Blackberry Smoked Salmon Recipe

It was part collision of available foods, part childhood “science project.” I was probably around 12 years old, with a pile of pink salmon on my hands, a backyard full of ripe blackberries, and a Little Chief smoker. I’d made my standard-issue brine, but on a whim decided to smoosh in a pound of juicy, dark purple berries that happened to be sitting nearby on the kitchen counter.

I was surprised by the results to say the least. After brining all night and smoking for a few hours, the normally pallid humpy flesh had turned a deep purple-bronze, almost mahogany hue. The berries added a subtle fruity sweetness to the salmon that made it difficult to stop eating.

Recently I was lucky enough to catch a healthy, 8-pound Chinook in the Snake River along the Washington-Idaho border. On my way home the next day, poking around for steelhead in the Clearwater River, I happened into a veritable orchard of blackberries along the bank. After eating as many as I could on the spot, déjà vu set in, and I was inspired to fill a bag to bring home. Back at the MeatEater office, the recipe turned out just as tasty as it had decades earlier.

5 lbs. salmon or trout fillets
3 cups blackberries or other sweet berries
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup salt
3 cups water (or enough to cover fish)

How to Make
1 . Fillet your fish, leaving the skin on, and cut into strips if desired. Wash any residual slime off the skin.

2. In a large bowl, dump in the berries and smoosh them up with the backside of a ladle. Whisk together the water, salt, and brown sugar.  Immerse the fish in the brine, cover with plastic wrap, and store in the fridge overnight.

3. Set your smoker to low. As it heats up, remove the fish from the brine and set out in open air on a plate or sheet. Let the pieces dry until they become tacky—a slight stickiness that indicates excess moisture has left the flesh.

4. Once the fish is tacky and the smoker rolling, load it up and close the lid. Check back again in three hours. For the perfect cocktail smoked salmon texture, pull off the smoker as soon as the flesh starts to flake easily, but is still moist inside. For a harder, more preserved smoke for trail and boat snacks, give it another hour or two. Serve on your favorite cracker.