Simply the most delicious salmon I can remember eating... you don't need the fancy equipment to enjoy this (or something very similar) either, as I have included alternative methods.
I came home last night with a dozen fresh salmon fillets, and just couldn't decide which way to cook them - I had been really fancying a nice fillet of salmon for days, and I couldn't decide between pan-frying, poaching, barbecuing, grilling, steaming, cooking sous-vide (in a vacuum-sealed bag in a water bath at a specific temperature) then searing...
...and I'd had the barbecue out the previous day to cold-smoke a shoulder of pork (more on that elsewhere!). So in the end, I did a few of the above and it turned out one of the tastiest, moistest salmon steaks I'd ever had (despite needing a very slight rescue with a splash of extra oil, because it stuck slightly to the pan when I seared it! My fault for being lazy and using the small pan!)... lightly smoked, with a tasty seared outside and delicately flavoured flesh which cut like a hot knife through butter. I served it with a warm new potato, green bean, caper and lemon salad with flat leaf parsley, and it was just perfect... you can pick and mix your methods from below, e.g. skip brining and smoking, and just cook your salmon sous vide, for perfectly cooked salmon and sear afterwards.
As I mentioned above, you don't *need* to own a cold-smoking device (you can tea-smoke it in a wok, or just cook on a barbeque with some smoke dust or a tea/rice/sugar blend on foil on top of the coals and the lid down), you don't need a water-bath (but if you want the 50 degrees experience, you can cook in a large stock-pot of water with a thermometer in it, in a re-sealable bag with the air displaced, more below)... I used to do all these kinds of things in the past when I wanted to replicate things but didn't have the equipment; but I will also mention the equipment I use, and how, as it's equipment I use regularly for various different things. Please note, this technique is not for making cold-smoked salmon, to slice and eat raw - it is a quick method for brining and smoking salmon to be cooked - but I *will* be blogging about how to cold-smoke your own salmon shortly (as it's extremely delicious, and I much prefer it to the majority of stuff you buy!).
IMPORTANT: Here's the obligatory health and safety bit. If you're eating salmon that's lightly cooked or raw, then technically you need to either buy 'sashimi grade' salmon (which has been frozen at a certain temperature, for a certain amount of time), or freeze the salmon you have overnight (for a minimum of 10 hours, to kill anything that you don't want there) or longer before using. Else you take your chances like I sometimes do... the larger, flatter salmon steaks in the photos here are from fresh salmon, the longer thinner steaks had been frozen for a few weeks (these are in the close up photo of the flakes), so you can see that you still get a fantastic texture from previously frozen salmon. Just make sure you defrost fully before starting, and bring to room temperature before cooking sous vide.
Ingredients Per Serving (if brining)
120-50g boneless salmon fillet/steak (with or without skin - your preference - but if you want to eat the skin, it needs to be de-scaled)
10g fine sea salt
10g soft brown sugar (light or dark is fine, dark has more of a depth of flavour)
You don't need all of the gadgets, and you don't need to do all of the stages - I've included alternatives in the method (e.g. you can just brine then barbecue your salmon fillets), so don't let the long list scare you off!
Dish or re-sealable bag to brine salmon in
Cold smoke generator, wood dust (not chips - 30-40g should be more than enough) and somewhere to put it in - I use a ProQ one, which costs £34.99 currently on Amazon here, and generates smoke for up to 10 hours with 100g of wood dust (depending on how far around you fill it) and just needs a tea-light to start it. You can put it in a lidded barbecue to use, or a food smoker, or even improvise with an old filing cabinet or similar, modified! I also bought an 'Eco smoker' when I originally bought this, which currently costs £24.95 from Sous Chef here (they also sell the smoke generators). You can buy both together as a starter set with 3 small bags of wood-dust and a book here, for £64.99 if that's your thing!
Wok or large pan with a tightly fitting lid, lined with foil, a rack that fits inside and either 2-3 tbsp wood dust (oak, beech, apple, maple, hickory etc., for smoking food) or 1 tbsp each dried tea leaves, rice and sugar, mixed together.
Vacuum food sealing machine - I use an Andrew James one, almost identical to this one - it's also brilliant for storing food in the freezer for about 4 x as long as usual without it getting freezer burn, extending storage in the fridge, and obviously for cooking food sous-vide (under vacuum).
Re-sealable food bags and a jug, pan or bowl filled with water to force the air out of the bags (water displacement method alternative to vacuum sealing).
Water bath (I use a SousVide Supreme demi, identical to this one which I bought second hand from an auction site a couple of years ago - the way meat, fish, poultry, vegetables come out of it is to die for! Perfectly cooked, moist, tender and meat and poultry just needs a quick sear to brown the outside for flavour. Shop around for the best price if you fancy one). There will be more sous vide recipes going up here as time passes. UPDATE - I've just noticed that there is now a sous vide machine available from Andrew James for only £99.99! The top reviewer points out that you can only set the timer for 24 hours maximum (not a huge problem, if you just turn it on again, if you're cooking something over a couple of days) and also that the temperature is 2 or 3 degrees out on theirs, as measured with a lab thermometer - if you measured it yourself, you could calibrate it accordingly, and have yourself a bargain, by the looks of it. See here for more details.
Large stock pot or pan, and a sugar thermometer to clip onto the side (or any kind of thermometer which can remain in the pan and monitor temperature at 50C / 122F) and a peg for each bag to clip it to the side (I cooked steaks like this for a few years, before I had an electric water bath (as well as in more conventional ways!), to get them to the perfect temperature inside!!).
Thermomix, which you can cook your salmon in the internal basket in a vacuum bag, or re-sealable bag (50C).
A good, heavy-based non-stick frying pan, flat griddle or skillet to sear the salmon on before serving - unless you're going to barbecue or grill it rather than cook sous-vide.
This bit is quite important for flavour and moistness, however you're cooking your salmon, so I highly recommend it. First dissolve the salt and sugar in the water to make a brine (I made this brine 10%, for a quick brine to just very delicately flavour the salmon, increase its moistness, and minimise the white enzymes which can be released when cooking fish - this is particularly noticeable when fish like salmon is over-cooked). Place the salmon fillets in the brine for one hour (if you leave it longer, it will absorb more salt). Remove salmon and pat dry.
|This is more than enough for 2 hours.|
Sealing the salmon in vacuum bags or re-sealable food bags
Seal the (dry) salmon steaks individually in small bags using your vacuum sealer (cut to size and seal
the sides, to make most efficient use of rolls etc., as in the photo below of the individual salmon steak)
|Salmon fillets in re-sealable food bags|
|The raw salmon, sealed after smoking for one hour.|
Cook at 50C / 122F for exactly 15 minutes- even 2 or 3 minutes over will make a noticeable difference to the texture, although it will still be fantastic, just slightly firmer - see below the photo for the instructions on different methods of cooking sous-vide (which, if you've just boiled the kettle is the perfect time to make my warm new potato, green bean, caper and lemon salad!).
|The salmon after cooking sous vide - note almost no moisture loss in the bag.|
Cooking the salmon sous-vide (or in a sealed food bag), in a water bath (or stock pot/pan or Thermomix)
Set your water bath to 50C / 122F, wait for it to come up to temperature and place the salmon in for 15 minutes to cook, then sear as below.
If you're using a Thermomix, fill to about 1/2 inch / 2 cm below the 2 litre mark with cold water, place the internal steaming basket inside, bag up the salmon (see below), and make sure this is enough water to cover them comfortably, then remove the salmon and set aside. I would not suggest trying to cook more than two, possibly three small fillets this way, as the water needs to circulate them adequately to cook them through properly. Put the lid and MC on, and set the timer to 15 minutes / 50C / Speed 2 for the water to come up to temperature (it took about 11 minutes in mine, using a digital thermometer to check) - you could use a mix of cold and boiling water when you fill it, if you'd rather not wait, and use a digital thermometer to get it right. Place your salmon in the basket, and set again to 15 minutes / 50C / Speed 2, and when it beeps, your salmon is ready to sear.
Fill a large stock pot (I find roughly half and half cold water and boiling water gets you quite near, whichever vessel you are filling, unless you particularly want to wait for it to heat up from cold) and put the heat on very, very low once you've hit the right temperature. After this, try and maintain the temperature during cooking by turning off the heat, or turning it back on again - if you have a very large pot, it's not really going to need any maintenance for 15 minutes and it won't matter if you go a couple of degrees over (or under) for this short amount of time.
|Salmon cooked at 50C, then flash-seared, flaked|
Searing the salmon
Just before the time is up, start heating up your heavy-based non-stick pan or griddle etc. and have some neutral oil to hand (e.g. sunflower or similar neutral oil fit for frying - not olive oil - you could also use ghee if you 're serving with the warm salad, as it is buttered).
Remove the salmon from the water bath (or pan) and then carefully remove from the bag and pat dry. Rub each steak with a little oil so that it is completely coated. You won't need to season, because it already has flavour from the brine, and pepper will just burn if you sear it. Season after cooking.
Once your pan / griddle is hot enough for a couple of drops of water to sizzle on it, you're ready to go. Add some oil to the pan as well, to make sure the salmon isn't going to stick (!) then place the salmon into the pan (on whichever side you are serving uppermost - so flesh down if you're not eating the skin, or skin down if you've de-scaled it and are intending to eat it) just for a few seconds (30 seconds should be enough), until browned.
Serve immediately, and enjoy!
If you're interested in also knowing how to cook the 'perfect' chicken breast sous vide, whether in a water bath or in a Thermomix, I have given full instructions here.
And if you're feeling really daring, and want to give cooking the family roast turkey a go sous vide, for a sublime and moist turkey breast joint, why not have a go at my sous vide turkey recipe, especially great for Easter and Christmas, when you want perfectly cooked turkey and NO stress! And perfect for ordinary Sunday dinners, as you can turn an economical, frozen joint into something sublime, with no fuss.
You don't have to use any of the cooking methods above, but I highly recommend the brining process for really moist and juicy delicately flavoured salmon. Ideally, if you're only cooking the salmon to rare, unless it's sashimi grade salmon you should freeze it for at least 10 hours before de-frosting and cooking, to kill any parasites etc.
If you're barbecuing the salmon, especially if it's in a lidded barbecue, you can either put the tea-smoke mix, into foil and sit on top of the white coals, or put the wood dust directly onto the coals (then immediately put the salmon on the rack and shut the lid), or put the wood dust onto foil. Whichever way you choose, as soon as you see smoke, put the oiled salmon onto the rack and shut the lid until it's cooked to your liking.
If you would like to tea smoke it in a wok, you can either cook them at the same time, or get the smoke going, quickly put the salmon in, leave it a minute for a little more smoke to generate, then carefully remove the pan off the heat and leave the salmon sitting in the smoke.
To tea smoke
Line the inside a large wok with a tight fitting lid (or a really large pan will do) with foil - a double thickness if using the tea/rice/sugar mix. (If there are any vent-holes in the lid cover them with foil, likewise, if it's not tight-fitting, you'll need to cover it with foil when you start smoking).
Put your smoking mix on the foil in the wok (as mentioned above in 'equipment'), and (if you want to cook it as well, if not, put it on later, see the next paragraph), put your salmon on a rack above the smoking mix (not touching the mix, as high up as you can). Turn on the extractor fan, and open the windows!
Put the lid on the wok, and make sure it's fitted well. Turn the heat up to high, and wait for the first wisps or aromas of smoke to appear from under the lid (this will take roundabout 5 minutes), then turn the heat down to medium/low (at this point, if you don't want to cook it, add the salmon, replace the lid, and turn the heat off after a minute or two and take the pan off it). Don't be tempted to take the lid off and have a look, or you'll lose your smoke!
Leave the salmon hot-smoking for approximately 15 minutes, then turn off the heat, make sure the extractor fan is on full, and check whether they're cooked to your liking. If they're not, you can just finish them off under the grill (broiler). The salmon may look a little dry, but once you're happy it's cooked through to your liking, take a pastry brush, and brush lightly with oil or butter until it looks juicy and appetising!
If you haven't cooked it in the wok, but just smoked it, then cook using your preferred method (e.g. see above for cooking in a sealed bag in a large pan etc., or cook in a pan or under a grill/broiler to your liking).