Step One: Investigate the Smokehouse. This one was built last summer with the loving precision of a retired craftsman, whose only definition of finished is perfect. So perfect, in fact, that all the grandkids want to sleep in it, and it’s probably more solidly built than the house.
Step Two: Buy Fish. Preferably from a market that sells salmon direct from Alaska, along with King crabs and giant scallops and other sea creatures packed in ice, so fresh they might still be breathing. The smell of saltwater should linger in the air, just fishy enough so you wouldn’t want to slip and fall on the wet tiles, or touch anything that shimmers unless it was your job.
Step Three: Back home again, prepare the dry brine of salt and brown sugar. 3 parts sugar to 1 part salt does the trick.
Step Four: Slice the salmon filets into pieces, then carefully pack them with the salt/sugar brine into a homemade wooden rack. The rack should be designed to fit in the refrigerator and allow the salmon juices to drip out below.
Step Five: Put the rack in the refrigerator and let it sit overnight. Remember to put a cookie sheet under it to catch the salmon juice! The dry brine will mildly dehydrate the fish to make a dry smoked salmon, with thin parts along the edge that almost taste like salmon jerky.
Step 6: Celebrate your accomplishment with Happy Hour and fried pickles!
Step Seven: Wake up the next day and get the smoker going. The choice of wood chips depends on where you live, but in Woodinville we prefer a mix of alder, hickory, and apple. The salmon will be shiny, and the pink parts will have turned a darker (salmon?) color.
Step 8: When the smoker is hot, put the salmon inside and smoke for 3-4 hours. This period is vaguely defined as puttering about the house, perhaps restlessly, checking the salmon to add wood or moderate the temperature, never straying far lest the smoker lose its perfect balance of heat, smoke, and moisture. Occasional bits will be brought in to the kitchen for taste-testing, and depending on the time of day, there may or may not be beer involved. The yard will smell wonderful. Cream cheese and capers should be ready in the refrigerator, and the grandchildren should periodically be counted to make sure nobody got left in the smokehouse.
Step Nine: The salmon is done! Pull it out and glow with the fascination that you made something like this in your own backyard.
Step 10: Give salmon away to friends and family. Bask in the glow of passing on life’s wisdom, and of creating childhood memories for kids who have a whole lifetime ahead to remember that somebody loves them and believes they are special.