Smoking was originally introduced as a method to preserve fish against spoilage, as the smoking process cooks and dehydrates the meat, killing and impeding the growth of bacteria. It has a place in history throughout Europe and America, linked to various spiritual rituals and traditions worldwide. The first smoking factory was actually reported to be in Poland during the 7th century A.D., with the rising of the smoked salmon industry in North America in the 19th century along the West Coast from Alaska, down the Pacific to Oregon.
Most smoked salmon is cold smoked, which does not actually “cook” the fish, resulting in a delicate texture – the “lox” style of smoked salmon. This is a longer process, where the salmon is cured in a brine solution for several days, preserving the fish and preventing the growth of microorganisms. The cured salmon is then smoked over a wood fire at cool temperatures, maintaining the rich colour while providing a silky and appealing texture.
Hot smoking, commonly used for salmon and trout, actually cooks the salmon, making it less moist and firmer, with a less delicate but smokier flavour. The salmon is again cured in a brine solution for up to three days, but is smoked at a much higher temperature. It can be eaten cold but is often used in salads, pasta dishes, or chowders.
From a nutritional perspective, salmon is a fish with high fat content, making smoked salmon an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids. While also very high in sodium, it has found a place as a favourite amongst chefs for undeniable flavour and texture.
So all the history and nutritional analysis aside, how did we go from preservation to candy?
If you have not yet tasted Candied Smoked Salmon, often referred to simply as Salmon Candy, it is a treat like none other. Unlike flavoured jerkies, which tend to be dry and chewy, candied salmon is moist, tender, sweet, salty and delicious.
Candied Salmon originated on the West Coast of North America. Thin strips, chunks or nuggets of salmon are soaked in a salt-sugar brine, and then hot smoked to fully cook the fish. During smoking, the fish is basted with sweeteners such as honey, maple syrup, or brown sugar syrup. Some producers separate the smoking and sweeting steps, so the salmon is partially smoked and then marinated in the sweetener for several hours before completing the smoking process.
While candied salmon is becoming more common in grocery stores across the country, fresh candied salmon found on the West Coast is worth the hunt. Experimenting with various spices and sweeteners has introduced flavours such as Sweet Chili, Maple & Black Pepper, Tandoori, Teriyaki, Barbeque, and Honey Garlic. It makes a great snack for a road trip, hike, or long day at the office. There are several great recipes for the DIY’s out there (I am partial to this one by Steven Raichlen), and several places to buy it locally. Or make it even easier by ordering some of Salish Sea Food’s Salmon Candy now.
Be warned, it is highly addictive!