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Cold Smoked Salmon

The Irish salmon has featured strongly throughout Irish mythology and used to appear on older coins before the country adopted the Euro. This lesson covers a real Irish classic starter of smoked salmon on brown bread, inspired by Ireland’s long coastline. You will be learning the centuries old process of salting to draw out moisture and cold smoking with the delicate citrus flavours of traditional Irish black tea.


Cold smoking - Learn how to cold smoke salmon. Follow the process of creating a cure, curing and cold smoking using tea.

Fish mongery - Learn how to breakdown a whole salmon from descaling the fish to filleting, skinning and pin boning.

Pickling - Learn how to pickle. This technique that is used across the world brings flavour to recipes as well as preservation properties.

Serving Size
4-10 Portions
  • 1 Whole or side of salmon - scaled
  • 1kg Rock salt
  • 700g Sugar
  • 100g Mix of parsley, dill & tarragon
  • 1 Carrot
  • 1 Red onion
  • 200ml White wine vinegar
  • 300g Creme fraiche
  • 6 Slices of nice brown bread
  • 50g Black Irish tea
  • 600g Ice

2x large chopping board, 5x bowls, 1x chef knife, 1x filleting knife, 1x butter knife, 1x bin bag, 2x large trays, 1x peeler, 1x deep tray, 1x small wire rack, 1x small pot, 1x cling film/lid for deep tray, 1x scales, 1x blender/food processor, 1x serving plate, 1x tablespoon, 1x large bowl, 1x blow torch (optional), 1x frying pan, 1x vegetable peeler, 1x high sided pan, 1x toaster


Our salmon needs to be cured for 24 hours, so the day before you cook this recipe you need to follow this video until the 18-minute mark.

Cooking Method
Step 1 (0:10) (skip if your salmon is already prepared)

Taking a whole salmon that has been gutted, grab a large tray and a bin bag (skip this step if your fish has been well-scaled) place the fish into your bin bag and using a butter knife begin to rub against the scales brushing them off, into the bag. Once the fish has been scaled give your workbench a clean.

Now place your de-scaled fish back on the clean board with the belly facing away from you. Taking a sharp knife (either filleting or chefs) make a cut behind the pectoral fin angled towards the head and cut through to the backbone. When you hit the backbone, stop. Lifting the belly with your free hand, cut into the side from the cut you just made. With the knife angled down cut from the head to the tail. Once you get to the second half of the fish and near the tail, pull the knife through and out in a clean motion to remove the side from the fish.

Once the first side has been removed, flip the fish so the belly is now facing you. Remove the fillet in the same way as before keeping as close to the spine with your cut as possible. Once the fillet is removed place it on a tray to one side. Clean down your work surface before we do any further prep on the sides of salmon.

Step 2 (9:45) (skip if your salmon is already prepared)

So now place a side of salmon on your chopping board. Looking at the makeup of the salmon fillet we will have the central line of bones running down the fish, bones that make up the belly and then a paler and fattier piece at the bottom of the fillet (the belly).

Starting at the top of the belly bones, cut in long strokes removing them (along with a small amount of the flesh) as well as any fat sitting on the surface of the fish. Once the bones have been removed, stop and cut the top portion of the belly away from the fish. Now do the same style of cut on the top of the fish removing any fat that was near the spine, leaving us with a clean and nicely shaped side of salmon. Now our fish is ready to be cured. After working with the salmon have a really good clean down before moving to the next step.

Step 3 (12:25)

On your clean surface, place your food processor with the large bowl and blade attached. Into the processor, add half of your rock salt putting the herbs straight in while tearing them as you go. Blend for roughly 30 seconds or until the salt has become a beautiful green colour along with an incredible smell. Into a large bowl, add the herb-salt mix, the rest of the rock salt and the sugar and give it a good mix so we have everything distributed evenly throughout. Have another clean of your section removing the bowls and food processor.

Grab a high sided tray, preferably one that will allow the sides of salmon to lay flat. Taking the green cure mix dust the bottom of the tray covering it with a good layer. The salmon should only be touching the cure and not the tray. Lay the salmon over the first bit of cure and then begin to cover the rest of the fish in the cure mix. Once fully covered, wrap the tray in cling film tightly and place in the fridge for 24 hours.

Step 4 (18:11) (Day 2)

After the 24 hours has passed, remove the tray of salmon from the fridge, leave to one side and fill up a large bowl of cold water or alternatively make sure your sink is clean and empty. Remove the salmon from the tray brushing off any excess cure with your hands. Dunk the side of salmon into the water removing any further bits of cure as well as any of the salt and sugar that we can't see or feel. Dunk the fish 5-6 times and set it aside on a clean tray.

Step 5 (19:59)

Now we are moving onto the smoking part of the recipe. Initially, you're going to need a bowl of ice, a deep-sided tray and lid/clingfilm and a wire rack. On one side of the deep tray, place the ice along with the wire rack sitting on top. Cut the salmon in half or into portions that fit your tray and rack and place onto the ice. Empty the tea into the opposite end of the salmon or the 'hot zone' and get ready to smoke the fish, at this stage it is really important to have everything ready to go so we can trap the smoke from the tea.

Using a blow torch (check my notes if you don't own a blow torch), light the tea in the tray until smoke starts to bellow off of it. Place a tray on top or cover with clingfilm and leave to smoke, imparting a delicate flavour. When it comes to smoking the fish it is really up to you on how long you smoke it. I typically do mine for 15 minutes but taste as you go. While it's smoking let's get our pickle on.

Step 6 (24:07)

Into a high sided pan add the vinegar, sugar and water (same amount of water to vinegar and half as much sugar) and place the pan straight on the heat bringing to the boil quickly. Into a small waste bowl, peel the skin off the carrot. Keep checking the pickle mix. Place your peeled carrot on the board and peel lengthways down the carrot creating ribbons. Once you have the ribbons, place them into a bowl. Peel the onion, cut in half and slice thinly. Flake the slices into a separate bowl to your carrots. Pour the hot pickle over our vegetables and leave to sit at room temperature until it cools right down.

Once 15 minutes has passed, take a look at the salmon. Remove from the tray and ice and place onto a chopping board. Taking a sharp long knife, slice the salmon across the side and put aside ready for plating. Then, grab a clean chopping board along with your bread. Slice the bread to a thickness of your choice and toast.

Step 7 (35:40)

Now let's get ready to plate. On a wide flat plate, place 1 or 2 slices of toast and spread over some of the creme fraiche. Next, delicately place 5 slices of salmon (or as many as you want) onto the bread laying them like a ribbon, allowing the fish to lay naturally and give us some all important height.

Next, take some of the carrot and onion from the pickle and place them onto the board to remove any of the excess pickling liquor. In a similar technique to your salmon, dress the dish with the ribbons of carrot and some of the red onion and finally some picked parsley leaves.

Enjoy and serve!

Daniel Hannigan
's Notes

Step 2

When buying a whole fish there are a few key tells when trying to determine its freshness. Firstly there should be no smell or aroma. Secondly, the gills should be pink and the eyes will be clear and not cloudy, there should be a slime on the fish that is clear and odourless. Lastly, the fish should be firm to the touch.

Scaling a fish

1. Using a bin bag will help catch any scales that are removed from the fish.
2. It is also good practice to use a butter knife as the blade won't cut into the flesh of the fish. The direction you want to brush is from the tail to head working in small sections at a time.
3. When checking to see if all the scales have been removed, run your finger from the tail of the fish towards the head - it should feel smooth and silky.

When cutting from the head to the tail of the fillet, you should be hearing and feeling the knife cut through the bones of the fish. A great guide when doing this cut is the central line running down the spine.

The bone structure will begin to change towards the tail end of the fillet with smaller bones that are easier to cut through.

A trick I learnt from Kevin Thornton on how to reduce waste in a kitchen, is to take a tablespoon and run it across the bones of the salmon, this will pull up any meat left over that we can use for mousses, fish cakes or tartars.

The second side of salmon is typically harder to prepare so take your time when removing the second fillet.

The fattiness of the salmon unfortunately means we can't use it for stocks so make sure you remove any excess meat before discarding.

Step 3

When removing the belly it is important to cut in long strokes letting the knife do the work. This will help us get a cleaner and smoother finish to the fish.

Take a look at 10:18 if you are having any doubts on how to remove the belly of the salmon.

Once you have trimmed all the fatty parts away from the fish, double check there are no bones in the fish, if there are, take a small pair of tweezers pulling the bones out in the direction of the flesh.

When tackling week one and two of the fish smoking module we recommend two approaches.

Approach 1

1. Learn alongside the cold smoking video breaking down the fish leaving us with two sides of salmon.
2. Keep the skin on for one of the sides, cure it along with the other side of the salmon which has had the skin removed but take it out of the cure after 1 hour. Once removed from the cure, wash well in clean cold water removing any excess salt. Pat dry with kitchen paper and then a clean cloth leaving no excess water behind. Wrap well in clingfilm and then freeze until next week's recipe.
3. The day before we do the hot smoked salmon, remove the spare side from the freezer and leave it to thaw for at least 24 hours in the fridge.

Approach 2

1. Break down a second salmon when creating the hot smoked recipe following the same technique you learnt in this week's video. Referring back to this video when needed.

Step 4

When creating the cure, we aren't looking for a puree. Adding half the salt does two things - firstly, it ensures all of the salt doesn't become too fine allowing it to permeate through the fish at a suitable rate that won't over season the fish and secondly it stops the blade from getting hold of the herbs too much and bruising them.

Tearing the herbs ensures we don't have any long stalks wrapping around the blade as well as releasing their natural oils.

Make sure the salts and sugars are mixed well so we have a consistent flavour when curing the salmon.

Be generous with the amount of cure on the salmon just ensure every part is covered and you are unable to see the pinky flesh.


Curing is the process of salting in this case, we're using it to salt fish. Curing alters our fish in different ways depending on how long we do it. For many years it was seen as a method of preserving fish for weeks if not years. Now curing is used (as well as preservation) to extract excess water from the fish giving us a firmer and meatier texture, seasoning our fish and killing any harmful bacteria.

The inclusion of sugar which is not always seen across all types of curing not only takes away the harsh saltiness but also promotes healthy bacteria growth.

Step 5

After curing for 24 hours you will feel a noticeable change in the feeling of your fish. It will be much firmer to the touch, more rigid and feel less slimy, wet or damp.

Once you have removed the cure with the water, now would be a good time to taste the fish, at this stage it is completely safe to eat but what we are looking for is the level of seasoning that has been imparted on the fish. If the fish is too salty get a clean bowl of cold water and soak your fish for 10-15 minutes.

Step 6

Using ice in the process of smoking will keep the fish cold and stop any heat from the tea cooking the salmon.

Lighting your tea can be done in two different ways either by a blow torch as I showed you in the video or by taking a dry pan on your stove on as high a heat as possible. Add your tea to the pan and allow to cook and char for 5 minutes constantly tossing so it all lights evenly. This is a really simple way of doing it but make sure you focus on your pan the whole time, keeping it moving.

Cold Smoking

Smoking is a centuries old technique. Started by fishermen it was a way of preservation as well as a technique to mask any bad flavours. Tea burns at relatively low temperatures aiding our process of cold smoking. In cold smoking typically we try to keep the conditions below 32°C helping any moisture in the fish to move out giving us a denser texture but more importantly retaining the delicate rawness.

If when checking your salmon the smoke off the tea has disappeared or you can't really see it, don't be afraid to re-light your tea during the process.

Step 7

In this recipe, we are creating a hot pickle. Pickling adds flavour, can alter textures and increase shelf life. Using a hot pickle in this recipe we take the rawness away from the onion and make the carrot ribbons more palatable.

At this stage, we keep our pickles separate. If we pickle both vegetables together the carrot will absorb the colour from the red onion.

After the fish has smoked for 15 minutes, slice a small piece and give it a taste. If you are happy with the smokiness we are good to go if not leave it to smoke longer.

When cutting the fish for plating, the best technique to get clean slices is by slicing forward and then when hitting the board pulling back in a clean motion to remove the slice.

Step 8

When we are getting ready to plate make sure you have everything to hand. You should have the now room temperature pickles to hand, toasted bread, sliced salmon, fresh herbs a wide plate and some creme fraiche.

Get Creative
  • Cure - Use a variety of different herbs and aromatics to flavour your cure, remember to air on the side of caution as the flavour will permeate through over the course of a day.
  • Tea - Try using different teas to flavour your smoke. There are plenty of small tea producers popping up with unique and interesting flavoured teas.
  • Leftovers - Try using your left over salmon for the seafood chowder recipe in week 4 in Kevin's Kitchen. Keep your salmon in the freezer until it's needed and thaw the night before.
  • Fish
  • Milk
  • May contain soya
  • Gluten
  • Wheat
  • Always check the packaging as allergens may vary depending on the supplier.
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Daniel Hannigan
I've worked in both Michelin and casual dining, working with meat and cooking over fire. Now, I own my own coffee and food business.