Vines & Vittles: Get hot-smoked salmon a little tipsy

Medium- to full-bodied white or red wines are great with Tipsy Hot-Smoked Salmon.

By John Brown

It’s pretty obvious that most of us plagiarize each other’s recipes. Unless you have discovered a new fruit, vegetable or species of animal, everything ever prepared to be consumed has been documented and then revised by someone else.

So this is my rationalization for borrowing — and personalizing — a recipe from my favorite local fishmonger.

Joe’s Fish Market in Charleston (304-342-7827) is a great place to buy fresh seafood. Two brothers — Joe and Robin Harmon — have perfected a “hot smoked” salmon recipe that I have taken the liberty of altering somewhat and which I’ll share with you.

Robin is the smoke master for this delicious treatment of salmon, and each week he labors on his smoker out behind the market to produce this culinary masterpiece. The easy way out is to get to the market early in the week (or call and place an order) and purchase a slab of Joe’s hot-smoked salmon. It is simply delicious!

But if you have a couple of spare hours, particularly on the weekend when the alternative is yard work or worse (honey-do’s), then you just might try your hand at hot smoking a side of salmon.

Oh, by the way, you will love the wines I am recommending to accompany the dish.

First though, it’s important to understand the difference between hot- and cold-smoked salmon.

Traditional cold-smoked salmon is produced by hanging sides of the fish in a smokehouse where a wood fire is constantly tended to ensure that the temperature is between 80 and 90 degrees. This process can take a few hours, overnight or a couple of days to complete.

If you want to cold smoke your salmon at home, there are actually electric smokers you can purchase for a few hundred bucks.

For hot smoking, Bradley Smokers are often recommended for home use, but I prefer to hot smoke my fish using my trusty old Weber grill.

At Joe’s, the hot-smoked salmon produced in house is brined in water, salt, brown sugar and garlic for a few hours and then smoked for up to an hour over apple wood.

They also use farm-raised salmon and recommend using it rather than wild salmon, which tends to dry out if you are not careful.

The main difference between Joe’s version and mine is the brine, where I believe in giving the salmon a little sip of wine and maybe a beer or two. It’s also a good idea to have a taste or two while you’re creating this culinary masterpiece. After all, dehydration is a terrible thing.

If you live around these parts, go on down to Joe’s and try his hot-smoked salmon, and then go back and buy a side of salmon and smoke it yourself.

I don’t claim to say my recipe is better, but it’s pretty good. I hope you give it a try.

Tipsy Hot-Smoked Salmon

1 salmon fillet with skin on (usually 1.5 to 2 pounds)

2 bottles of pilsner (any American beer will do)

½ bottle of dry white wine

2 quarts of cold water

½ cup of kosher salt

4 garlic cloves, minced

½ cup plus 1 teaspoon of light brown sugar

2 teaspoons of extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon each of cumin, black pepper and chili powder

3 cups of apple wood chips

MAKE a brine (in large pot) of the salt, sugar, water, wine, beer and garlic.

MIX and pour brine into a gallon baggie.

PLACE salmon fillet in brine making sure the liquid covers the fish.

PUT baggie into the pot and place in refrigerator for 2 to 3 hours.

SOAK wood chips in warm water for same amount of time.

REMOVE salmon from brine and pat dry.

RUB olive oil all over fish and place on aluminum foil in a cookie pan.

SPRINKLE cumin, black pepper, brown sugar and chili powder evenly on fillet.

MAKE a small charcoal fire (about three handfuls of coals).

MOVE coals to one side of grill, drain wood chips and place in and on charcoal fire.

PLACE pan with salmon on the opposite side of grill and put lid on.

SMOKE slowly by adjusting grill vents to control temperature (no more than 300°).

CHECK salmon after 30 minutes and then again after 45 minutes. Salmon is done when firm but not hard to the touch.

Wine recommendations: This Tipsy Hot-Smoked Salmon needs a medium- to full-bodied white or red wine. I prefer pinot noirs from cooler growing areas in California or ones produced in Oregon. I also suggest Rhone-style whites and medium-flavored chardonnay for the salmon.

Here are ones you might try:

Pinot noirs: 2010 Domaine Serene Yamhill Cuvee ($45), 2011 Melville Santa Rita Hills ($30), 2012 Acacia Carneros ($20) or 2012 MacMurray Ranch Russian River ($25).

Whites: 2011 Paul Mas Marsanne ($12), 2012 Anselmi San Vincenzo (blend of garganega and chardonnay; $14), 2011 Mer Soleil Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay ($27) or 2012 d’Arenberg The Hermit Crab Viognier/Marsanne ($15).

For more on the art and craft of wine, visit John Brown’s Vines & Vittles blog at

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