Let’s say you don’t really enjoy canned salmon, and you still don’t love to always have to prepare (cook) salmon whenever you want to eat it. In such cases, you only have a single choice – smoked salmon. You can have it straight from the packaging without any preparation, but one thing you should be wary of is- how long does smoked salmon last?
Since man began hunting and gathering, smoking meat has always stood out as a favorite preservation method. In modern times where storage facilities such as freezers and refrigerators are common, smoking meat is not mainly for preservation purposes but for a smoky flavor.
Smokes meat, including salmon, can go bad within a short time if not properly stored. If you have been wondering how long smoking your salmon can extend their shelf life under different storage conditions, you have come to the right place!
What is smoked salmon?
While smoked salmon may generally refer to smoke-cured salmon meat, it is actually a generic term that refers to up to four different kinds of ‘smoked’ salmon. In general terms, smoked salmon is a salmon fillet that has been cured This filleted salmon is then either hot-smoked, or cold-smoked to make the delicacy.
So, what are the different types of smoked salmon?
Types of smoked salmon
As mentioned earlier, there are about four different salmon products that qualify as smoked salmon. Also, the smoked salmon could come from different sources. This is the broadest classification of smoked salmon, based on whether the salmon is wild-caught, or if it’s farm-raised, and the cooking method.
Apart from the source of the fish, it could be cooked in different manners to yield the four smoked salmon products. These are:
- Salt-cured lox and gravlax
- Cold-smoked salmon
- Nova lox
- Hot-smoked salmon
All the smoked salmon products have one common thing- they are all brined in a salt solution to remove moisture by osmosis and thus slow down bacterial growth.
Cold-smoked salmon is known for its delicate texture, which results from smoking at lower temperatures. The taste is also different from that of ho-smoked salmon.
During cold smoking, the meat is maintained at a temperature between 15-32 degrees Celsius, although 37 degrees Celsius is also a common standard. Typically, this meat is hung in a smoking chamber that is separate from the fireplace o that it remains at a lower temperature.
The smoke coming from the fire is allowed to pass through the smoking chamber where the salmon is placed. The smoke thus imparts smoky flavor into the filleted salmon as it raises the temperature of the latter without cooking it. The salmon will retain the delicate flavor since it’s not cooked during the smoking.
Brining the salmon before cold-smoking is necessary to preserve the meat. This is why all cold-smoked salmon products are so salty. You should be careful with these if you have a history of hypertension.
This smoking method involves higher temperatures which result in the meat being fully cooked. Hot-smoked salmon can be brined or smoked without salt, although brining is always preferred.
In this process, the salmon is filleted and placed in a smoking chamber. The chamber is designed so that the fish is placed directly over the fire. The hot smoke from the fireplace smokes and cooks the meat simultaneously.
Hot smoking typically takes place at temperatures ranging from 38 to 93 degrees Celsius. This means that the meat attains an internal temperature of at least 67 degrees Celsius, the required minimum to kill the bacteria.
Once done, hot-smoked salmon develops a firm texture and a dark color, alongside the smoky flavor. If the meat was not brined (or was brined with a less concentrated solution), it wouldn’t taste as salty as a cold-smoked fillet.
Salt-cured lox and gravlax
Lox is typically not smoked, but it falls under smoked salmon- pretty confusing. This product originated from the Pacific Northwest. Salmon from this region was shipped (to the east) while packed in salt. The salt was used to draw water from the salmon, thus discouraging bacterial growth and keeping the salmon good for months.
This method was very cheap yet effective, thus gaining popularity among immigrant Jews who could enjoy the fish with dairy.
Gravlax is a Swedish version of lox that’s dill-cured. Both lox and gravlax meats are cut from the salmon belly, which is the fattiest and the most rich-flavored.
Although it’s not smoked at all, this is also the most recent ‘smoked salmon’ product, just like regular lox. Nova appeared at about the same time commercial refrigeration began.
Nova uses lesser salt compared to lox because the cold refrigeration conditions account for the preservation. The fillet is brined with a milder salt solution and then cold-smoked to enrich the flavor.
Nova is made from other cuts, unlike lox which is always cut from the salmon belly.
Shelf life of smoked salmon
Smoked salmon lasts significantly longer than raw or conventionally cooked salmon. This is because salt, brines, or even honey used in smoking are also preservatives
Smoked salmon will go for as long as 21 days if refrigerated while the packaging stays intact. This applies to hot-smoked salmon, but if honey is used in the place of salt or brine, the salmon can go for up to three months if unopened and left on the countertop!
A brand called Sea Bear claims that their smoking and packaging techniques are so good that you can consume their salmon after up to four years! While this is spectacular, would you really keep your smoked salmon that long?
If you package the smoked salmon and freeze, you can eat it after 60 days. This is the longest you can freeze the meat without significantly impacting the taste.
Should you manage to store the smoked salmon at 0 degrees Fahrenheit, you can consume it at any point in your life. The texture and flavor will, however, deteriorate as time flies by.
Shelf life of smoked salmon in a vacuum seal
Although smoked salmon lasts longer than if it is raw or cooked, that period may still not be enough to consume all of the fish. Such calls for extra storage measures like vacuum sealing keep the fish fresh throughout the shelf life period.
IF you store the smoked fish in the fridge without vacuum sealing, it will be safe for consumption for up to 3 weeks. Vacuum sealing extends this period to between eight and 12 weeks.
How long does smoked salmon last in the fridge?
The period that smoked salmon lasts depends on the storage mode and how the product is packaged before storing.
How long does vacuum-sealed salmon last in the fridge?
If you can afford a vacuum sealer at home, then you can store your vacuum-sealed smoked salmon for up to 21 days in the fridge. Holding the fish in a freezer will keep it tasting great for between two and three months.
How long does an opened salmon package last in the fridge?
Sometimes you just can’t eat an entire smoked salmon package in one sitting. You could still eat the leftovers if you stored them in the fridge for not more than one week. Opened packages can go for one month in the freezer.
How long does unopened smoked salmon last in the fridge?
If you purchase packaged salmon but decide to have it later, you can refrigerate it for up to seven days in the fridge. Intact packages go for about a month if frozen.
Does smoked salmon go bad?
Smoking salmon not only adds flavor to the meat but also increases the shelf life. However, smoked salmon will still go bad if not frozen at 0 degrees Fahrenheit at all times.
The rate at which the meat spoils is highly dependent on where the fish is stored. For example, at room temperature, smoked salmon lasts for up to a week. The spoiling process quickens if the package is opened or if the smoked meat is exposed to the elements like heat, sunlight, and humidity.
How to store smoked salmon to extend the shelf life?
As mentioned above, smoking salmon extends its shelf life, but not indefinitely. For the purpose of adding a few more days over the typical shelf life, here are some tips you should consider taking advantage of:
Keeping the package unopened
In most cases, store-bought smoked salmon comes in vacuum packages. These do not let air in and thus discourage aerobic bacteria activity. This is why vacuum sealing is such an effective way of storing foods.
Keeping the package unopened
Since smoked salmon comes in vacuum-sealed packages, it’s best not to open the package if you don’t intend to use the salmon immediately. Opened packages let in air, which then allows aerobic bacteria to swing into action. You should even expect the fish to spoil earlier than the indicated best-before date.
Vacuum sealing the opened packages
With technology advancing every day, we can now own small-sized vacuum sealers for kitchen use. If you have one, ensure to vacuum seal all leftover foods, including salmon.
Even if the salmon is exposed to air on opening the package, vacuum sealing withdraws the air again, thus halting aerobic bacteria activity.
Freezing/Refrigerating smoked salmon
Whether you keep the package unopened or you vacuum-seal the leftovers, you only stop aerobic bacteria. Their anaerobic brothers continue breeding and wearing on your salmon as long as the temperatures permit it.
Freezing or refrigerating deactivates all the bacteria, allowing your package to last much longer.
Storing away from direct sunlight, heat sources, or humid areas
Heat, light, and humidity are the perfect mix for breeding thousands of harmful bacteria types. Still, light damages the texture of the meat to some degree.
For the best results, store the meat in a dark and dry place in your pantry or even in the fridge altogether.
How to know if smoked salmon is bad
With so much happening to spoiling meat, it’s relatively easy to tell when smoked salmon is going bad. Here are pointers:
Although smoked salmon is not as easy a raw salmon to spot the first visual signs of spoilage, you don’t need an eye for so much detail to spot mold on the meat. This will mostly happen to meats that have been opened and not consumed for more than seven days.
Consuming salmon that’s growing mold puts you at a risk of fungal poisoning. This risk is more pronounced for persons with mold allergies.
Smoked salmon changes color in more significant portions. You’ll see a larger part of the salmon turn greenish and dull. For whatever reason, any color change after a few days of opening the package indicates that the meat is going bad.
Some sections may, however, discolor depending on how the meat was smoked. Thus, you shouldn’t rely on this method entirely.
Development of a foul odor
If you have encountered fresh smoked salmon, the smell of lousy salmon will be outrightly noticeable. While fresh salmon should have a mild and enticing fish smell, spoilt salmon will produce a pungent fishy smell.
Even if you ignore the smell, cooking the meat doesn’t help. Heat may kill the bacteria but won’t destroy the toxins already present in the meat.
Package older than sell-by date
Smoked salmon is stamped with the date it was packaged and when it is supposed to have been consumed. If your salmon looks okay and doesn’t smell, but is ay past its expiry date, don’t even look back- discard it immediately.
How to heat smoked salmon
Smoked salmon is mainly known for its smoky flavor. In order to retain these flavors when reheating, you need to follow through with an intricate process in the oven. You could also reheat the salmon in a microwave, but the result is mostly a soggy mass, sometimes with cold spots.
Heating smoked salmon in the oven
Follow these steps to get the best of the reheated smoked salmon:
- Set the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Put the fish on a baking pan and drizzle with olive oil or butter. The oil/butter helps lock in the moisture and prevent the salmon from drying out in the oven.
- Place the pan and the salmon in the oven and let it bake for five minutes.
- Take the pan out and check if the salmon has attained at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit internal temperature.
- If it has not yet reached the required temperature, bake further for two minutes and recheck the heat levels.
Heating smoked salmon in the microwave
If a microwave is all you have, you can still warm your smoked fish. Here is how:
- Place the smoked salmon in a microwavable dish. Place a wet paper towel over the fish to trap water vapor and prevent the fish turning dryish.
- Set the microwave to medium heat and heat the salmon for 120 seconds.
- Check whether the fish is sufficiently warm/hot
- If not, microwave again for 60 seconds, occasionally stopping to check how hot it gets.
- Once hot enough, serve with your preferred meal.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Is smoked salmon carcinogenic?
Salmon is often cured in brine before smoking. The brining medium may contain nitrates and nitrite, which are carcinogenic.
Generally, smoked salmon has trace cancer-causing chemicals, although the more smoked meat you consume, the higher the risk of cancers such as colorectal cancer.
Q. How long does smoked salmon last?
On average, smoked salmon will be good for about 20 days if refrigerated. This applies to unopened packages. If you are storing leftovers, they can last a maximum of seven days in the refrigerator.
Q. How long can you keep smoked fish?
Smoked fish can last up to 21 days if refrigerated and indefinitely if frozen at 0 degrees Fahrenheit. This period also depends on whether the package is intact or opened, and if opened, whether the remainder has been vacuum-sealed. Opened packages will not be safe for consumption past seven days.
How long does unopened smoked salmon last?
You can store unopened packages in the fridge or in the freezer. Unopened smoked salmon lasts three weeks in the fridge and up to 90 days if frozen. You can freeze the salmon indefinitely, but this takes a toll on the taste and texture of the meat.
Q. Why is smoked salmon so expensive?
The smoking process dehydrates the meat, making it weigh much lesser than if it were fresh. This is why the prices of smoked salmon are generally high per kilo compared to fresh fish.
Again, depending on the quality of the salmon and availability, the prices may fluctuate by even more than 50%.
Smoked salmon is a delicacy across the world. Compared to other fresh fish products and seafood, it lasts longer and gives you more flexibility in terms of how long you have until you finish it. Having discussed all the shelf life of this acclaimed delicacy, you can now enjoy it at peace, knowing when to keep it and when to throw it away, as well as what you can do to keep it fresh for longer.