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Mini Smoker, Big Flavor

Written and photographed by Christine Galanti

My first contribution to Good. Food. Stories. documented a chocolate pilgrimage through Switzerland. When I wasn’t savoring gianduja, praline, or intoxicating hot chocolate, I actually ate some real food. With a daily budget reduced by my expensive sweets habit and notoriously expensive restaurants, I was obliged to get creative with meals.

Canned tuna in Europe is expensive, but I found smoked trout in a convenience store for the same price. Half a pound of smoked salmon in supermarket in France can be had for less than ten bucks, and rachlachs (lox) sandwiches are an inexpensive treat in Zurich’s central train station.

smoked fish and vegetablesMy affair with smoked fish reminded me why it’s a magical food—it’s sweet yet savory; can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, or dinner; and it’s healthy. I decided life was too short not to eat it as frequently as possible.

Back at home, I was faced with reality: nova lox, smoked trout, and the like are way too expensive to indulge in regularly, even if buying in bulk. I couldn’t justify stuffing the fridge with $75 worth of lox at a time, even if the price per pound was reasonable. I needed to explore making my own.

Trawling the interwebs for clues, I discovered Camerons Mini Stovetop Smoker. The reviews were rave, especially for salmon, but I was wary of acquiring another kitchen gadget that might barely see its way out of the drawer after the initial evaluation phase. (Hello, mandoline.) Unwilling to potentially miss out on homemade, perfectly smoked fish and meat, I got one.

The smoker resembles a small roasting pan with a snug-fitting lid and comes with wood chips, which look like coarse sawdust. Ready to christen it upon arrival, I followed instructions from the included manufacturer’s recipe booklet. I dropped some wood chips in a little pile at the bottom, placed a drip tray above, arranged trout fillets (seasoned only with sea salt and cracked pepper) on a small rack, closed the lid and turned on the burner.

stovetop smoker chips
Twenty minutes later, I had juicy, tender, perfectly cooked trout, with delicately smoky flesh. I was elated, and could not wait to try it with salmon. The mini smoker is proportioned to use only one burner, and it can accommodate only two fillets at a time. (One of those pieces of salmon was for my boyfriend, who’s not a salmon fan, but he’ll accept it glazed with brown sugar, maple syrup, and cracked pepper.)

As I loaded the salmon, I came to the realization that there was no way I would be able to produce anything like the nova lox I craved using the stovetop smoker. Smoke-cooking uses heat, essentially in the same way a grill does. Nova lox are cured, and although also smoked, are never heated much higher than room temperature. I felt a small pang of disappointment.

I still love the smoker, and don’t regret the purchase at all. It’s perfect for healthy cooking as it uses no additional fat, and requires no attention during cooking, freeing you to prep other dishes. It works wonders with all kinds of meat, cheese, and even veggies. It even works on the grill.

My quest for home-cured salmon continues.

Christine_GalantiChristine Galanti is a kangaroo-cooking, five-dollar-Polish-dinner-hunting, baby-octopus loving freelance writer in New York.

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10 Comments

  1. I LOVE smoked salmon, in both forms, the cooked and uncooked cured version. If you ever find a great way to make it please do share because I hate to spend the money on it, but sometimes I just can’t resist. I love to add it to my homemade sushi :)

  2. Wow, I never knew you could do this with such a small and simple tool. I think I need this, especially for salmon on the grill!

  3. Interesting. I didn’t know you could get a stovetop smoker. I thought they all had to be done on the grill.

  4. Man, you are ULTRA creative in the kitchen! And it sure beats the outdoor smoker that Pa crafted in Little House in the Big Woods – which is what I always think of when someone mentions smoked meats.

  5. I love your post!! I’m not a salmon fan…but cold water salmon smoked in a stove top smoker is one way I absolutely LOVE salmon!
    I think the trick we’re trying to achieve (yes, that’s really both of us!) is a combination of cold curing with sugar and salt…followed by low-temp “hot” smoking. If you reduce the heat to the lowest possible setting AFTER you see the first wisps of smoke, you get a reasonable slow, low smoke. As long as the wood “chips” are all touching, once it begins to smolder, it will continue to smolder slowly. Turn the heat off about half way through the usual cooking time and just let it sit in the smoke for a few more minutes. If you can keep the heat really low, you can manage to get an almost raw salmon fillet out. I usually do a short-cure of 45 minutes to 3 hours, and smoke after that. I’m happiest when I have to finish it under the broiler!

  6. Awesome info, Glennis! I didn’t even think this would be possible. Do you have a recipe for the sugar/salt cure?

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