Smoked Salmon Brine
What is a smoked salmon brine? How can you make one at home?
Brining is a process which requires a meat or vegetable to be soaked in a water-based solution known as brine. Basic brine ingredients include cold water, salt and sugar. The soaking time can range from minutes to days.
Food scientists debate the exact chemical process that occurs, but we do know that brining helps meat retain moisture during cooking. The basic processes that occur can be recalled from high school chemistry and biology.
Diffusion causes the salmon to absorb salt from the surrounding brine. Osmosis is responsible for water being absorbed into the salmon from the brine. Capillary action keeps the added water in the salmon during cooking.
Additionally, the salinity helps preserve the meat, fish or vegetable. Brining is actually a very simple process that requires just a few steps and some time. Continue reading to learn more about the ingredients and process to make a smoked salmon brine.
We already talked about smoking a salmon in the blog with this delicious Honey Smoked Salmon, but today our main focus is the brine.
Supplies & Ingredients for This Brine Recipe
Below is a list of the supplies and ingredients you will need to make smoked salmon brine. You’ll notice that all of the ingredients are common pantry staples, so you can make this delicious recipe anytime without the need to plan a trip to the store or shop for specialty items. Feel free to test out your own ingredients and recipe tweaks then let us know how it goes. We’d love to hear about your discoveries.
Brine base for approximately four pounds of salmon:
- 1 gallon cold water
- 1 1/2 cups table or pickling salt* - Salt helps preserve the salmon while also improving the texture. It also supports the expression of other flavors such as spices. Kosher salt is less dense than table salt, so increase the amount slightly if substituting into the recipe.
- 1 1/2 cups brown sugar (light or dark) - Sugar helps extend the shelf life of the salmon and increases water retention and therefore moisture of the final product. It also helps balance the salt in the brining liquid.
- This can be scaled up or down according to the amount of fish you have.
*Pickling salt is the same as table salt, without iodine or anti-caking components. It may be a finer grain as well, to speed up the dissolving process in water.
- Herbs: rosemary, thyme
- Spices: coriander, allspice
- Citrus: lemon, orange; grated or dried peel, juice
- Shallots or onion
- Wine or beer
- Soy Sauce
- Container: large enough for both the fish and liquid combined.
- Instant read thermometer (optional)
1. Choose a filet size
Determine what size pieces of salmon you will be brining. Do you have one large filet to present or several individual filets? This will determine what size and shape of container you need as well as how long to leave the fish in the brine. The salmon should be brined for one hour per pound.
However, it is important to note that the weight formula depends on the average size of each piece of fish. If you have one, three-pound filet, leave the fish submerged for 3 hours. If you have three, one-pound filets, leave the pieces submerged for one hour.
2. Choose a container
Once you have determined the weight and cuts of your fish, you can calculate the amount of brining liquid you will need based on the recipe above. Choose a container that will allow your fish to rest comfortable while also being fully submerged and not overflowing. For larger, longer filets, something like a lasagna dish can be a good choice.
For multiple smaller pieces, something as simple as a stock pot can be used. Consider whether or not the container will fit easily into your refrigerator if you are brining for multiple hours and need to keep the solution cold.
3. Make the brine
Next, add the ingredients from the above recipe to the container. In order to extract more flavor from dry seasonings, steep them like tea. To do this, boil 1/4 of the water from the base recipe (1 gallon), so 1 quart/4 cups. Add herbs and spices, cover and leave to rest for 10 minutes.
Then add to the original brine base. The brine should be 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower before the fish is added. Using chilled or ice water and keeping the fish refrigerated until adding it will help keep the brining mixture cold enough to ensure food safety precautions.
If you wish to add soy sauce for flavor, you may want to slightly reduce the amount of salt in the brining solution. If you wish to add beer or wine, replace no more than one quarter of the total liquid.
4. Add the salmon
Add your salmon and make sure that it is fully submerged. If it begins to float, add a light weight such as a plate to keep it submerged.
Leave the salmon in the brine for the appropriate amount of time as described above. Be sure to refrigerate your container if the brining time requires multiple hours. Avoid the temptation to brine the salmon for longer than recommended. This will not increase the absorption of flavor or further improve the texture of the fish. However, it may result in salmon that is overly salted.
6. Prepare for cooking
Discard all brining liquid and pat your salmon dry. This will not cause a reverse effect of the brining process, but will allow you to achieve a better sear if you are seeking a crispy outer layer. Brining is meant to add flavor and moisture throughout the salmon. However, seasoning or marinating the fish may still be desirable before cooking.
Did you enjoy this article about how to make a smoked salmon brine? We sure hope so! Brining meats and fishes can bring a new depth of flavor and texture with just a bit of effort. In the time it took you to read this article, you could have made your first brine.
Similar recipes and techniques can also be used to brine poultry, seafood, vegetables, tofu, cheese and more. Once you try it, please feel free to leave questions and comments and share the article. And as a bonus, here’s another great recipe that is very easy to cook: Easy Blackened Salmon Recipes for some quick lunch or dinners!
Frequently Asked Questions
How Long Do You Leave Salmon In The Brine?
As a general rule of thumb, 1-inch thick fish should be brined 8 to 12 hours, or as long as overnight. Fillets that are 1/2 inch thick only need about 4 hours on the brine. Small whole fish, or very thin pieces of fish, only need about 2 to 4 hours on brine.
Why Should You Brine Salmon?
Brining fish helps it retain moisture during cooking. It also adds flavor to the fish. The salt in the brine also helps preserve the meat and makes the fish more firm. This helps the fish stay together instead of falling apart on the grill. A lesser known benefit of brining is to prevent the unsightly presence of the white patches known as albumin.
How Do You Make a Brine?
Making a brine is very easy. To dissolve the salt and sugar, you can heat your water until it is just-boiling. Boiling only one quarter of your water will allow you to easily bring down the temperature so you don’t have to wait as long. Then, you add your spices, vinegars, citrus, and other ingredients and stir to combine.
How Much Salt do you Need for a Brine?
The basic brine ratio is 4 tablespoons of salt for each quart (or 4 cups) of water. You only need as much water as will cover the fish, so you can increase or decrease this recipe as needed.
Do You Need to Put Sugar in a Brine?
A basic brine is just water and salt. No sugar or additional ingredients are required, although sugar does add flavor to the fish. If you are trying to avoid sugar, you can substitute honey or agave nectar in any recipe that calls for sugar.