How to smoke salmon

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According to kokanee salmon fishing experts I’ve talked to, there’s still a few more weeks of excellent jigging action this spring.

Kokanee limits have been common on several area lakes, including Little Bitterroot Lake, Ashley Lake, and Lake Mary Ronan.

So, the question is, “What are you doing with all those salmon you are catching?”

No doubt the easiest way to enjoy these tasty fish is to cook them on a barbecue. No marinade. No special sauces. Just head ‘em and gut ‘em and place them on the grill.

The high oil content of kokes allows them to cook easily, taste great, and contribute to a healthy ingestion of omega-3 fish oils.

And, when cooked properly, the backbone and ribs can be easily stripped from the fish, leaving a piece of boneless meat, which is awesome for feeding to children.

Another popular option is to cook the salmon by slow smoking. There are no doubt as many brine recipes as Flathead Valley anglers who own smokers.

In l981, the inaugural year of Fishfull Thinking, Ralph Johnson shared the “secrets” that made his smoked salmon so delicious.

After you cut off the head and remove the entrails with a lengthwise belly slit, giving special attention to removing the bloodline, you should thoroughly rinse the fish before brining.

Ralph used a 5-gallon bucket to mix 2 cups of table salt in a gallon of fresh water, then added a quarter cup of brown sugar.

Next step is soaking the fish, totally submerged, in the brine from 16 to 20 hours. The longer the soaking, the saltier the finished product.

Some people use custom homemade smokers fashioned from old refrigerators, while many of us use small, inexpensive smoker and grill combinations.

Hanging each fish by the tail allows the most thorough smoking, but even just laying the fish on a grate will work, as long as the fish aren’t touching each other.

Depending on heat levels and the amount of smoke produced by our personal favorite woods, kokanee salmon should be done in about 8 hours.

Smoked kokanee readily dries out and turns rubbery, even when refrigerated. Stripping the meat from the bones after smoking, then pressure canning it, will preserve the fish for years.

Jerry Smalley’s Fishful Thinking column appears weekly in the Hungry Horse News.

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