Posted by johngl
One of my favorite and most versatile recipes is that for cured salmon. It is amazingly simple to do and it only takes about a day to cure out. It is versatile in that after curing, the salmon can be lightly smoked, baked in the oven for a few minutes, poached, or just sliced thinly and put on a potato chip with some crème fraîche and caviar.
If you are looking for an appetizer that goes really well with just about any kind of champagne, this will work for you. Please don’t let the whole caviar thing freak you out. This stuff isn’t really that expensive. Avruga, a Spanish product that is made from herring, comes in 4.2 oz containers that sell for about $20. I have served this stuff to friends who were absolutely certain they wouldn’t like it, only to say, “Hey, that’s not bad at all!” and go for another one.
So, back to the salmon…
I have heard arguments on both sides of the farm-raised salmon issue. For this particular application I really insist on using wild-caught King salmon exclusively. I have tried every other orange-colored fish imaginable and the King is, well, king.
Notice the wider fat bands on the lower (belly) area as opposed to the narrow bands on the upper (dorsal) area. These even taste a bit different. The belly meat is my favorite.
I keep these stainless steel offset needle nose pliers in my gadget drawer specifically for this kind of thing. You can locate the pin bones pretty easily by running your hand against the grain. Latch onto them and give them a gentle tug and they will normally pop right out. If you are really nice to your fish monger, he will do this for you, but if anyone else is waiting in line behind you, he might do it grudgingly. Be nice to fellow shoppers please. Please don’t be on your cell phone when it’s your turn either. You might find yourself gutted and filleted (verbally, of course) if you do this while I am waiting behind you.
I buy King salmon with the skin on it. That allows the fish to lay on the ice without absorbing water and it keeps the flesh fresher because the air can’t get to it. I cut the skin off at home. It takes less than two minutes. Notice that this is the belly side of the fillet and that the handle is over the edge of the cutting board. Slip your (really sharp) knife between the flesh and skin to get started. Then just hold the skin with your finger tips, and with the knife tilted up ever so slightly, move the knife back and forth in a slight sawing motion to the end of the fillet.
Here are both sections just after the de-skinning. Notice that right about where I stopped the knife for the previous picture, I cut into the skin a bit. Oops. Oh well, it trims up really easily. You will probably want to trim off the brownish colored flesh, too. There is nothing wrong with it, but since this is a cured presentation, brown colored flesh would be less appetizing. I used to give this to my old cat, Misha, but the poor girl died a few months ago at age 18. She used to dance for salmon. I miss the little fuzz-butt.
Here are the same fillets all trimmed up. Very pretty!
Now is the time to prepare your cure. I use the following formula:
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup dark brown sugar
1/4 cup white cane sugar
finely ground black pepper
Simple and easy to remember. Many years ago, I tried using all white sugar, but it just didn’t taste right. The dark brown just added some depth of flavor. Some folks may want to add some dill weed to the cure. Go for it you want to, but take it easy. Dill can be mighty powerful.
After trying multitudes of methods over the years, I’ve landed upon the basic cardboard box. Line it with heavy foil (to prevent any leakage), then line the inside of that with clear food wrap (so we don’t get any metallic taste). Once the poly liner is in there, lay out your cure on the bottom about 1/8″ thick.
Lay the fillets in there, then cover them with the remainder of your cure. Cover that with another piece of poly, then place a foil-wrapped piece of heavy cardboard on top of the fish. Weight it down with a brick or two 28oz cans of tomatoes (or whatever you happen to have that is heavy and fits in the box). Put this mass in the refrigerator and forget about it for 18-24 hours. If you go longer than this, the salmon might be too salty.
In the photo below, the salmon has been removed and rinsed in cold water. It is a lot stiffer now (which is why it can bridge the corner of the box). That gooey mass in the bottom of the box is salmon juice mixed with cure. Dump it out, then pull the poly liner out and dispose of that as well. If your foil is dry, you did well and can re-use this setup the next time.
So, this time, it suddenly dawned on me that I could use my deli slicer to get the fish fillets evenly sliced…
I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of this before. The oil in the fish lubricates the blade nicely and slides right on through. Within minutes, I had the entire side of fish in precise 4mm thick slices:
The slices above are on a piece of poly. I just folded up the ends and wrapped up the fish. I cut a piece of cardboard about the same size as the fillet, and using the cardboard to keep the fish orderly, I slipped it all into a FoodSaver bag and vacuum sealed it then popped it back into the refrigerator.
When you’re ready to use it, just cut open the bag, lay out some potato chips, and do the final assembly.
I know there are probably a few of you out there that can’t get past the fact that this is a fish dish let alone that the fish isn’t cooked. Live a little. People have been eating cured salmon for centuries.