I LOVE smoked salmon. I mean, seriously, love, love, love it. Every time I go to the grocery without a fixed list of things to buy, you can bet that I grabbed a pack or two of smoked salmon to bring home. It’s my go-to treat when I want to fix up a quick snack (toast, cream cheese, tomato, and pesto) or splurge on a luxurious breakfast in bed (Eggs Benedict with Smoked Salmon, anyone?).
That being said, smoked salmon does require a little bit of TLC when it comes to storing and freezing. No one wants to open up their fridge and see a pack of smoked salmon that was improperly stored. I made that mistake once and came back to pile of dried, discolored salmon that had a weird, leathery consistency. Even though I tried to “rescue” it by chopping up the smoked salmon and making spinach and smoked salmon dip, it just wasn’t the same. It still had that yummy smoked flavor, but the texture was definitely different and less appetizing.
Lesson learned: oxidation and freezer burn DO NOT go well with smoked salmon.
Let’s not kid ourselves: smoked salmon can be a little bit pricey, so if you have extra smoked salmon that you can’t use immediately, you want to freeze and store it properly in order to preserve the proper taste and texture.
What is smoked salmon?
Smoked salmon is the product of smoking fresh salmon. There are two ways to produce smoked salmon: using cold smoke and using hot smoke.
Cold smoked salmon is produced by smoking the salmon using smoke at less than 90⁰F. The salmon is typically dry-cured in salt for a few days to draw out as much moisture as possible before smoking. This curing process helps preserve that silky-smooth texture that you often associate with fresh salmon used in sushi.
Since the smoke used in this process is at lower temperatures, the smoking process is longer compared to hot smoking, and you get a product with a milder flavor. Afterward, the smoked salmon is typically sliced up into thin slices and packaged before they are frozen and shipped. Cold-smoked salmon are the ones you commonly find in groceries.
For hot smoked salmon, the temperature of the smoke is over 120⁰F. This produces a flakier type of smoked salmon with a stronger salmon flavor.
For the curing process, the salmon is brined in salted water instead of dry-cured in pure salt. The water brine helps keep the salmon moist during the hotter smoking process. Typically, hot smoking is used for whole salmon fillets.
What’s the difference between smoked salmon and lox?
While a lot of people tend to interchange smoked salmon and lox, purists will argue that there is a distinct difference between them.
Smoked salmon is a blanket term used to describe any type of salmon that’s been smoked, regardless of the source (wild or farmed), type of cut (fillet, steak, or slices), or smoking method (hot or cold).
However, lox is produced using specific steps. Lox must be cured in either a salt or sugar-salt rub, with juniper berries, fresh dill, and peppercorns added in for flavor. Lox is never smoked, and only the belly of the salmon is used in making it. The belly is the fattiest and richest part of the salmon. Thus, you end up with an ultra-rich, fatty, and flavorful piece of smoked salmon.
In fact, you can usually only get authentic lox from old-school delis and gourmet shops that make it from scratch. If you’ve purchased lox from chain supermarkets, chances are that it was just plain smoked salmon with the word “lox” slapped on the label!
Can you eat smoked salmon straight from the pack?
Yes, whether it’s cold-smoked or hot-smoked, you can eat the salmon straight from the pack after thawing it. Smoked salmon is technically cooked using the smoking process, so you won’t need to worry about getting parasites or bacteria from freshly thawed smoked salmon.
For hot-smoked salmon, you can reheat it before consuming it to get more flavor. It will actually benefit from reheating so that the juices and oils from the fish warm up so that every bite is literally bursting with salmon flavor.
Why do you need to store smoked salmon properly?
After opening a pack of smoked salmon, you want to store it properly for two important reasons.
First, as I’ve already mentioned before, storing the salmon properly helps prevent oxidation and freezer burn. You want to preserve the proper texture and flavor of the salmon so that it tastes good even after you’ve opened and stored the pack for some time.
Second, smoked salmon can easily spoil and get contaminated with bacteria if you don’t store it properly after opening. If stored improperly, you can get food-borne illnesses such as salmonella and listeria.
How do I know if smoked salmon has gone bad?
After opening a pack of smoked salmon, it can keep safely in the fridge for a maximum of 7 days. You can tell if smoked salmon has gone bad by checking the color and smell of the product. If it has a sour smell or dull color, it has already spoiled. Any sliminess or mushiness of the meat is also a sign of spoilage.
Freezing Smoked Salmon
If you have leftover smoked salmon that you are not planning to use within the next few days, it’s best to freeze it. Use airtight containers or Ziplock bags to store the salmon, taking care to remove as much of the air as possible.
Many smoked salmon products come with resealable packaging, so if you’re not planning to use all of the smoked salmon in one sitting, it’s best to leave the packaging intact to make storage easier.
Thawing Smoked Salmon
If the package is unopened, you can thaw the smoked salmon in a bowl of room temperature water. However, if the salmon comes from an opened pack, the frozen smoked salmon should only be thawed in the fridge slowly. This prevents the salmon from becoming mushy from thawing too quickly and it also prevents any bacteria from growing on the salmon.
Even leftover smoked salmon is a delicious and tasty treat that you can enjoy anytime if you follow the proper storage, freezing, and thawing procedures.