Smoked salmon is a true delicacy. With a smoky aroma and slight saltiness, it is free of the fishy flavor that can be off-putting to many people.
Just a slice of smoked salmon makes even the plainest toast so much more luxurious and decadent.
A popular question is if smoked salmon needs further cooking or if you can eat it as is?
So, is smoked salmon cooked? To make smoked salmon, the fish is first cured. Then it is smoked. Salmon can be exposed to hot or cold smoking. The cold smoking technique uses low temperatures which leaves the fish raw. Hot smoking, on the other hand, ‘cooks’ the salmon. You can eat both varieties without cooking.
In this article, we have covered everything you need to know about smoked salmon. Continue reading to learn how it’s made, why it’s safe to eat smoked salmon raw, how to store smoked salmon, and more!
What Is Smoked Salmon?
Smoked salmon is the name given to salmon that is first cured then smoked. Salmon is an expensive fish whether it is wild or farmed. So, smoked salmon is not the cheapest food either.
And despite its high price, smoked salmon is very popular in different parts of Europe and in the US too. One of the most popular uses of smoked salmon in the US is in Philadelphia rolls.
Smoked salmon has a long history. Smoking salmon has been a way to preserve this fish during the Middle Ages too. As smoking kills most of the bacteria in the raw fish, it was an efficient way to make it last longer.
Previously made only with salt, smoked salmon is now available in many flavors. Honey, mango, lime, barbeque sauce, maple syrup, and black pepper are some flavor options for smoked salmon.
What Are The Benefits Of Eating Smoked Salmon?
We all know fresh salmon is a superfood. So, it is not surprising that smoked salmon is healthy too. Even after the curing and smoking processes, the salmon remains high in nutrients.
Smoked salmon is a good source of protein, B vitamins, vitamin A, a range of minerals, and most importantly, omega-3 fatty acids.
With all these benefits, you should remember that smoked salmon is cured with salt. Thus, it is high in sodium. 100 grams of smoked salmon may contain around 670 mg of sodium. So, try to eat smoked salmon in moderation.
How Do You Use Smoked Salmon?
Smoked salmon is a versatile ingredient. You can incorporate it into your breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
Smoked salmon can be used to make:
- Sandwiches and wraps
- Bruschette and crostini
- Tarts and quiches
- Pasta and rice dishes
Scrambled eggs or eggs benedict, avocado, asparagus, cucumber, butter, baked potatoes, Hollandaise sauce—these foods make delicious combinations with smoked salmon.
If you are not sure how to use smoked salmon in cooking, start with creating food pairings using these ingredients.
How Is Smoked Salmon Made?
Starting with the curing process, there are three curing methods that can be used to make smoked salmon.
- Dry curing. Dry curing salmon means covering salmon fillets in ample amounts of salt. Some people and manufacturers may also add a small amount of sugar for balance as well as herbs for added flavor. Dry curing is a quick way to cure salmon. As you apply salt to the salmon fillets, it draws out all the moisture from the fish. As a result, the salmon needs less time to dry in the smokehouse.
- Brining. Curing salmon through brining implies submerging the fish into a solution of salt and water. As in the case of dry curing, sugar and herbs may be added. The fish should sit in the brine solution for many hours and even days.
- Injecting brine. Injecting brine into salmon to cure it is the least popular curing method. Although it is a quick way to cure the fish, it damages the delicate flesh of salmon.
The second step of preparing smoked salmon after the curing process is smoking it. Cured salmon can be smoked with two methods. It can undergo hot or cold smoking.
Cold smoking means smoking cured salmon fillets at low temperatures (90-99°F). These temperatures don’t cook the salmon but add a smoky aroma, leaving the texture delicate and slightly moist.
Cold smoking salmon takes longer than hot smoking it which has to do with the low temperature too.
During the hot smoking process, the cured salmon is placed in a smoker and exposed to temperatures as high as 120°F.
The high temperature almost “cooks” the salmon, drawing out most of the remaining moisture from the fish and making the flesh flakier.
One of the key aspects of smoking salmon is making sure there is a pellicle formed on the salmon after you have cured it. This is done by pat drying the salmon before smoking it.
The pellicle is what helps the salmon not to dry out completely as a result of smoking it. It also helps the smoke penetrate better into the fish.
Is Smoked Salmon Cooked Or Raw?
Whether smoked salmon is considered cooked or raw depends on the smoking method used for it. As cold smoking doesn’t expose the salmon to a lot of heat, cold-smoked salmon is considered raw.
Hot-smoked salmon, on the other hand, results in cooked salmon as the hot smoking technique uses a high enough temperature to cook the salmon. So, hot-smoked salmon is considered cooked.
Is Hot Or Cold Smoked Salmon Better?
If you are choosing between hot or cold salmon, there are a few things to consider.
Firstly, hot smoking cooks the fish while cold smoking doesn’t. If you have a sensitive stomach, it might be better for you to opt for hot smoked salmon.
Secondly, consider the slight differences in texture. Cold-smoked salmon is more delicate and moist, with its texture close to raw salmon. The hot smoking process makes salmon firmer.
Third, choose between hot or cold-smoked salmon depending on how smoky you like your fish to be. Hot-smoked salmon has a heavier smoky taste and aroma than cold-smoked salmon.
Lastly, consider how you will be using the smoked salmon. Thanks to its texture, hot-smoked salmon is suitable for use in salads and pasta dishes. Hot-smoked fish is also better for dips.
Cold-smoked salmon, on the other hand, is better used for sandwiches, canapes, and other dishes where the delicacy of the salmon is of central importance.
Is Smoked Salmon Safe To Eat?
Eating smoked salmon is safe so long as the salmon has been cured, smoked, and later stored in proper conditions.
With commercially produced smoked salmon, there is very little risk of getting sick.
This may not be the case with smoked salmon made at home as you can’t always monitor the temperature where the salmon is smoked. Additionally, you may fail to smoke the fish long enough.
But even if you have purchased smoked salmon from a brand that prepares it adhering to the best standards, there is a risk of getting sick from smoked salmon if you are not storing it properly.
How To Store Smoked Salmon
Smoked salmon usually comes in vacuum-sealed packaging. Read the label to find out how to store the salmon before opening the package.
Once you have opened the package, you should store smoked salmon either in the fridge or in the freezer. While some people think they can store smoked salmon at room temperature, doing this is not safe.
After opening the package, wrap smoked salmon in plastic wrap or put it in an airtight container. You can keep smoked salmon in the fridge for up to 21 days.
Always take out as many slices of salmon as you will be eating.
Don’t take out the entire container for breakfast or dinner and place it back into the fridge when you have finished eating. Exposing the fish to such temperature fluctuations will cause it to deteriorate quickly.
You can store smoked salmon in the freezer if you want to extend its shelf life. The freezer will make the salmon keep well for up to 3 months.
If you know you won’t finish the salmon within 2-3 weeks, freeze it as soon as possible for the best results.
Store smoked salmon in the freezer in its original packaging or wrap it tightly in plastic wrap to prevent the fish from getting a freezer burn and drying out.
When it’s time to defrost the salmon, transfer it from the freezer into the fridge and let it thaw there. Don’t defrost the fish at room temperature as doing it increases the risk of contamination.
Depending on the size of the salmon piece, it may take up to 24 hours for the fish to defrost.
Do You Have To Cook Smoked Salmon?
You don’t have to cook smoked salmon as the smoking process technically cooks the fish. Eating smoked salmon without cooking is safe so long as you have stored the fish in proper conditions.
Can You Cook Smoked Salmon?
You don’t have to cook smoked salmon, but can you?
Cold-smoked salmon is better enjoyed cold and uncooked as cold smoking leaves the salmon fillet delicate and slightly moist.
So, trying to cook cold-smoked salmon will ruin its texture. It is best to pair cold-smoked salmon with such ingredients as cream cheese, bread, butter, herbs, fresh vegetables, caviar, and so on!
Hot smoked salmon, on the other hand, can be cooked. As it has been treated with heat once, heating hot smoked salmon once again won’t ruin the fish.
In fact, heating hot-smoked salmon even enhances the flavor of the hot-smoked fish.
You can use hot-smoked salmon to make omelets, chowders, and quiches. You can also reheat hot-smoked salmon in a skillet before adding it to your sandwiches.
Note: If you have reheated smoked salmon, it is best to eat it right away.
Allowing the reheated smoked salmon to sit at room temperature for long creates a high risk of bacterial growth in the fish. So, reheat as much smoked salmon as you will be eating.
What Is The Difference Between Lox And Smoked Salmon?
Lox is traditionally made from salmon belly. But this is not the main difference between lox and smoked salmon. The key difference between the two is the method of preparation.
Smoked salmon is first cured then smoked. Lox, on the other hand, is only cured in a brine solution. It doesn’t undergo smoking.
As a result, lox and smoked salmon differ in texture and flavor. As lox sits in brine longer than salmon that is to be smoked, it has a velvety smooth texture.
It also has a buttery flavor and tastes quite like regular salmon but it is saltier because of sitting in the brine longer.
Smoked salmon is salty too. But it has a prominent smoky aroma and a very mild fishy flavor. In terms of texture, cold-smoked salmon is closer to lox. Hot-smoked salmon is not as smooth and has a flakier texture.
Despite the flavor and texture differences, smoked salmon and lox do look very similar and you may not be able to tell the difference especially if it is mildly smoked salmon.
What Is The Difference Between Smoked Salmon And Gravlax?
Gravlax is also cured salmon. Unlike smoked salmon, gravlax is not smoked. So, it is more similar to lox.
What makes gravlax different is the fact that it isn’t cured in a large amount of salt. Additionally, to cure salmon to make gravlax, the fillet is marinated in not only salt but also a combination of dill, lemon, sugar, and alcohol.
Can You Make Smoked Salmon At Home?
While it is certainly safer to buy smoked salmon from a brand that cures and smokes the fish in proper conditions, you can still make smoked salmon at home if you want. To do this, you will need a smoker and some wood.
But not everyone has a smoker in their house. Luckily, you can smoke salmon without a smoker too.
To make smoked salmon without a smoker, it is important to buy liquid smoke. In case you didn’t know, liquid smoke is a natural product that comes from real smoke.
In other words, it is condensed smoke that you can buy in small bottles.
Also, if you don’t have a smoker and will be using the cold-smoking technique, make sure you choose high-quality and fresh salmon. Using fresh salmon decreases the risk of foodborne illnesses raw salmon may cause.
So, how to make smoked salmon at home without a smoker? The process is fairly easy. You should mix salt, sugar, and liquid smoke. Rub this mixture on the fillet trying to distribute it evenly.
Then tightly wrap the salmon in food wrap, place the fillet in an airtight container, and refrigerate the fish for 24 hours.
After 24 hours, trim off a small piece of salmon fillet and give it a try.
If it is salty enough for your liking, remove the plastic wrapping, pat dry the fillet with paper towels, transfer it into an airtight container, and store the fish in the fridge for later use.
If you would prefer the fillet to be saltier, leave it in the plastic wrapping for a few more hours or a day.
You will need a drop of liquid smoke for four ounces of salmon fillet, as well as 1 ½ tablespoon of salt and an equal amount of sugar.
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