Smoking salmon is a terrific way to preserve this firm-fleshed and very tasty fish. I will often dry brine and smoke a large fillet low and slow. It is so good either eaten warm right out of the smoker or sliced thinly and served on a bagel with a schmear of cream cheese and a slice of red onion.
There are times when I get a little ambitious and smoke more salmon than I can finish eating in a few days. It does store quite well in the refrigerator for several days. Smoked salmon will also keep well if vacuum-sealed in a bag and refrigerated, approximately 2 months. I am sometimes asked if it is possible to freeze smoked salmon.
For sure you can extend the life of smoked salmon by storing it in your freezer, whether you smoked it yourself or purchased it from your fishmonger or the market. I will caution that it is a good idea to check pre-packaged smoked salmon to see if it has been previously frozen, which may or may not be disclosed. Refreezing smoked fish can alter the taste and texture. Smoked fish can last well in your freezer for up to six months.
How To Properly Freeze Smoked Salmon
There are preparations and steps to take prior to placing the salmon in the freezer. These include portioning, packaging well, and marking the date. Care also needs to be taken when thawing the fish. Let’s explore the proper method for freezing smoked salmon.
1. Portion The Salmon
You can freeze an entire fillet or cut the salmon into individual portions if you aren’t going to be able to eat the entire fillet within two days of thawing it out. My preference is to cut the salmon into smaller portions because they will fit much better in the basket of my freezer. This also affords me more options when it comes to using the fish in different recipes and presentations.
For instance, I sometimes like to chop up some defrosted salmon and add it into a cream cheese spread for a quick and easy brunch item when I have weekend guests.
2. Wrap the Salmon Very Well
The most important step in preparing your salmon for freezing is to wrap it really well with no air inside the package. Oxygen will cause freezer burn and could drastically alter the texture, flavor, and appearance of the flesh.
Moisture can also cause freezer burns. So, I like to make sure the fish has cooled down completely. Then, I pat the fish dry with a clean paper towel. Some cooks recommend brushing the fillet portions with a little olive oil before freezing. I haven’t actually tried that because salmon is inherently oily.
Now it is time to really wrap up the fish. If you are lucky enough to own a vacuum sealer that uses a special plastic bag and sucks all the air out of the bag, this is the way to go. Not everyone wants to invest in a vacuum sealer. In that case, you will need to wrap the fish tightly in a sheet of plastic wrap, then do it again with another sheet. Place the wrapped salmon pieces inside a resealable plastic freezer baggie or two, push all of the air out, and close the seal tightly.
3. Label The Packages With Two Dates
Grab a permanent marker. Write the packaging/freezing date on the top half of the baggie. Below that mark the use-by date, which will be 4 to 6 months from the date the fish is packaged and placed in the freezer.
There is nothing more discouraging than thawing out some smoked salmon that has deteriorated because you left it in the freezer for longer than 6 months.
I also recommend writing “smoked salmon” on the baggies. I can’t always remember what I have in the freezer and sometimes I have wrapped so many layers that I actually can’t see what is in the packaging.
4. Enjoying Your Frozen Smoked Salmon
It is time to enjoy the smoked salmon that you have stashed away. It is extremely important to thaw the fish out slowly in the refrigerator. Don’t be tempted to leave it out on your countertop, place it in a bath of warm water, or stick it in the microwave and push the defrost button. Using any of these defrosting methods can result in a compromised texture and could promote the growth of bacteria. You definitely don’t want to eat mushy fish or get anyone sick.
Place the salmon in the packaging on a shelf of the fridge and leave it there overnight and up to 24 hours. Once the fish is defrosted, it is best to consume it as soon as possible. Here are a few ideas for how to enjoy your salmon:
- Cream cheese and salmon spread with chives on toasted bagels
- Thinly sliced on whole-grain toast points with horseradish sauce and fresh dill
- Roll slices around grilled asparagus
- Mince and mix into deviled egg filling & top with salmon roe
- Kiss a hot grill with thick salmon pieces and serve over quinoa and roasted vegetables
- Top a Caesar salad with smoked salmon cubes
- Add to loaded, twice baked potatoes
- Fold into an omelet, quiche, or frittata
- Make salmon sushi rolls
- Simply add slices to a charcuterie board with cured meats, cheeses, and fruit
I could go on. Apparently, I really like smoked salmon, in case that wasn’t obvious. You get the idea. Smoked salmon is incredibly versatile. It is also super healthy with omega-3 fatty acids, lots of protein, vitamin D, and selenium.
The next time you see a sale on fresh, wild-caught salmon, pick up enough to load your smoker. Season it well with a dry rub that has salt, sugar, and herbs. Cure it for a few hours and smoke it. Once the salmon has cooled sufficiently, freeze it in portions using the steps and tips recommended here. Enjoy for up to 6 months. Then, do it all again.