After a spectacular start in 2005, the Independent Food Festival & Awards are back, and I’m honoured to have the opportunity to participate. The IFFAs, hosted by Hillel of tastingmenu.com, let food bloggers from around the world recognize people who create exceptional food. Each award is creative and unique – so if you take a look at other food blogs this week, you’ll find many unusual and impressive awards being presented.
In keeping with the theme, I wanted to create an award for something I truly enjoyed. Last year, my award was for the Maple Syrup Confection Worth its Weight in Gold, and this year I’ve decided to present an award for Cold Smoked Salmon so Delicious that You’ll Want to Build Your Own Smokehouse. To clarify (for all those people who may not think like me) – if I like something a lot, I’ll usually try to make it myself. So, if I were to eat an amazing piece of smoked salmon, I’d probably want to figure out how to make it... which would in turn entail building my own smokehouse or acquiring a smoker. Hopefully that makes sense and doesn’t sound too crazy.
I love eating cold smoked salmon (also known as lox) for its melt-in-your-mouth silky texture and its savory smoky flavour. Growing up, I used to look forward to the rare occasions when a relative or friend would bring it as a gift, or when my family would travel to Canada’s coastlines where cold smoked salmon is much more abundant. After moving to Toronto, I’ve had it a bit more often; however it’s still a delicacy that I reserve for special occasions.
So therein lies the rub. I know I really enjoy cold smoked salmon, but since I don’t eat it regularly, I have no idea if what I normally eat is actually good relative to its counterparts. This year’s tasteEverything festival seemed to be the perfect opportunity to find out, so I spent last Saturday wandering around Toronto, purchasing small samples of cold smoked salmon from my normal purveyors and from those that I had read good things about.
I’m no expert at cold smoked salmon, but there appear to be a number of variables that can distinguish one type from another. These include the type of salmon, the type and length of curing, and the temperature, length, and type of wood used for smoking.
To provide a more balanced tasting, I invited my friends Ken and Nancy (who you may remember from last summer’s gelato adventure) to join me. In an effort to make the tasting as impartial as possible, we first tasted several random control samples to get a feel for the variety of salmons. The hope was that this would put the salmons on a more level playing field, since it’s natural for judges to lowball the initial competitors in order to leave room for improvement.
Next, we proceeded to taste nine unmarked dishes each containing 10g slices of a particular type of cold smoked salmon. The dishes were sampled in random order, and non-salted crackers and water were provided to cleanse our palates between samples. Without discussion, Ken, Nancy and I graded each sample’s flavour and texture on a 10-point scale. Afterwards, the scores for flavour and texture were totaled and were used to rank the salmons from 1 to 9. I then combined our individual rankings for each salmon sample, as shown in the table below, and the salmon with the lowest combined rank was declared the winner!
I’m pleased to announce the award for the Cold Smoked Salmon so Delicious That You’ll Want to Build Your Own Smokehouse goes to J. Willy Krauch’s Atlantic Smoked Salmon! The salmon comes from J. Willy Krauch & Sons in Tangier, Nova Scotia and is available at Chapman’s Essential Foods in Toronto.
Its flavour is absolutely wonderful – a perfect balance of salt, smoke, and herbs highlights the rich flavour of the salmon. Its texture is succulent – very smooth and juicy. According to Chapman’s, the salmon is cold smoked for 2½ hours, instead of the usual 1 hour in order to further concentrate its flavour. Consequentially, it is slightly denser than the other smoked salmons we tried, but it's certainly not dry at all. Perhaps the only downside to J. Willy Krauch’s Atlantic Smoked Salmon is its price at Chapman's ($99.50/kg or $45.23/lb), which was the most expensive of all the salmons tasted. However, you can order directly from J. Willy Krauch & Sons (1-800-758-4412 or 902-772-2188) for $40.81/kg or $18.55/lb plus shipping!
Honourable mentions go to our second and third place salmons: Mike’s Organic Pacific smoked salmon and Milbree-Viking’s Atlantic smoked salmon. Mike’s Organic Pacific is a mildly flavoured Chinook that’s very smooth and moist. Milbree-Viking’s Atlantic is a more rich and flavourful smoked salmon, smoked in-house and sliced paper thin. It was actually the least expensive of all the smoke salmons we had.
As for what I wouldn’t recommend… to be honest I think that any of our top five selections are perfectly fine and delicious. Compared to these five, my old standard - Nanuk’s (that comes frozen and came in at number seven), seemed dry and overly smoky.
And so now it’s come time for me figure out how to make my own cold smoked salmon and build a smokehouse. Perhaps someday, I’ll be able to make smoked salmon good enough to send to you all, but for now, here are our rankings, comments, and the specifics for each of the smoked salmons we tried.
J. Willy Krauch’s Atlantic Smoked Salmon
Available from: Chapman’s Essential Foods or by mail order from J. Willy Krauch & Sons (1-800-758-4412 or 902-772-2188) in Tangier, Nova Scotia.
Cost: $9.95/100g at Chapman's, $4.09/100g direct)
Clement: Wonderful flavour and perfectly seasoned. Smooth, dense, but still moist.
Ken: Silky texture, and the right (amount of) chewiness. A bit too salty, oily but not excessive.
Nancy: Excellent flavour. Silky smooth. Wonderful.
Mike’s Organic Pacific Smoked Salmon
Available from: Mike’s Fish Market
Clement: Smooth and moist, mild pleasant flavour.
Ken: Very silky texture and soft texture. Light smoked flavour.
Nancy: Excellent salmon flavour. Silky texture. Nice colour – very nice appetizing appearance.
Milbree-Viking Cold Smoked Salmon
Available from: Milbree-Viking Inc.
Clement: Rich and flavourful. Paper-thin, very smooth and silky.
Ken: Paper-thin slice. Texture is good but would be too chewy if thicker.
Nancy: Silky, melt in mouth. Excellent flavour. Excellent overall. One of the better samples.
Caviar Direct Scottish Style Smoked Salmon
Available from: Caviar Direct
Clement: Flavourful, smoky, salty, and a bit meaty – good in small portions.
Ken: A bit salty but good in both taste and texture. Not as smooth.
Nancy: Mild flavour, slightly salty. Texture slightly rough.
Pusateri’s Smoked Atlantic Salmon
Available from: Pusateri's Fine Foods
Clement: Moist and juicy. Mild flavour. Cut is quite thick (6 mm tapering to 0).
Ken: A bit fishy. Smoked flavour is too light. Sliced thicker but texture is okay.
Nancy: Mild subtle flavour. Pleasant. Texture is smooth, but not melt in mouth.
Mike’s Atlantic Smoked Salmon
Available from: Mike’s Fish Market
Clement: Mild flavour – too bland for me. Smooth.
Ken: Amazing texture but very little taste. Smoked flavour carries out in aftertaste.
Nancy: Unremarkable. Okay taste (distinct salmon/fish taste). Texture also unremarkable.
Nanuk Smoked Pacific Salmon
Available from: Seafront Fish Market and at grocery stores nationwide (frozen)
Species: Wild Sockeye
Clement: Grainy and dry. Very smoky, but little salmon flavour.
Ken: Woody taste is good, but texture is not as smooth. Strikingly red, not as oily. Feels weird on tongue.
Nancy: Slightly too thick, but nice mild flavour. Initially put off by colour.
Caviar Direct New York Style Smoked Salmon
Available from: Caviar Direct
Clement: Bland and mild salmon flavour. Too smoky.
Ken: A bit too tough. Nice “smoked” woody flavour. A smoked salmon version of beef jerky.
Nancy: Fishy, chewy, a bit too dry. Did not like texture. I wouldn’t buy it. Not much going for it.
Chapman’s Spring Atlantic Smoked Salmon
Available from: Chapman’s Essential Foods
Clement: Crunchy texture, reminds me of raw salmon. Quite oily. Slightly off taste (not fresh?)
Ken: A bit too fishy. Very fishy aftertaste. Not at all smoked. Too chewy, tough. I bit into a stringy part. But looks good.
Nancy: Authentic salmon taste (but too fishy for me!). Very nice appearance. Good texture, although more chewy than I prefer.