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.
My 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.
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 Galanti is a kangaroo-cooking, five-dollar-Polish-dinner-hunting, baby-octopus loving freelance writer in New York.
FTC Disclosure: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. Good. Food. Stories. receives a minuscule commission on all purchases made through Amazon links in our posts.