway, dear reader, I digress. But if you have kept up with me, then you will at least be rewarded by the revelation that I have discovered the ultimate A5 recipe. Home-smoked salmon. Minimal effort, and maximum impact. The dosser’s dish. Guarenteed to get you a 1:1 without so much as having to step inside the library to revise.
Aside from the remarkable easiness of this recipe, it’s oddly cost effective. For smoked salmon. Just to contextualise it, a 1.6kg side of unsliced, smoked salmon from Fortnum & Masons costs £180. Now, Ocado and Tescos keep alternating a deal, where they do a 1kg side of salmon for £10 -yes, that’s right, a tenner! Then, with the help of a cold smoke generator (£34.95-reusable, and a LOT more rustic than it sounds) you can turn the salmon into a show stopper of a smoked salmon which will easily do a starter for 12, or lunch/brunch for 6-8.
Now, I’ve only smoked salmon around five times so far, and am still very much a beginner. Every time I do it, I change the timings a little, and the salmon comes out a little differently as a result. So please don’t take my word on all I write below.
My starting piece of advice would actually be to actually cut the whole side into smaller piecer (even though its a little less impressive), or to just buy smaller fillets to start with, That way, they’re not so heavy that they drag down on the hooks during smoking, and fall off. And the surface area is larger, which makes the curing and smoking more effective.
Now. Lets assume that you’ve got some fillets, or a cut-up side of salmon. First thing’s first-it needs curing. The aim of this process is firstly, to kill any bacteria present, and secondly, to draw the moisture out of the salmon, so that it won’t breed bacteria in the future. By the end of the curing process, the texture of the salmon will have changed, and it’ll be more rigid – less squidgy.
To cure it, all you need to do is put foil on a tray and cover it in salt. Lay the salmon on the salt, and then cover it all in more salt. I usually use about 1.5kg of table salt for around 1kg of salmon. Officially, you should use special curing salts which don’t contain anti-caking agents….but table salt is cheap (75p), and seems to do the job…
Put the tray of salted salmon in the fridge for anything from 4-24 hours. By the time you take it out, you’ll be able to see that the salt has drawn the moisture out of the salmon-making the salmon quite hard, and the salt a little damp.
See the moisture coming out if the salmon, dampening the salt…
Wash the salmon, ditch the salt, and then pat the fillets dry using some kitchen roll or a clean tea towel. And now the fun bit….
The cold smoke generator uses very simple technology. A bit like those insect coils which burn for 10 hours, giving off smelly smoke which keeps mosquitos away, so the cold smoke generator is built in a maze-shape. You fill the maze with wood chips, and put a nightlight under the starting point of the maze to get it going. And then let it burn round for 10 hours.
The only innovative thing you need to do is to find a non-flammable container to trap the smoke. We used a bin. A classic option. And it works just fine. We tied some chicken wire from handle to handle, and then bent some ‘S’ shaped hooks which we could poke through the salmon, and hang them off the wire line.
So, take the rigid salmon fillets, use a knife to poke a hole through them, thread through some string or poke through a wire hook, and then hang them on the wire line in a bin. Light the cold smoker, put in on the floor of the bin, and then place the lid on to trap the smoke.
Because it takes about 10 hours to burn all the way round, I usually start the smoking just before bedtime. Then I wake up to smoked salmon – bliss!
A couple of serving suggestions before I go. Firstly, there’s the matter of slicing the salmon. Traditional, wafer-like salmon can be achieved with a salmon slicer. Personally, I cut the salmon away from the skin, and then use an every-day cook’s knife to chop it into thin, more sushi-like slices.
My brother made the point that to feel full-up from eating the supermarket, wafer-thin salmon, you have to eat a guilt-inducingly large amount, which begins to cost a hell of a lot. When I took a side of salmon home, announcing the whole thing cost a tenner, he happily hacked off a huge chunk, and made a huge salmon sandwich that filled him up, agreeing that vertical slicing was far more satisfying than wafer-thin slivers.
Finally, there’s the matter of what to serve the smoked salmon with. I’ve experimented with two different meals so far. Firstly, the classic smoked salmon, scrambled egg and bagel breakfast. And secondly, a sort of Scandinavian themed starter/brunch/lunch, of rye bread, creme fraiche, smoked salmon and a red onion and cucumber pickle (slices of both, marinaded in 1 caster sugar : 3 cider vinegar, & heated until the sugar dissolves).
When my flat mate took some smoked salmon home, he mixed some with pasta, lemon juice, olive oil and dill, which he said was excellent. And I’ve just used the leftovers from Mother’s Day brunch in broad bean, beetroot and smoked salmon tarts….but that might have to wait for my next post….
If you have been smoking salmon, please do leave a comment in the box below – I’d love to know what equipment you used, how long you cured the salmon for, and what you cured it in…