If you find yourself wondering, “is smoked salmon cooked or raw” then rest assured that you’re not the only one. Truth be told, this question has long been a common discussion topic among food lovers.
In today’s article, I’ll give you all the insight you need to answer that question, along with a little extra information regarding smoked salmon’s shelf life and its cooking application.
Table of Contents
Smoking is among the earliest food preparation techniques known to humans. This method involves exposing food to smoke from burning or smoldering materials. It is used to cook, preserve, add flavor, and give food a rich brown color.
Wood is a common material used in smoking. North Americans often make use of oak, maple, pecan, and other fruit-tree woods like cherry or apple. At the same time, Europeans favor alder, oak, and sometimes beech.(1)
Hot smoking, warm smoking, cold smoking, and liquid smoking are the four main methods of smoking food. Some frequent smoked foods include meat products such as bacon, ham, beef briskets, whole poultry, and seafood like salmon, oysters, or herring.
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While smoking is a great way to enhance food’s flavor (by giving them that delicious “smoky” taste), they only provide a partial preservation effect. Therefore, other preservation techniques like chilling and packaging are required to keep the food last for longer.
A seasoned chef shares his experience in smoking food. Let’s watch this video:
Although there are four methods of smoking in total, not all of them are used in salmon smoking. Two common ways to smoke salmon are hot smoking and cold smoking, which can affect how salmon tastes. Let’s find out the differences between these two methods in this section.
Hot smoking is one of the two frequently seen smoking methods for salmon. In this method, the salmon will be placed near the heat source and smoked at 120°F to 180°F for 6-12 hours until the fish’s interior reaches a temperature of 135°F to 140°F.
To reduce the drying effect of high temperature, the salmon is brined in a light salt and water mixture prior to smoking. Doing this will enhance their flavor, add some saltiness to the salmon and keep them moist during the smoking process.
After brining and before smoking, many smokehouses will glaze or rub the salmon with extra flavors like teriyaki, maple, and black pepper. Thanks to the high smoking temperature, the fish will be able to absorb the flavors more effectively.
Hot-smoked salmon has a flaky texture and look quite similar to cooked salmon. They also have a more apparent “smoky” taste than cold-smoked ones.
You’ll often find hot-smoked salmon sold in fillet form and kept in vacuum-sealed packages.
As its name implies, cold-smoked salmon is made at a lower temperature than its hot-smoked counterpart. Typically, the fish will be smoked at 75°F to 85°F for 12-48 hours.
Unlike hot-smoked salmon, where the fish is brined to keep moist, cold-smoked salmon requires a different technique called “curing” (or dry-curing) to remove any excess moisture. The salmon might be cured for up to a day before smoking.
Dry-curing the fish with salt will allow for a smoother smoking process and longer shelf life. After curing, the salmon can be seasoned with additional flavors and spices like dill. They’ll also have a dense texture and salty taste.
Cold-smoked salmon is often confused with lox since they both need to go through the curing process. However, there are many elements that set smoked salmon and lox apart, and it’ll come in handy to know these, especially if you don’t want to grab the wrong one for dinner.
While cold-smoked salmon doesn’t taste as smoky as hot-smoked salmon, it has a much better consistency with a smooth, silky texture and a raw salmon-like appearance.
When sold, cold-smoked salmon is cut into thin slices and is also packed in vacuum-sealed packages.
An in-depth look at how salmon is smoked. Watch this video:
Now to the fundamental question of this article: is smoked salmon cooked or raw? Well, the answer is it depends on what type of smoked salmon you’re talking about.
Since hot-smoked salmon is made at 120°F to 180°F for at least 6 hours, the high heat has already cooked the fish thoroughly.
Cold-smoked salmon, on the other hand, is considered raw as the low temperature used while smoking doesn’t have much cooking effect.
That said, both hot and cold-smoked salmon can be eaten fresh out of the packages without any cooking. They’re best used in different kinds of recipes, though. I’ll leave some great ways to utilize your smoked salmon below, so make sure to keep reading.
Like other seafood, smoked salmon requires proper storage. Otherwise, your fish will become a playground for bacteria such as C. botulinum and Listeria! That’s why there’s a fixed time frame to freeze salmon, although it’s near impossible for bacteria to thrive in such conditions.
Similarly, you’ll also need to keep in mind the maximum time cooked salmon can last in fridges for hot smoked salmon. Failing to do so might result in you accidentally consuming spoiled fish, which may lead to devastating results.
Due to their differences in smoking methods, cold-smoked and hot-smoked salmon will keep for a different amount of time. Typically, hot-smoked salmon will last longer than cold-smoked salmon.
|Smoked Salmon Types||Fridge||Freezer|
|Unopened hot smoked salmon||2 weeks or 2-3 days after the use-by date.||2-3 months (best quality)|
|Unopened cold smoked salmon||1 week or 2-3 days after the use-by date.||1 month (best quality)|
|Opened smoked salmon||5-7 days||2-3 months (best quality)|
Storing Unopened Smoked Salmon
When buying smoked salmon, you should take note of how they’re stored when sold. Some brands sell their smoked salmon unrefrigerated while others do not.
For unrefrigerated smoked salmon (you should double-check their packaging just to be safe), feel free to keep them in the pantry or in a dark place, away from sunlight and heat sources.
If you bought your salmon in the refrigerated section, it would have to be stored in a fridge. You can only leave it at room temperature for about 30 minutes to 1 hour at best.
When refrigerated, fully-sealed hot smoked salmon has a shelf life of 2 weeks. You can also freeze them to increase this number to 2-3 months.
Unopened cold-smoked salmon will generally last for no more than 1 week when refrigerated and 1 month in the freezer.
To prevent freezer burn, remember to wrap your salmon in a layer of plastic wrap, freezer paper, or aluminum foil before freezing. You can also keep it in a freezer bag if you have one.
Note that when properly stored in the freezer, the salmon will technically last for an indefinite amount of time. That said, you should consume the fish within the shelf life above for the best quality.
In addition, smoked salmon usually comes with a sell-by or use-by date. If you haven’t opened the package yet, it’ll last you for another 2-3 days after that date.
Once opened, both cold and hot smoked salmon will have to be kept in the fridge and only have a shelf life of 5-7 days. At room temperature, the salmon should be consumed within 2 hours after opening.
When refrigerating, you can make use of the fish original package if it’s a resealable type. Otherwise, place your salmon in a freezer bag, an airtight container, or wrap it in plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out and stop cross-contamination.
If some parts of your salmon are exposed to air while storing and turn dry or flaky, you can use a fillet knife to trim them off.
Freezing is another way to increase opened smoked salmon shelf life. Note that you should only freeze the fish if it’s still under the refrigerating time period. Before freezing, wrap the salmon tightly in aluminum foil or keep it in a freezer bag.
Alternatively, you can also go for heavy-duty aluminum foil. Once you understand the aspects that make heavy-duty aluminum foil different from regular, you’ll understand why I recommend you to do so. Trust me, it’s 100% worth trying out and guaranteed to yield amazing results.
Frozen smoked salmon have the potential to last for an indefinite amount of time but it’s best to eat them in 2-3 months.
One of the best ways to defrost any fish, including smoke salmon, is the fridge. Simply transfer the fish to the fridge and leave it there to thaw naturally overnight. If you’re not eating it the next day, you can keep it refrigerated for another 3-4 days.
If you’re short on time, you can also use the microwave or cold water to thaw the fish. However, it will have to be consumed right away after defrosting.
It’s never a good idea to eat spoiled smoked salmon. To keep yourself and your family safe from food poisoning, always look out for these signs.
It’s Way Past The Best-By Date
Although unopened salmon can last for another 2-3 days after its date when stored properly, you shouldn’t try your luck if it’s been lying around for too long. I’d say 5 to 7 days past the used-by dates is as far as you should go.
The Salmon Smells Bad
The smell is a great indicator when it comes to spoiled food. It’s also one of the best signals to detect spoiled salmon. Apart from the smokiness, smoked salmon should have an almost neutral smell. If there’s a rancid, ammonia, or fishy smell, you don’t want to eat that fish.
There’s Mold On The Fish
If your salmon has been opened and stored for more than 10 days, you might see mold on it. When this happens, you should discard the fish at once.
It Has Changed Color
Old salmon could turn white, dull, or greenish in color. If there’s only a little discoloration, it’s probably still safe to eat (remember to give it a taste test first). However, if a large percentage of the fish has changed color, it’s time to throw it away.
It’s Extra Slimy
Smoked salmon is a bit slimy even in its best condition. However, if your fish has developed an extra slippery and thick film, there’s no reason to keep it around.
Not only are smoked salmon delicious, but they are also a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids along with other vital vitamins and minerals.(2)
The omega-3 fatty acid found abundant in smoked salmon can increase brain health, reduce inflammation and prevent heart diseases.
In addition, there’s a generous amount of calcium, iron, and other essential minerals in smoked salmon. They are also packed full of vitamin B12, A, E, and astaxanthin. All of which can contribute greatly to your well-being.
Integrating smoked salmon into your diet is an excellent way to lose weight as they are high in protein whilst low in calories and can enhance your metabolism.
Learn more about the tremendous health benefits of salmon. Watch this video to know:
While you can eat hot and cold salmon right out of the package without any reheating, they are best utilized in different recipes.
The general idea when it comes to eating cold smoked salmon is to retain its original state as much as possible. In other words, you should enjoy it cold and uncooked.
Thanks to its salty taste, cold-smoked salmon shines best when paired with other foods such as crostinis, blinis, fresh vegetables, and deviled eggs. It’s also an exceptional choice for sushi roll’s fillings or combining with cheese cream and bagel.
Unlike its cold smoked brother, hot smoked salmon is a superb choice for an array of recipes. You can add it to pasta, omelets, chowder, quiche, use it to make creamy dips, or enjoy it without any further cooking in salads and sandwiches.
Another equally delicious dish to make from smoked salmon are salmon patties. As if their flavors are not scrumptious enough, salmon patties can go with many side dishes such as tomato rice or guacamole for a more well-rounded flavor.
There are also numerous side dishes that you can pair with salmon such as Mac and Cheese, garlic rice, or mushroom pilaf. Try your hands at these combinations today, and don’t forget to come back and tell me how you feel.
As promised, here are some delicious smoked salmon recipes for you to try.
Smoked salmon and deviled eggs is a simple yet addicting appetizer. The saltiness and smoky taste of salmon will blend beautifully with the egg’s creaminess to create an explosion of flavor.
Smoked salmon choux puff is another salmon-based appetizer that gives off a complex and fancy vibe. The good news is, these tasty little treats are not that hard to make and will definitely become a big hit at your next dinner party.
With the help of cheese and some spices, you can turn your smoked salmon into flavorful fish cakes. Smoked salmon fish cakes have a crispy outer layer while the inside is flaky with smoked salmon’s signature smokiness and a little creaminess from the cheese.
No meal is truly completed without a bowl of refreshing, deliciously made salad. Smoked salmon will become a much welcome finishing touch to your salad with its unique flavor.
Smoked salmon pasta is an easy-to-make dish that will impress all of your guests. Its sensational taste will surely leave you wanting more after the last bite.
Smoked salmon is a perfect topping for a toast spread with creamy, tangy labneh. To round out the flavor, try adding some Honeycrisp apples – one of the sweetest apple varieties. The sweet-tart taste of apples will make for a refreshing addition to your dish.
Semi-raw to raw seafood like smoked salmon is always a topic with many questions. Check this section for commonly asked questions regarding this tasty and nutritious fish.
For Smoked Salmon, Raw Or Cooked Doesn’t Matter
Now that your question has been answered, it’s time to create mouth-watering dishes with smoked salmon. Make sure to give both cold and hot smoked salmon a try!
Share your experience with smoked salmon with me in the comment section below. If this post has helped you in any way, don’t hesitate to like and share it!
- Contributors to Wikimedia projects, (2001). Smoking (cooking) – Wikipedia.
- Health Benefits of Smoked Salmon [online]. WebMD.
- How Safe is Home-Smoked Salmon? [online]. Food Safety News.