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(Salmon) Candy is Dandy

You’ve eaten salmon grilled, roasted, blackened, planked, and pan-fried; perhaps you’ve even chopped it to make burgers. (We’ll be talking about all these preparation methods—except pan-frying—in future blogs.)

But have you made salmon candy, also known as Indian candy? (We no longer call it “squaw candy” by reason of political correctness.) British Columbians snack on it and it’s a staple in Pacific Northwest gift shops. Think of it as jerky, only better. Burnished to an Old Master chiaroscuro by hours of exposure to fragrant wood smoke—usually alder. Glazed with pure maple syrup or honey. Salty and sweet at the same time. It has a nice chew, too—but nothing that will threaten your molars.

Salmon candy makes a great snack for a road trip, hike, or long day at the office. It’s addictive as all-get-out. Once you gnaw your last piece, you’ll instantly crave more.

Making a batch is a satisfying project for the waning days of winter. Yes, it requires some time—16 hours or more including brining and smoking—but very little actual work.

Before you get started, here are a few secrets for salmon candy success:

  • Use wild-caught Pacific salmon if possible. You’ll recognize it by its deeper red-orange color and leaner appearance. If in doubt, verify its origin with your fishmonger. It is illegal to farm salmon from the state of Alaska, so salmon from there is always wild, while salmon from the East Coast, Chile, and Norway is likely to be farmed.
  • A center-cut fillet will yield more uniform pieces of fish: It tapers and becomes sinewy the closer you get to the tail.
  • Remove the skin before slicing the salmon into strips. If using a whole fillet, place the salmon skin-side down on a cutting board. Firmly hold the tail with one hand and run a sharp knife between the skin and the flesh, holding it parallel to and against the board. Slide the knife away from the tail the length of the fish, being careful not to cut the flesh or the skin. Remove the skin, but don’t discard it. Make Pac-Rim potato chips by brushing the skin with toasted sesame oil and season it with salt and pepper. Indirect grill at 400 degrees until crisp. Five to ten minutes will do it.
  • You can cure salmon candy using either a dry or wet brine, but the ingredients are more uniformly distributed in a wet brine.
  • If the salmon smells fishy, soak it in cheap vodka, rum, gin, or Scotch before brining. I often do this when I smoke salmon.
  • Do not substitute table salt for kosher salt in the brine. Table salt contains iodine—a metal that “burns” the fish.
  • To achieve the translucency characteristic of commercially-produced salmon candy and jerky, add curing salt (sometimes sold as pink salt, InstaCure #1, or Prague powder, all available online) to the brine strictly following the manufacturer’s recommended proportions.
  • For the purest flavors, use spring water, not tap water, when making a wet brine.
  • Use a charcoal grill or smoker. Gas grills do not work well for smoking.
  • Store salmon candy in the refrigerator to prolong its shelf life. Refrigerated, it can be kept for at least 5 days—and likely much longer. (Both the salt and smoke act preservatives.)
  • For lip tingling heat sprinkle the salmon lightly with cayenne before smoking. Coarsely ground black pepper makes a less fiery option.

Get the Salmon Candy recipe.


Try these other salmon recipes: