The Zen of Smoking

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Elizabeth Thompson

Elizabeth Thompson › Elizabeth Thompson is a writer and photographer. She lives in Alaska with her husband and their ...


You can’t rush smoked salmon. It is both ritual and art: first you must catch the wild fish (something this writer has yet to achieve!); next, hand-fillet each salmon; craft a brine, controlling both time and temperature as the wild meat’s cells are transformed by diffusion and osmosis, they denature; hang the filets to dry just enough; and then, into the smoke they go – hot or cold smoke, both require practice and vigilance.

If you are lucky enough to have access to wild Alaskan salmon (the best protein in the world) and years to practice, you may find you have what it takes to get the kind of sublime results that Thomas Cumps of Northern Lights Smokeries in Petersburg, Alaska has perfected… the kind of smoked salmon that seems to melt in your mouth, never bitter, never dry.

As in most good stories, our hero of smoking fish came to it by a long and circuitous route. Originally from Belgium, Thomas came to the little fishing town of Petersburg as a physical therapist, then fell in love with the stunning beauty of Alaska and its unparalleled wild seafoods. It must be said: he was hooked! He left physical therapy behind to get his hands on the fish. After a humble start on the docks unloading fishermen’s catches, he worked his way up to fleet manager, fell in love with the Quality Assurance Manager at the plant, and eventually found himself in the position to buy Northern Lights Smokeries, a business that is only as good as the person smoking its fish. Lucky for us, Thomas is a master and the Quality Assurance gal is still on his team.

In addition to three flavors of hot-smoked salmon, classic lox, cold-smoked black cod (sablefish) and halibut, the smokery also sells fresh blast-frozen salmon and halibut.

Check out their products at

Photo Credit: Northern Lights Smokeries