Five Fishy Fingers

One of the first Alaskan facts I learned when we began living in Ketchikan was about Salmon. I learned the species of salmon  found in Southeast the same way all the cruise ship tourists learn, the five fishy fingers. Essentially you hold your hand up, like your going to give a high five, and use your digits to remember the five species of salmon: thumb rhymes with Chum, pointer finger can poke your eye for Sockeye, middle finger is the longest for King, your ring finger is where you wear Silver, and your pinky finger is Pink. More officially, Chum salmon (dog salmon), sockeye salmon (red salmon), king salmon (chinooks), siver salmon (coho), and pink salmon (humpys). All salmon also have two names in Alaska.

The next thing I learned was how to preserve it. Smoking salmon is an art. There are endless varieties of brining recipes, dry or wet versions, smoking times and best practices. I have tried many, and failed a few times. My favorite version to date is the most simple. A two ingredient wet brine with medium smoking time. This recipe is adapted from a recipe given to me by a local commercial fisherman who was born and raised in Ketchikan and spends more time with fish than people.

For the brine:

Equal parts sea salt and brown sugar (I used a cup of each for a small batch- roughly 2-3 salmon). Enough water to cover salmon (varies with container size).


Brine salmon overnight, then remove from brine, pat dry, and lay flat to dry, preferably with a fan blowing over salmon. The salmon needs to dry out and develop a tacky outer film called the pellicle before smoking. This step is key because the pellicle allows smoke to better adhere to the meat. Drying time varies on size of salmon pieces or fillets, but usually a minimum of 4 hours.

Now you’re ready to smoke. I used red wine barrel wood chips for my last batch and thought it turned out amazingly well. I have used various wood in other recipes and found some varieties can leave a bitter note, so try some different varieties and see what works for you.

I have a Big Chief smoker. I load it up, equally spacing the salmon pieces and smoke it until desired doneness is achieved. I prefer a more jerkey-like texture to my smoked salmon, but not too dry. For smaller pieces, this takes between 6-8 hours of smoking time. (If canning is your end game, less smoking time is required because the canning process cooks the salmon and the smoking time is just for added flavor).

Once desired doneness is achieved allow salmon to completely cool, then store. Smoked salmon will last a few months in the fridge and roughly a year in the freezer.





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s