Cider Hot-Smoked Salmon
For years, we’ve been soaking salmon fillets in cheap vodka to remove any hint of fishiness. One night, we had the inspiration to substitute a bottle of hard cider—the fizzy stuff—for the vodka, and voila! A new recipe was born. If you have pink curing salt—also known as Prague powder or InstaCure—use it. If not, don’t worry. Your salmon will still be wonderful.
- One center-cut salmon fillet, skin-on, 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 pounds, preferably wild-caught
- One 12-ounce bottle of hard cider (we used Woodchuck Draft Cider), or 1-1/2 cups apple juice or cider
- 3 to 4 juniper berries, lightly crushed, or 2 tablespoons of gin
- 1 piece of star anise, broken
- 1 bay leaf, coarsely crumbled
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- 1/4 cup light or dark brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons Traeger Saskatchewan Rub, or your favorite barbecue rub
- 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
- Optional accompaniments: Butter, cream cheese, diced red onion, drained brined capers, finely chopped hard-cooked egg, lemon wedges, chopped fresh dill, cocktail rye or pumpernickel bread or crackers
- 1/4 teaspoon pink salt (optional; see Note above)
Rinse the salmon fillet under cold running water and check for pin bones by running a finger over the fleshy part of the fillet. If you feel a bone, remove it with kitchen tweezers or a needle-nose pliers. In a sturdy resealable plastic bag, combine the cider, juniper berries, star anise, bay leaf, and pink salt, if using. Add the salmon fillet and put the bag in a bowl or pan in the refrigerator. Let sit for at least 8 hours, or overnight. Remove the salmon from the bag and discard the cider mixture. Dry the salmon well on paper towels. Make the cure: In a small mixing bowl, combine the kosher salt, brown sugar, and Traeger rub. Pour half into a shallow plate, like a pie plate, or baking dish. Put the salmon fillet, skin-side down, on top of the cure. Generously sprinkle the top with the remaining cure, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 1 to 1-1/2 hours. Any longer, and the fish will get too salty. Remove the salmon from the cure and rinse thoroughly under cold running water. Dry on paper towels. Sprinkle the black pepper on top of the fillet. When ready to cook, start the Traeger grill on Smoke with the lid open until the fire is established (4 to 5 minutes). Set the temperature to 200 degrees F and preheat, lid closed, for 10 to 15 minutes. Leave on the Smoke setting if you own a manual controller. Lay the salmon skin-side down on the grill grate. Cook for 1 hour, or until the internal temperature in the thickest part of the fish reaches 150 degrees or the fish flakes easily when pressed with a finger or fork. Let cool slightly. Turn the fillet over and remove the skin; it should come off in one piece. If not serving immediately, let the salmon cool completely, then wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Transfer to a platter and serve with some or all of the suggested accompaniments.