Curing and smoking salmon may not be easy, but it is simple. Take the freshest, highest quality fish, de-scale, fillet, trim and pin-bone it; cure it in salt (sometimes also sugar) and once it has cured to the right level, rinse it and let it dry, before letting it bathe in rich oak smoke at a constantly low temperature for a few hours. When it’s ready, put it into chill so it matures for a while. Then trim, slice, portion and pack it so it stays fresh.
The trouble is that every batch of fish is different, as is every day we cure and smoke it. So deciding when a batch has finished curing is as much a judgement of look and feel as it is one of cure time and volume. So too is deciding when a sufficient pellicle has formed (that’s the slightly sticky layer on a cured fish that shows that the proteins have denatured sufficiently so that smoke can best adhere). And judging whether a batch needs another half-hour in the smoker or not is a judgement made on the level of oil beading on the fillets themselves rather than on what the clock says. It's what the books call ‘organoleptic assessment’. It’s what we call the art of the smoker.