Smoker bag salmon - smell and taste of a Finnish summer


Smoker bag smoked salmon ready to eat

Finnish and Scandinavian Cuisine is not just about smoking, but smoke definitely features as I have mentioned. When we go back home for summer holidays and visit my siblings and parents in their respective summer houses by the gentle, quiet lakes or the sea we are often treated to beautiful, freshly smoked fish - salmon, trout, arctic char, vendace, whitefish or common bream.

It’s a taste and smell that immediately transports me to summer and Finland from wherever I may be. And this is the time of year I really start missing it. The nights there are getting whiter, the birch trees are bright green and people are escaping the towns every weekend.

After midsummer the country shuts down for an entire month when everyone just relaxes in their summer cabins heating their saunas, swimming in the lakes, where the water is pure enough to drink if you don’t mind a few bugs, reading old paperbacks in their hammocks, playing darts and barbecuing and smoking fish like there’s no tomorrow.

They also do other things and most Finnish babies are born nine months later in March or April. In our family the share of summer holiday babies is 60%, me included.

Greece can choose to pay their debt or not, Russia can fly their planes where they like, hell or high water may come, but Finns are not available to care or comment because they are all sitting naked on the front porches of the saunas their grandfathers built, looking at the lake with a beer in one hand and sausage in the other. Like real sausage I mean, I just realised how this could be interpreted. We sometimes cook sausages wrapped in foil on the sauna stove for a little post-sauna snack.

I love my little coal barbecue and recreating those familiar summer smells and tastes. So far I have stuck with my Finnish “Savu” smoker bags, you can buy them online here in the UK as well. There is an Alder version made with Finnish Alder chips for an authentic Nordic smoke taste which is lovely for fish and vegetables. Savu also do a stronger American BBQ style hickory version more suited for meat. I haven't tried these yet, but I have one bag so I might try something soon.

This is what I'm talking about. A proper
smoker with wood from own forest. 

People and a dog waiting to enjoy the hot smoked salmon
End result and the dog asking
if she will be getting any.
She will. 
Finnish Savu Alder and Hickory smoker bags for coal and gas barbecue and oven use
 saw someone in YouTube make a little smoker box from a foil food tray adding some soaked wood chips in it and covering the top with foil and pricking it so the smoke could escape. You then place it on top of the coals and you put your food on top and keep the barbecue covered as much as possible to keep the smoke in.

I might try that, but one of these days I must get a proper smoker box. The real kind where you put the chips in and the food goes in the box on top of the chips (see the image with my dad's smoker). It gets properly smoky in that small space and you get an amazing taste and texture.

It's also entertaining, because the metal always bends with the heat, so they are a real pain to open and the the fish is so stuck it takes an amazing amount of various swear words to get it out. Fortunately the Finnish language is very rich in swear words.

My dad though, he doesn't really swear, so it's even more entertaining. His worsts thing to say is "Crap berries" or "Oh Russia". It's a Finnish thing, there is a bit of history between the two countries, which explains.

So, smoking bags though, to escape the politics, in the absence of anything more robust the bags work a treat. They are also great for indoor oven use during the long winter months when you want that little reminder of summer but don’t really fancy standing outside in the rain minding the BBQ.

I had quite a massive, over 2bls, side of Atlantic salmon which I seasoned in the morning with salt, lemon pepper, lemon zest and a herb mix for fish. You can use whatever herb mix you have that works for fish. I have a Greek one which I use sometimes, for this I used my Finnish herb mix for fish. You can also sprinkle on just some dried dill if you don’t have a herb mix, or leave it out altogether. This is all about simplicity. I wrapped the fish tightly in cling film and let it sit  in the fridge for several hours absorbing the flavours. 

I then heated my coal barbecue to very hot, patted the salmon fillet dry removing any excess salt and put it in the smoker bag sealing the end carefully. I placed the bag on the hot barbecue for 15 minutes covered. It’s important you get it really hot in the beginning so the smoking process starts.

Side of salmon ready for smoking

If you're doing this in the oven or gas grill you can just turn down the temperature after the first 15 minutes. On a coal barbecue you can try to move it to the side, which is what I did. I then used the rest of the space to grill some yoghurt, honey and dijon marinated lamb cutlets in case kids would not like the smoked fish. When the cutlets were done so was the salmon. I let it rest in the bag for about 5 minutes while I gathered the boys and got everything else on the table.

I served the fish and lamb with Persian baghali polo – rice with dill and broad beans, a crème fraiche and mayonnaise sauce with dill and lemon, garlic bread, oven chips and mixed salad. Everyone loved the fish, but chops went down well too.

Smoker bag on top of a coal barbecue

Recipe: Smoker bag side of salmon

Savu Alder smoker bag 
Side of salmon (or you can use fillets)
Sea salt
Lemon pepper
Lemon zest
Dried herb mix (optional)

For garnish:
Lemon wedges
Fresh dill

Pat the salmon clean and remove any bones using tweezers. Season with sea salt, lemon pepper and herb mix of your choice. Grate some lemon zest over the fillet. Wrap and let sit in the fridge for a few hours. Before smoking scrape off any sea salt crystals, pat the fillet dry and place in the smoker bag. Seal the end of the bag carefully and place on the hot barbecue for 15 minutes on full heat. If you are using a gas barbecue you can turn the heat down now, or on a coal barbecue move to the side. Let cook for another 15 minutes. Take the bag off the heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Open carefully, a lot of steam will come of when you open the bag. Serve immediately.

Creme fraiche, mayonnaise, dill and lemon sauce for the smoked fish

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