Fall is just around the corner, and each cool breeze conjures up images of red leaves, pumpkin patches, apple orchards and of course apple cider. This recipe for Cider Hot Smoked Salmon is perfectly timed for cooler weather and comforting food. We love using hard cider- the fizzy stuff- to brine our salmon, but regular cider or even apple juice will work in a pinch. *If you can't find pink curing salt (also known as Prague powder or Instacure) don't worry. We made a batch without and it turned out divine.
Salty-sweet, without any trace of fishiness, this salmon will seriously impress anybody who has the privilege of trying it. We love serving it as an appetizer at parties or even as the main course for a brunch. Serve it with plenty of crusty bread and cream cheese to bring out the subtle smoky flavors imbibed in the salmon.
Prep Time: 8 hours to brine, plus 1-1 1/2 hours to cure
Cook Time: 1 hour
Serves: 6 to 8 as an appetizer
Recommended Pellets: Apple
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, Salmon Rub or your favorite barbecue rub
*1/4 teaspoon pink curing salt (see note above)
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 or large plastic container, 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. The fish will have taken on a somewhat leathery feel and a beautiful pink color. 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.