Comparison of Salmon curing methods

Discussion in 'Fish' started by wade, Nov 4, 2014.

  1. wade

    wade Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    There has been a lot of discussion on here recently about curing methods for salmon. Different methods have been tried by different people and there have been different views as to the saltiness of each. As everyones assessment of the level of salt will be subjective and different people have different salt tolerances, next weekend I plan on getting 50 x 140g (5oz) skinless salmon fillets to perform a direct comparison between the different curing methods.

    To make this a true comparison of the individual curing methods I intend to take each up to the same point before cooking them in an identical way and doing a side by side blind taste comparison.

    A number of you have shared your curing and smoking methods with us over the last few weeks/months and so if any of you would like me to specifically include your method(s) of curing in the trial please can you reply with the definitive method that you use. Whether it is a wet or dry brine, the amount of type of salt and sugar used, the amount of brine in contact with the fish and for how long etc.

    If I do not get sufficient responses I will trawl back through recent posts and then let people know whose cure method I am using. If I get too many responses I will unfortunately have to be selective and similar methods of curing may have to be combined. I would be looking for a maximum of 5 different cures as this will give me a good sample of 10 salmon fillets per cure.

    As different peoples tastes vary I will refrain from rating the different methods as "good" or "bad" but will simply rank them in order of detectable saltiness along with appropriate comments.

    [​IMG]  
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2014
  2. wade

    wade Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    To help make the reviewing of this challenge as fair and objective as possible, 4 professional chefs have agreed to be part of the blind judging panel.
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2014
  3. atomicsmoke

    atomicsmoke Master of the Pit OTBS Member

    Will this be for hot (cooked) smoked salmon or smoked lox?
     
  4. wade

    wade Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Hi Atomicsmoke

    Everyone finishes their salmon in different ways so this is really a simple direct comparison to test the levels of residual salt after the cure. To do this all fillets will subsequently be cold smoked for an identical period of time (~8 hours) and then cooked at 180 C (350 F) for 12 minutes. I am trying to avoid the effects of any rubs/marinades/caramelising from deflecting the judges from assessing the salt content. With this information I am hoping that others will be able to then select the curing method that best suits their preferred method of finishing.

    I was not planning on simply cold smoking however the basics of the initial cure are the same. With cold smoked salmon though you can tolerate significantly higher salt levels in the end product as it is usually served in much thinner slices. As part of the comparison I will also test the fillets for overall moisture loss during the cure to see how effective they would be as a start for producing a cold smoked salmon (lox).

    Wade
     
  5. Wade

    It sounds like a interesting  experiment. Since I don't do much fish all I can do is watch.

    Happy smoken.

    David
     
  6. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Wade, evening.... 4 chefs and you tasting...... take 5 filets @ 5 oz. ea.. = 28.35 gms/oz. x 5 oz. x 5 filets = 708 gms.... 500 mls water = 500 gms..... add 25 gms salt and 25 gms sugar and 0.24 gms nitrite... or 3.86 gms cure #1 (200 Ppm)... Here, salmon is recommended at 200 Ppm nitrite...
    Cover the fish in the brine/cure for 24 hours at 38-40 deg. F or 4 deg. C... I do have a "no salt spice mix", I get at Costco, that I save for my smoked fish... If you are just testing for "base" flavor, that's my 2% salt/sugar for all my fish... I use white cane sugar... and pickling salt (kosher)... If your tap water is hard or funky..... use distilled water.... You could Sous Vide the portions ??????

    I just got my Sous Vide immersion circulator and haven't tried salmon yet... I hear it the best way to cook salmon... add a little butter to the bag... maybe a dash of dill... and a slice of onion and garlic... maybe a drop or 2 of white wine... I hope Bride is making dinner, I'm getting hungry....

    Dave
     
  7. wade

    wade Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Thanks Dave - That is a great start, thanks.

    I am looking for a tasting panel of 6 or 7 to even out as much subjectivity as possible -  two will be myself and my wife, the 4 chefs have agreed and I will press gang one or two other friends. 5 fillets will be fine though as I am not expecting each taster to eat an entire fillet each.

    I have everything I need for your brine recipe except for the distilled water. Ours is quite a hard water at home here so I will go get some distilled. I don't use Cure #1 here but I do have food grade sodium nitrite so I think we are good to go on this one [​IMG]  
     
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2014
  8. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    I suggested the distilled water because the mild flavor of fish can be adulterated by the slightest thing, IF, you are a salmon lover.... Don't put lemon or any other condiment on the table with the fish..... Folks that add lemon to salmon are not fish lovers in my book.... Kind of like drinking Jack and coke...

    WOW !!!!! did I stray off of the path here.... :biggrin:
     
  9. brayhaven

    brayhaven Fire Starter

    Wade. This is very interesting to me as I have had trouble getting my salmon too salty. It should give us some perspective if you try very different techniques and recipes. Brine times, fresh vs frozen etc. We can adapt to the fish we use whether frozen fresh, thick or thin. My first try of a recipe others used, my cat wouldn't eat. And she eats anything :) thanks for doing this. I'll look forward to your report. Greg
     
  10. wade

    wade Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    That is a good idea Brayhaven. I think I may need to halve the number of fillets per sample and test each one both fresh and frozen. The fillets I am getting on Friday are all fresh so If I freeze some for each test for 48 hours at -20 C (-4 F) this may delay the results for a while but I think it will be worthwhile. It will be interesting how the freezing affects the overall moisture loss.
     
    Last edited: Nov 5, 2014
  11. brayhaven

    brayhaven Fire Starter

    Good idea. The freezing process also changes the texture which seems to make the flesh absorb brine/salt more thoroughly and quickly. It might shorten cure time or favor a lower salt brine.
     
  12. wade

    wade Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    <<I have edited this post to shorten it as the information I have deleted has been duplicated in subsequent posts in this thread>>

    Great - we are under way. I will not have everything finish curing/smoking until tomorrow and the tasting/comparing will be early next week.

    After various feedback and sifting through the recipes on here I narrowed the scope of this comparison down to 9 curing variations. As this is a comparison of the cures, for each method (except 1) I am curing 6 fillets of about the same size/shape and I am then going to smoke and cook them in identical ways.

    The curing methods under way are:

    1 - Dave Omak's recipe - thanks Dave

    2 - The Wet Brine recipe from the link posted by fpmich. . "Smoking Salmon 101" with Herb Good

    3 - The Dry Brine recipe from the link posted by fpmich. . "Smoking Salmon 101" with Herb Good

    4 - Dry Brine, Sugar:Salt 2:1, cured for 2 hours, fresh salmon

    5 - Dry Brine, Sugar:Salt 2:1, cured for 2 hours, frozen salmon

    6 - Dry Brine, Sugar:Salt 4:1, cured for 2 hours, fresh salmon

    7 - Dry Brine, Sugar:Salt 4:1, cured for 2 hours, frozen salmon

    8 - Dry Brine, Sugar:Salt 2:1, cured for 4 hours, fresh salmon

    9 - Dry Brine, Sugar:Salt 4:1, cured for 4 hours, fresh salmon

    All cures are under way. The first thing that I noticed is the loss in weight of the fish simply by freezing for 24 hours was consistent. For the 3 cure that are using frozen fish there was a consistent weight loss in each of between 1.95% - 2.54%

    Photos to follow soon.

    Post updated to show that the Sugar:Salt mixes were made in batches and then sufficient used in each case to cover the salmon.
     
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2014
  13. brayhaven

    brayhaven Fire Starter

    Looking forward to your results Wade.  A lot of the recipes I see use @ a 4:1 sugar:salt ratio.  Like 6 & 7.  Some of those with a Kg of salt seems like a lot, but I guess it is only what's in contact with the filets..

    Greg
     
  14. wade

    wade Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Thanks for pointing that our Greg - I think I need to update the list. Those quantities were not for each batch but for the stock batch of sugar:salt mix that was then split between the salmon batches.
     
    Last edited: Nov 8, 2014
  15. wade

    wade Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    It is the end of the day and here is the story so far...

    1 - Dave Omak's recipe - thanks Dave
    • FRESH Salmon fillets - 700g
    • Fine Salt - 25g
    • While cane sugar - 25g
    • Sodium Nitrite - 0.24g
    • Water - 500g
    • Cure time - 24 hours

    When the fillets were initially removed from the brine they were very limp, were quite boated and were very pale. However after drying for several hours they firmed up considerably and began to develop a deeper orange colour (maybe due to the presence of nitrite?).

    2 - The Wet Brine recipe from the link posted by fpmich. . "Smoking Salmon 101" with Herb Good
    • 6 FRESH Salmon fillets
    • Light brown sugar - 1.5 cups
    • Rock Salt - 1 cup
    • Water - 2 US Quarts (64 fl ozs)
    • Cure time - 14 hours

    When the fillets were removed from the brine they were slightly firmer than before the cure and were quite pale in colour.

    3 - The Dry Brine recipe from the link posted by fpmich. . "Smoking Salmon 101" with Herb Good
    • 6 FROZEN Salmon fillets
    • Light brown sugar - 4 heaped cups
    • Fine Salt - 7/8 of a cup
    • Cure time - 14 hours

    Over the course of the 14 hours the sugar:salt dry brine became a thick molasses-like liquid. When the fillets were removed and rinsed they were very stiff and were deep orange (almost brown) in colour.


    4 - Dry Brine 2:1 for 2 hours Fresh
    • 6 FRESH Salmon fillets
    • Sugar:Salt 2:1 - Taken from stock batch of 2 Kg white cane sugar and 1 Kg sea salt
    • Cure time - 2 hours

    5 - Dry Brine 2:1 for 2 hours Frozen
    • 6 FROZEN Salmon fillets
    • Sugar:Salt 2:1 - Taken from stock batch of 2 Kg white cane sugar and 1 Kg sea salt
    • Cure time - 2 hours


    When the fillets were removed from the brine they were both quite firm and has a deep orange colour.


    6 - Dry Brine 4:1 for 2 hours Fresh
    • 6 FRESH Salmon fillets
    • Sugar:Salt 4:1 - Taken from stock batch of 2 Kg white cane sugar and 0.5 Kg sea salt
    • Cure time - 2 hours

    7 - Dry Brine 4:1 for 2 hours Frozen
    • 6 FROZEN Salmon fillets
    • Sugar:Salt 4:1 - Taken from stock batch of 2 Kg white cane sugar and 0.5 Kg sea salt
    • Cure time - 2 hours


    When the fillets were removed from the brine they were both quite firm and has a deep orange colour.


    8 - Dry Brine 2:1 for 4 hours Fresh
    • 6 FRESH Salmon fillets
    • Sugar:Salt 2:1 - Taken from stock batch of 2 Kg white cane sugar and 1 Kg sea salt
    • Cure time - 4 hours
    9 - Dry Brine 4:1 for 4 hours Fresh
    • 6 FRESH Salmon fillets
    • Sugar:Salt 4:1 - Taken from stock batch of 2 Kg white cane sugar and 0.5 Kg sea salt
    • Cure time - 4 hours

    When the fillets were removed from the brine they were both very firm and has a deeper orange colour than the 2 hour cured salmon.


    Effect of each cure on weight
    BatchCure typeInitial
    weight g
    After
    frozen g
    After
    cure g
     Cure %
    loss
                 
    1Dave Omak700  751  -7.29
    2101 Wet brine881  891  -1.14
    3101 Dry brine861843727  15.56
    42:1 2 hours838  786  6.21
    52:1 2 hours870853802  7.82
    64:1 2 hours843  790  6.29
    74:1 2 hours905882828  8.51
    82:1 4 hours924  828  10.39
    94:1 4 hours896  802  10.49

    All of the dry cures resulted in weight loss.
    • The 2 hour dry brines lost between 6.2%-8.5%. There was little difference between the suger:salt ratios at 2:1 or 4:1
    • The 4 hour dry brines lost ~ 10.4%  There was little difference between the suger:salt ratios at 2:1 or 4:1
    • The 14 hour 101 dry brine resulted in a weight loss of over 15.5%. This has almost reached the 18% needed for traditional cold smoked salmon
    • Dave's wet brine after 24 hours resulted in a weight increase of just over 7% whereas the 14 hour 101 Wet Brine showed a very small increase of just over 1%
    • Previously freezing and thawing the fish resulted in a slight increase in weight loss over fresh fish (~1%).
    They are all air drying in the fridge tonight and will be smoked during the day tomorrow.
     
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2014
    crazymoon likes this.
  16. wade

    wade Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    After air drying in the fridge overnight


    It is now in the smoker - sorry about the tilt in the photo but I did not have much room for a straighter shot...

     
  17. daveomak

    daveomak Smoking Guru OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    When you get stuff finalized, if "colour" (for our UK/Canada friends) of the final product is a detractor, there is always "beet root" to tweak things.... Over here in Washington, all the Atlantic salmon is colored with it...
     
  18. h2so4ca

    h2so4ca Meat Mopper

    I'm looking forward to what you find out.

    Your #3 is very close to what I do. I have been smoking salmon for a long time ( About 35 years now ) my dad started me out

    when I was in my early teens. And it's how he had been doing it for years before I was even around. 

    I also find that smoking temp is very critical to the texture and flavor of the final product. 

    I keep my salmon smoker temp at 140 -160 deg over alder wood , I bring it to a IT of 145 deg. 


    I dry brine for 15 to 24 hours.  
     
  19. wade

    wade Master of the Pit OTBS Member SMF Premier Member

    Hi Dave - I am just noting differences and not trying to offer any judgemental opinion. Don't forget all I am comparing is the cure stage and this does not necessarily reflect on the finished product. I have seen the end colour of your finished salmon and it is magnificent - which shows how much of a effect the smoking and cooking stages also have on the end result. Yes a lot of products use artificial colour which is a shame. Most of the smoked haddock people buy over here is dyed with a Quinoline Yellow dye and sometimes it can be difficult to buy the undyed fish.

    Update - They have now come out of the smoker after 14 hours and will dry in the fridge overnight.
     
    Last edited: Nov 9, 2014
  20. h2so4ca

    h2so4ca Meat Mopper

    So how did they all turn out? 
     
    fpmich likes this.

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