Makes 6 servings
- One 2 to 2 1/2 lb salmon fillet, skin on
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
- Place the salmon on a baking sheet with the skin side down. Using the backside of a knife, lightly scrape the flesh to remove any scales. Remove any pin bones that run down the center of the fillet: Rub your finger against the grain, from head to tail, to feel for these tiny pin bones. They run about two-thirds of the way down the fish. When you feel them, pull them out using tweezers or fish pliers.
- To make the cure: Combine the salt, sugar, garlic powder, onion powder, pepper, and lemon zest. Sprinkle the cure liberally over the salmon. Use all of the cure mixture, covering thicker portions of the fish with more of the cure. Refrigerate for 2 hours.
- Rinse the salmon under cool running water and place on a wire rack. Carefully pat the fish dry with paper towels. You will notice that the salmon is now a bright red color and is much firmer. Refrigerate for 12 hours, uncovered, to allow the fish to dry thoroughly. When the salmon is removed from the refrigerator, it should feel dry and tacky to the touch. The salmon must be dry; if it isn’t, the smoke will not stick.
- Meanwhile, prepare your smoker or gas or charcoal grill. The chamber temperature should be between 180° and 200°F with a steady stream of light smoke exiting from the vents. Place a pan of ice in the smoker if needed to keep the temperature low and to give the salmon more exposure to the smoke; you can also freeze water in the smoker’s water pan while the salmon is drying.
- Place the salmon onto the chamber rack in the smoking unit. Cook the salmon until the exterior of the flesh is a golden color, the center is still pink but not raw and fleshy, and the thickest part of the flesh has reached an internal temperature of 145°F, about 2 hours or less. You can use a thermometer or make a small cut with a paring knife and take a peek inside the flesh to check for doneness. You do not want to see white pools of juice that have escaped from the fish and coagulated on top; that is a sign that the fish is overcooked.
- Remove the salmon from the smoker and allow it to cool slightly. When it has cooled, the surface of the fish should be covered with a dry, reflective glaze; this is called a pellicle and is desirable in smoked fish. Peel off the skin and cut the salmon into equal portions.