How to Make Brine For Smoked Salmon

This basic brine for smoked salmon is simple. Water, salt, and white or brown sugar. The salt and sugar in the salmon brine do more than flavor the fish.

They work together, improving the texture of the fish and helping it hold moisture. Other ingredients can be added to the brine to create a more interesting, complex flavor.

Salmon Fillets in Simple Brine, With Bay LeafBrining Salmon Fillets

The Role Salt Plays In The Salmon Brining Process

The salt serves four purposes.

  • Breaks down protein
  • Helps to preserve
  • Removes water
  • Improves flavor

Salt denatures proteins, modifying their shape. This change improves the water retention properties of the fish.

The preservative quality of salt retards spoilage. Salmon stays fresh longer when it's brined before smoking. The salt in this salmon brine removes some of the moisture, helping the salmon to smoke properly.

Salt also improves and intensifies food flavors...even in tiny amounts. That's why cookie recipes call for a quarter teaspoon of salt. It's not enough to taste, but it is enough to enhance the other flavors.

What Brining Benefit Does Sugar Provide?

The sweetness sugar adds is an important part of the smoked salmon taste. But that's not all that sugar provides. It helps in a couple of other ways.

  • Extends freshness
  • Retains water

Sugar improves the storage quality of foods. A high concentration of sugar inhibits the growth of bacteria.

Sugar is also hydrophilic, meaning that it tends to attract and hold water. This helps add to the moistness of the finished salmon.

As the salt pulls water out, it's replaced by the brine solution. The sugar that's absorbed into the salmon holds onto the moisture.

Take a look at these tips for more information about brining salmon.

Salmon Fillets In a Brine Recipe Containing Salt, Sugar, Garlic, Peppercorns and Bay LeavesAtlantic Salmon Brining With Bay Leaves and Black Peppercorns

Recipe For a Basic Brine for Smoked Salmon

Use a pure salt product in your salmon brine to prevent off-flavors. Canning salt, pickling salt, and Kosher salt are all good choices.

And the brown sugar? Dark or light, either one is fine. Dark brown sugar has more molasses flavor. If you don't care for the molasses flavor use white sugar, or a combination of white and brown.

Basic Brine Recipe For One Pound of Salmon

  • 1 quart cold water
  • 3/8 cup table or canning salt (or 1/2 cup Morton Kosher Salt)
  • 3/8 cup packed brown sugar
Three Salmon Fillet Sections, Smoked, On Serving PlateSalmon Fillets Smoked Using The "Hot Smoking" Method

Brine Recipe for Four Pounds of Salmon

  • 1 gallon cold water
  • 1 and 1/2 cups table or canning salt (or 2 cups Morton Kosher Salt)
  • 1 and 1/2 cups packed brown sugar

The Finer Points of Making a Wet Brine

Building a brine can be as simple as adding salt and sugar to water, then stirring it together. And sure, that makes a usable brine, but it could be made better.

  • Improve dissolution by mixing the salt and sugar into hot or boiling water
  • Bloom the seasoning flavors by first simmering

Adding these steps to your brine making routine will create a more effective brine that has richer flavor.

Adding  Flavor to Salmon Brine Recipes

Smoked Salmon Brine Ingredients In BowlsA Few Basic Salmon Brine Ingredients

You can add other flavors to this basic brine for smoked salmon. Some common additions are:

  • Fresh herbs
  • Spices
  • Hot peppers
  • Fresh garlic
  • Chopped onion
  • Wine
  • Soy sauce

To get the best flavor from the spices and herbs, bring one-quarter of the water called for in the recipe to a boil. Immediately remove from heat, add the herbs and spices, cover, and let it steep for ten minutes.

Add the salt and sugar to the steeped solution and stir. Combine this with the remaining water and continue stirring until the salt and sugar are completely dissolved. Chill the salmon brine in the refrigerator.

The salmon brine must be 40 degrees Fahrenheit or lower before slipping in the fish. Keep the brining fish refrigerated and be aware of these seafood safety guidelines.

Three bowls of basic salmon brine ingredients - Water, combined white sugar and salt, and a spice-herb mixture for added flavor. Pin this image

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