Most things I can figure out very quickly. But some I labor over futilely, never quite mastering them. It’s like that with my favorite salsa from the Sanchez Carniceria in Culver City. For months I tried to reproduce it in order to save myself: a) the $3.99 for a small container, and b) the trip to Culver City. Finally I waved the white flag, content to either purchase it or enjoy my own reasonably good salsa. The Sanchezes are doing some sort of alchemy down there.
It’s also like that with the “Indian candy” they sell at Santa Monica Seafood — sweet, smoky, fatty tender chunks of salmon called “Indian candy” because, apparently, the native people of the Northwest would brine and smoke their abundant summer salmon harvest to last through the winter. I’ve also seen it called salmon candy. I suppose the name, Indian candy, is probably about as politically correct these days as wearing a Cleveland Indians cap. But I’ve heard all the drunk Irish jokes and that’s just life, folks, and you’ve gotta get on with it.
It’s about $25 for a small one pound container, and you can go through a pound on your way home. Now I can get good wild Alaskan sockeye or silver salmon in season for $8 or $10 a pound (although admittedly, the fattier, more expensive king salmon works best for this preparation). The economics just demanded that I figure out how to make it myself. But that was, I learned, easier said than done.
I consider myself pretty handy with a smoker. I’ve got a nifty Camerons stove-top smoker that my mom gave me, and I’ve got a big outdoor Brinkman smoker that my dad gave me. What I don’t have is a professional smoker that lets me control the temperature. So I improvised. And I failed. I tried smoking sugar-coated salmon at a very low temperature on the stove top. I tried it at a high temperature. I tried it on the outdoor smoker. And I failed and failed and failed. (Not that the results were bad, mind you… but they weren’t the pure gold they were forging over at Santa Monica Seafood.) Then I figured out I needed to brine the salmon for a good day or two. And the results were better, but still not there. But unlike with the Sanchez salsa, I was determined. And I was pretty sure the problem was in the temperature. I couldn’t get it low enough, cooking the salmon long and slow enough. But where there is a will there is a way. And I came up with a novel solution: pre-cooking the salmon at a very low temperature for several hours in the oven, and then smoking it for a short time toward the end. Worked beautifully.
Here’s a very wobbly video (too much coffee, I guess) of the brined salmon about to be smoked. And following that, my instructions on how to produce a pretty good knock off of the Santa Monica Seafood version. Shhh, don’t tell them — it must be one of their most profitable items, so I don’t want them coming after me.
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1 lb. fresh Alaskan sockeye or king salmon (or sustainably raised farmed salmon)
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup salt
2 tbsp. soy sauce
De-skin the salmon, if applicable. Cut into varied chunks about 1 inch thick and an inch or two long. Place in a large bowl or tupperware, toss with brown sugar, salt and soy sauce, and cover. Marinate in the fridge for a day to two days, tossing from time to time.
When ready to make your salmon candy, place pieces on a fine rack (I use the rack that came with my Camerons smoker [here is it for $43.49 from Amazon.com], you can use one from a toaster oven as well). Let it dry in the air at room temperature for 45 minutes, which will help create a better glaze. Heat your oven to 160. Place rack of salmon on a baking sheet and cook in oven for two hours, using a pastry brush to lightly baste a couple times with the leftover marinade.
For those without a smoker, you could now eat the Indian candy, which will still be delicious but will lack the smoke flavor. To smoke on a Camerons stove top smoker, wet your wood chips as instructed, and smoke over the lowest heat possible for 30-ish minutes. To smoke on a barbecue grill, soak some wood chips, place on a piece of foil and heat on the coals or grill until smoking, then lower heat to lowest setting and place rack of salmon on the grill (the upper warming grill, if you have one), covering, and smoke for 10 minutes.
Keeps in the fridge for over a week. (*Note: at our house, we like to snack on it. And it’s the baby’s favorite food. But you can also break chunks up in a hot pan with some cream, onion slivers, capers, tomato, olive oil and a splash of vodka for a sensational sauce to serve over fettucine or penne.)