Is smoked salmon raw? We get this question a lot. When it comes to cold smoked salmon, or Nova smoked salmon (more on this later), the texture of the fish certainly seems more like raw salmon than cooked. That said, like cooked salmon, the application of a controlled temperature is a factor in making smoked salmon, and ovens are used in the process. So, the question remains, is smoked salmon raw or is it cooked? The short answer is… both.
Smoked salmon is categorized as either cold or hot smoked depending on the specific curing and smoking method. Cold smoked salmon is salt cured and then smoked at 70-85℉, so it isn’t fully cooked. This results in a bright color, delicate texture, and bold flavor. Hot smoked salmon is similarly cured and smoked, but hot smoked salmon is smoked at a temperature of 180-200℉ until its internal temperature reaches 145℉. Because it’s fully cooked, it has a firm, flaky flesh, and a strong, smoky flavor.
Cold smoking is a method popular throughout the Northeastern United States, Scandinavia, and the British Isles. This method is often referred to as Nova smoked salmon in New York City and the surrounding regions. Hot smoking is a method popular in the Northwestern U.S., Canada, and Germany. Popular wood varieties to use for both methods of smoking salmon are cherry, apple, hickory, and oak.
Cold smoked salmon is a variety of smoked salmon where the preparation involves a smoking and drying process that does not exceed 85℉. Smoldering wood is used indirectly in this process, so as to keep the heat low for the duration of the smoke. In the modern process, large industrial fans are used within the cold smoking ovens, which keeps the air continually circulating. This is done to facilitate the removal of moisture from the fish, which is crucial to the curing aspect, and this can take up to 20 hours or more.
For this reason, the salmon is not technically cooked, although it is cured in a way that makes it ready-to-eat. This low temperature ensures that the fish’s protein won’t be denatured in the same way as higher heat cooking would. That is why cold smoked salmon maintains the smooth and silky texture of raw salmon, without technically being raw in the same way as sushi, for example. That said, cold smoking is NOT a cooking process, but instead a curing process, a method much in the same vein as that used to produce certain fine charcuterie. As mentioned previously, cold smoked salmon is often called Nova smoked salmon, and more can be read on this topic here. Cold smoked salmon is best served atop bagels, in spreads, pasta dishes, and more.
To make hot smoked salmon, a higher heat and more direct smoke contact is required. The hot smoking process necessitates an ambient heat of no less than 180℉ within the ovens and needs a far shorter smoking time. When salmon is hot smoked, the raw material is actually COOKED in the same way one would cook a piece of salmon in the oven. The result of this smoking method is a deliciously flaky product more similar to a roasted salmon fillet, but with the added flavor of smoke. Hot smoked salmon is often called ‘kippered salmon’ or ‘baked salmon’. Hot smoked salmon is delicious served atop salads, in rice bowls, or alone as a ready to eat snack.
Thousands of years ago, our ancestors discovered the preservative qualities of salt and smoke. They realized that these foods lasted far longer with the application of these two components. An unforeseen additional benefit was noticed though, these foods very often tasted excellent when these cooking and flavoring elements were appropriately balanced.
Just because smoked salmon is “ready-to-eat” doesn’t mean that there aren’t several interesting, creative, and delectable ways to enjoy it! Of course, you can eat it right out of the package, or go a little further and simply enjoy it on a bagel with cream cheese, but why stop there? For starters, check out the recipes on our website. And if you come up with your own, please share them with us via social media or by reaching out by email.
We hope this has helped to answer the question, “Is Smoked Salmon Raw?” Like many things, the answer isn’t simple, but it’s worth knowing the facts! We at Acme Smoked Fish believe that if you like something, it’s worth learning more about. That’s why we are committed to being your friendly expert in all things smoked fish. If there is anything else you are curious about, please let us know. In case you haven’t guessed, talking smoked fish is kind of our thing.