Smoked Candied Salmon

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Salmon candy has become my new favorite road food. Sweet, smoky, meaty, fatty. And while it looks like regular smoked salmon, it’s not. So what on earth is candied salmon?

pieces of candied salmon on a cutting board.
Photo by Holly A. Heyser

Well, I first heard about candied salmon decades ago, when it was called squaw candy, but it’s no longer called that for obvious reasons. Salmon candy is basically heavily smoked strips of salmon, originally smoked so long they were basically salmon jerky. Nowadays it’s usually lacquered with something sweet, such as brown sugar, maple or birch syrup, or even molasses. The idea is to combine fatty-savory-smoky-sweet in one bite.

Strips from the belly of the salmon are best, but regular fillet strips are good, too — and you can do this to salmon collars as well.

Don’t get me wrong: I love my recipe for smoked salmon. I really do. But it’s for large pieces of salmon, meant to be eaten as a meal, or crumbled into salads or whatever. It isn’t something you can wrap in a paper towel, stick in your pocket and carry with you when you are picking blueberries or wandering around, or maybe fishing for more salmon.

For that you need to change things up a bit. First is the dry cure. My regular smoked salmon uses a brine cure, which keeps the fish supple and moist. Salmon candy needs to be heavily cured and heavily smoked to keep in less-than-ideal conditions.

While it isn’t strictly jerky, although if you want to make a true salmon jerky this is my recipe, the heavy cure and smoke has let me carry salmon candy on multi-day road trips and on fishing boats with a minimal amount of refrigeration.

How minimal? I’ve eaten it at room temperature after it had been in my pack while fishing all day, or in the late afternoon on a long drive. But I fish in cool places, so the salmon probably never got about 65°F. I wouldn’t let it get actually hot and eat it.

Remember, this is an Alaskan invention and it rarely gets hot in Alaska.

If you want something truly hardy, you will need to cut the strips thinner and smoke them harder to get them jerky-like.

What salmon to use? Well, any, really. This is a great use of chum or pink salmon, and it is also excellent with large trout or char. If you want to order salmon from Alaska, try Yakobi Fisheries — I have fished commercially with them and can highly recommend their fish.

Consider my candied salmon a hybrid, hardier than regular smoked salmon, and not quite as austere as the traditional salmon candy made by the native Alaskans. Whatever you call it, it’s damn good.

close up of strips of candied salmon
4.83 from 102 votes

Smoked Salmon Candy

This is traditionally done with salmon in Alaska, usually chinook, coho, sockeye or chum salmon. But any salmon will work for this recipe, as will fish like mackinaw (lake trout), Dolly Varden, big rainbows or cutthroats, char or really any large, fatty fish you can cut into strips. I bet tuna belly would be good for this.
Course: Cured Meat, Snack
Cuisine: American
Servings: 25
Author: Hank Shaw
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 4 hours
Total Time: 5 hours

Ingredients 

  • 5 pounds skin-on salmon pieces, cut into 1- to 2-inch thick strips
  • 1 pound kosher salt
  • 1 pound brown sugar
  • 1 cup maple syrup or birch syrup

Instructions 

  • Mix the salt and brown sugar together. Find a lidded container large enough to hold the salmon; a big plastic tub works well. Lay down a layer of the salt/sugar mixture about 1/4 inch deep. Put a layer of salmon down on this, skin side up. Cover the salmon with more salt/sugar mixture. If you need a second layer of salmon, make sure the layer of salt and sugar between them is thick enough so that the pieces of salmon are not touching. Basically you are burying the salmon in salt and sugar. Cover and let cure in the fridge at least 30 minutes, and up to 3 hours. The longer the cure the saltier it will be; I cure for 2 hours.
  • Remove the salmon from the cure, which will get wet, and briefly rinse the fish under cold water. Pat dry with a paper towel and set the salmon on a drying rack skin side down. Let this dry in a breezy place for 2 hours, or in the fridge, uncovered, overnight. I put the racks under a ceiling fan near an open window with another fan blowing at the fish from the side. You are doing this to form a pellicle on the salmon, which helps it smoke properly. Don't skip this step!
  • Traditionally salmon candy is cold smoked for several days. If you can do this, go for it. Regardless, you want to bring the temperature up gradually over the course of an hour or so and let it sit at around 165°F to 200°F for at least 3 hours, and up to 6 hours if you like your salmon candy harder and smokier.
  • Every 90 minutes to 2 hours, paint the salmon with the maple syrup. This also helps to remove any albumen -- the icky white stuff -- that can form between the fish flakes if your smoker gets a little too hot too fast.
  • When the salmon looks good and lacquered, typically about 3 to 4 hours, remove it to the drying racks again and paint it one last time with the maple syrup. Allow to cool to room temperature before storing. Salmon candy will last a week in the fridge, longer if vacuum sealed. It freezes well, too.

Notes

Tips

Smoke likes Fat. Smoke adheres better to fat than lean meat, so bellies and collars are better for this.
Vary the thickness. Very thin strips will dry harder and be more like jerky... and will keep longer. I eat mine fairly quickly, so I leave the strips thicker, at about 2 inches wide.

Nutrition

Calories: 164kcal | Carbohydrates: 9g | Protein: 18g | Fat: 6g | Saturated Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 50mg | Sodium: 41mg | Potassium: 474mg | Sugar: 8g | Vitamin A: 36IU | Calcium: 25mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Tried this recipe? Tag me today!Mention @huntgathercook or tag #hankshaw!

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About Hank Shaw

Hey there. Welcome to Hunter Angler Gardener Cook, the internet’s largest source of recipes and know-how for wild foods. I am a chef, author, and yes, hunter, angler, gardener, forager and cook. Follow me on Instagram and on Facebook.

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365 Comments

  1. This is everything and all you need to know if you are any to smoke salmon. Thanks Hank for explaining why each step is important. This recipe is almost as fun to read as it is to eat the salmon when you’re done.

  2. I used Pink Salmon which is less favorable than Kings or Silver but it is what I caught. I also used Birch syrup paired with Pecan wood. I did a 10lbs batch this time and it turned out excellent. Perfect for an appetizer plate for our family and friends this Holiday. This is the third time I have used this recipe and we truly enjoy it. Thank you

  3. This has been my go to salmon recipe for a few years now. Every time a stray away from it and try something different, I always end up wishing I’d done it like Hank! The only variation is I use 2 parts brown sugar to one part salt for a 2 hour cure. I also lightly dust with garlic powder and white pepper before I let it build the pellicle layer. After the final maple baste, I hit it with a little cracked black pepper and let it rest. I got out on the lake this week and convinced some nice 20″ rainbows to come home with me. They must have been feeding on some freshwater shrimp as the fillets were bright red. I smoked em up last night with this recipe and dang is it good with trout too!

  4. Thanks for the excellent recipe. I let it cure for closer to 3hrs and it was indeed a bit on the saltier side. Have any ideas on how to dispose of the curing mixture of salt/sugar/fish oil other than the trash? I hate putting food waste in landfills, but it would not be good in compost. I have been considering putting it out in the woods on a rock or stump as a salt lick, but I am not sure if it would hurt and some wildlife more than it’d help. Any thoughts?

  5. This glorious recipe become my go-to whenever an opportunity arises to smoke some meat for a get together. I’m in the south and people are surprised when someone brings something other than pork shoulder or brisket and definitely blown away with how good this fish tastes. Tomorrow will be my fifth time following the recipe. I’ve gone with several types of fish including Socket, Chinook, Coho, Steelhead and Atlantic. I’m a fan of Sockeye or King on the grill, but for this recipe I prefer the cheap Atlantic Salmon or Steelhead. The higher fat content makes it better, IMO. I brine it the shorter end (30 mins) since any longer makes it too salty for me with the 1 inch strips I typically cut. I use apple chips since they seem to go well with the maple glaze and alder is hard to come by in NC.

  6. so far so good I live in Washington state and we have been slaying the humpys aka pinks great fish to smoke so ive been smoking away but same ol same ol gets well ol. So was super stoked to come across this recipe so easy will let ya know how they turn out. I do love me some salmon candy.

    1. Gabriel: There is no such thing as farmed sockeye. And no, I don’t use farmed salmon. I fish in the Pacific.

      1. Hello Hank,
        I am a fairly experienced smoker. I have read your recipes and enjoyed them. I do, however, have a question regarding smoking various fish. When you say “leave the skin on” (which I always do also), do you mean to scale the fish or not? To me, it would make a big difference in the brine process as I always have scaled my fish.
        Please explain for all of us.
        Thank you.

      2. Dave: Doesn’t matter, but leaving the scales on helps prevent the skin from sticking to the smoker grates. If you scale, you will want to slick the skin with oil.

  7. First timer for smoking fish. Long timer salmon fisher. I’ve been fishing the Kenai River for 37 years, but this is my first time ever to try my hand at smoking. Normally, my husband does this once we get home to Texas. However, our neighbor has been talking about this method, so I’ve decided that I have the fish and the time to see what I can do. THANK YOU for the easy to follow instructions. I can’t wait to see how the first batch turns out.

  8. Hey Hank. This is a great salmon candy recipe thanks. I like apple wood smoke, it produces a great flavor profile with the maple syrup. My kids like to take candy salmon bellies in their school lunches so it always goes fast in my house! I just came back from dip netting on the Kenai in Alaska so I’m smoking sockeye salmon tomorrow!

  9. I’m trying this this coming weekend on my Big Chief cold smoker. Very excited! Question though…. what type of wood is best? I have Hickory, Mesquite, Apple, Cherry and Oak (not post Oak). I’m worried that the Mesquite or Hickory will be too potent and give it an ‘over smoked’ flavor.

  10. Followed your smoked salmon recipe to a T. Excellent. I have had tried lots of other recipes but yours topped all of them. Moving it forward. Thanks!

  11. Very good fish facts results in quality outcome. Thank you for posting Mr. Shaw.

    My grandma was a Shaw.

  12. I’m making this, this weekend. I went to 4 different grocery stores but can’t find kosher salt anywhere. Is there alternative to kosher salt? Why kosher? Thanks 🙂

  13. I lived on LI NY my entire life until now live upstate,NY!
    I got spoiled buying candied salmon at the local fishmarket !!!
    I did not realize ….until now… that the salmon had to be smoked before being candied !
    I do not have a smoker , am up in age & live alone. Is there anoth option to achieveing that wonder flavor and texture ?

    1. Charlene,
      You can smoke in a grill. But getting a smoker is worth it. They have Pit Boss Smokers at Walmart. Decent prices.
      Good luck. I am smoking this salmon recipe this morning. Making it for a friend who is going through chemo. This recipe is so easy to follow and sounds delicious.
      Hope you can make your own. Smoking is truly a lot of fun. If you can get one, go for it!!!

    2. so far so good I live in Washington state and we have been slaying the humpys aka pinks great fish to smoke so ive been smoking away but same ol same ol gets well ol. So was super stoked to come across this recipe so easy will let ya know how they turn out. I do love me some salmon candy.

    3. Charlene,
      I hope you see this reply. I was not able to make Salmon Candy the traditional way for reasons I won’t go into, but had been asked by my wife to make it for friends that were coming by for dinner and good conversation. I looked online to see if there was a quick way to produce something akin to traditional Salmon Candy and ran across this recipe which I feel is superior to the one I had been using (and much fewer ingredients). We had Salmon steaks in the freezer so I took these out and cut them into thick strips about two fingers wide. Each one about eight to nine inches long. I prepared them with the salt/Brown Sugar mix and when ready for cooking, For the glaze, I mixed up a half cup of honey, added in the juice from two freshly squeezed lemons (and here’s the kicker) two tablespoons of Colgin Liquid Smoke. I use Colgin’s Liquid Smoke for a few soup and chili recipes and it works well. This was the first time I tried it on fish. I painted the salmon with the honey glaze and laid them out on a large baking pan and put into the oven at 200 degrees. I set the timer for 45 minutes, and when the timer went off I pull the Salmon out painted the strips again with the smokey honey lemon glaze and returned it to the oven. I did this four times and then after the last 45 minute stretch took them out and glazed them one more time. I explained to our guests that normally I would have prepared them differently, but our friends actually said I should “not change a thing” and the Salmon was awsome. Even my wife was amazed at how well the salmon turned out.

  14. I want to make sure I understand the cook time correctly. At the top of the recipe in the recipe data it says 4 hours and later on you say that you smoke low for the first hour or so, then raise the temp a bit for the last hour or two. Just checking if it is actually 4 hours or just 3? Thanks!

    1. Ashley: I’ve done as little as 3 hours and as many as 5. Smoking isn’t an exact science, so be ready for 4 hours, but it might be ready at 3.