Sugar-Free Smoked Salmon

For good reason, smoked salmon is a staple around our house. It’s great to snack on, cook with, and we even eat it as a main dish. Basically, we love it! But we aren’t necessarily in love with all of the sugar that most recipes rely on.

A few years ago I set out to see if smoked salmon could be done without sugar of any kind. No honey, maple syrup, sugar, nothing. It seems simple enough, but the thought of smoked salmon without any sweetness doesn’t even sound right, so I started out very pessimistically to say the least. I was pleasantly surprised enough with the first batch, and I knew we were only a few minor adjustments away from something we could all enjoy. The recipe turned out to be very simple, with only a few ingredients, but it’s turned into something that the family can enjoy regularly.

Heaping plate of smoked salmon.

Before I get too far down the road, the desired saltiness is something that you might need to adjust. As I mentioned, the goal in developing this recipe was to create a smoked fish that could be used in any situation, and so it’s salted like you would salt a piece of non-smoked fish at the table. The result when using a brine, however, allows for a more consistent saturation of the seasoning throughout the meat which lends itself to a richer taste bud experience. Make notes on your recipe sheet and keep track of your ratios to fine-tune the results as you and your family would like.

Garlic, onion and salt.

This recipe is based on 5 pounds of Salmon or Steelhead. Start with an appropriate sized dish and add 2 quarts of cold filtered water (no I don’t like chlorine with my fish ;-). Add ½ tablespoon of onion powder and ½ tablespoon of garlic powder. Finally, add ⅓ cup of sea salt or earth salt and agitate well. Add the fish, agitate some more, and place in the fridge. If space is a problem, I’ve often just cleared out a produce drawer and brined the fish in it. It’s a great way to save space! Brine the fish for 8 – 12 hours. Remove and rinse the portions well.

Salmon in brine.

Rinsing the salmon after soaking in brine.

Trying to explain everyone’s smoker, and thus the duration required for your fish would be a little difficult, but I’ll share with you what works for us. We typically smoke with a pellet fired grill and are able to smoke most of our fish within 4-6 hours. Summer, winter, humidity, etc. all affect smoking times. Keep an eye on it, and whatever you do, don’t over-cook your fish! An internal temperature of 140℉ is all the further you need to take it. For increased humidity in the smoker, you might add a bowl of water. The convection of a pellet fired grill can really dry things out. I prefer to have some moisture left in the fish when it’s all said and done.

Salmon in the smoker

Of course when you remove your fish, you’ll want to enjoy at least a little taste, but to finish it off, several hours in the fridge is a must. This recipe is certainly simple enough to add a variety of ingredients. Have fun with it and let me know what you’ve added to the recipe to make it even tastier.