Smoked salmon brine is the key to perfectly moist, tender smoked fish. This recipe and video explain how to make and use salmon brine!
Looking for instructions on how to smoke salmon? You’ll find them in my post on how to smoke salmon. This post explains how to make the brine for smoked salmon.
On occasions like Christmas brunch or a New Year’s Eve party, nothing is quite as delicious as smoked salmon. The fish is fantastic with bagels and cream cheese, on a salad, or served as an appetizer with pumpernickel bread, quick pickled red onions, and crackers.
The problem is, smoked salmon is expensive to buy. The solution is to make it yourself and it isn’t difficult at all. It’s a mystery to me why there are so many people smoking without brining salmon first.
Sure, the brining process takes several hours, but skipping this step leads to the fish being dry and lacking flavor. Nobody enjoys that, so let me show you how simple it is to make and use a brine for smoking fish.
Some people refer to the process as curing, and the solution as a cure. Whatever you call it, this one imparts a lot of good flavor and helps in the preserving process.
Smoked salmon brine FAQ
If you want flavorful and moist smoked salmon, then brining is a necessity. Without it, the fish will be dry and lack flavor.
Allow at least 3 hours and up to 8 hours for the brining solution to soak into the fish. Keep in mind that whole salmon filets can be very thick, and you want the brine to work all the way through the flesh.
Unfortunately, yes. Smoked salmon brine has a hefty amount of salt in it; leaving the fish in the solution for longer than 8 hours will lead to an unbearably salty flavor. Also, the firm salmon flesh will begin to break down, which can lead to a mushy texture and mouthfeel.
Ingredient notes and substitutions
The typical fish brine has three elements – sugar, salt and water, and most recipes call for equal parts of sugar and salt.
I use a slightly different ratio; a quarter cup salt to one third cup sugar and four cups of liquid. The liquid can be just water, but for flavor, I include some soy sauce and dry white wine. Feel free to use low sodium soy sauce or adjust to less per your taste.
Video: making and using salmon brine
The brine is simple to make, and the actual process of brining the fish is really more about hands-off time than anything else.
To see the process from start to finish, watch the video in the recipe card at the bottom of this post.
For this recipe, mix together the sugar, salt, soy sauce, water, wine, onion and garlic powders, pepper and Tabasco sauce in a bowl with a whisk to incorporate and thoroughly dissolve the sugar and salt.
After making the brine, it will be ready to use immediately. Otherwise, transfer it to a covered container and store it in a refrigerator for up to 5 days.
How to use smoked salmon brine
- Pour some of the brine in the bottom of 13×9-inch pan.
- Place the salmon filets in the pan and pour the remaining brine over the salmon to cover. Ensure that the fish is fully submerged in the brine.
- All that’s left at that point is to brine the fish for 8 hours and it will be ready to put on the smoker. After brining, you may refrigerate the brined salmon for up to two days before smoking, or you can immediately begin the process of making smoked salmon. The first step is drying it to create a pellicle.
What is a pellicle?
A pellicle seals moisture inside of the fish and creates a sticky surface for the smoke to adhere to.
To create a pellicle, place the brined salmon in front of a fan to dry and develop a shiny skin. This process takes about 4 hours, and it is vital to do so. Another option is to leave the fish uncovered on a baking sheet in the refrigerator. The cold, circulating air works great.
For instructions on smoking the fish, click here to see my recipe for smoked salmon.
This post, first published on Kevin Is Cooking Jan 5, 2014, was last updated with new content on Oct. 12, 2021.
Smoked Salmon Brine + How-To Video
- 1/3 cup sugar or brown sugar
- 1/4 cup kosher salt
- 2 cups soy sauce
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 tsp onion powder
- 1/2 tsp garlic powder
- 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes or freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tsp Tabasco sauce or hot sauce of choice
- To a large bowl, add sugar, kosher salt, soy sauce, water, wine, onion and garlic powders, pepper and tabasco sauce. Use a whisk to incorporate and thoroughly dissolve the sugar and salt.
- Pour a little of the brine in the bottom of a 13×9-inch pan. Transfer salmon to the pan and pour remaining brine over the salmon to cover. Refrigerate for 8 hours.
- Nutritional information shown is for a full batch of salmon brine. Only a small portion of the brine is actually absorbed into the fish and consumed. To see nutritional information for smoked salmon including the brine, see my post, how to smoke salmon.
The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.