Posts Tagged ‘salmon’

Sometimes a small bite can take a lot of preparation, and you just don’t appreciate it until you decide to make it yourself. That’s especially true with the classic Danish open sandwich called Smørrebrød. The ingredients can vary, but one of my favorite versions is with smoked salmon, on the brunch menu at the best restaurant in Rhode Island: Persimmon, in Providence. 

The Salmon Smørrebrød at Persimmon.

 

With some very special friends coming over for dinner, I decided this would be the event where I debut my own version of Salmon Smørrebrød. I had my work cut out for me…

It starts with the salmon. One of the finest sources of wild-caught Alaskan sockeye salmon is Vital Choice, a purveyor of extremely high-quality wild-caught seafood. I ordered several large fillets and had them shipped frozen to my home. I thawed a couple of the fillets in the fridge, and then cured them for several days.

 

Make sure you get your salmon from a reliable source, and always get wild-caught, never farmed.

 

 

The recipe for the cure mix is simple:

1 cup Kosher salt
1/2 cup cane sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon crushed black peppercorns

Combine these ingredients in a bowl. Mix well.

Use a container that will hold the fillets without bending them. It also needs to be watertight, because the salt extracts moisture from the fish, and you don’t want spills from the liquids released during the curing process.

 

First, the plastic. Then, a layer of the cure mix. Then the salmon fillet, skin-side-down. More cure mix on top. Then the second fillet, with more cure mix on top of that.

 

Lay a few sheets of plastic wrap on the bottom, allowing them to fall over the sides of the container. Sprinkle a good, even layer of the cure mix on the bottom. Lay down the first salmon fillet, skin side down, on top of the cure mix. add more cure mix on top of the fillet to cover it completely. Lay the second fillet on top of that, then cover it completely with more of the cure mix. Fold the plastic wrap tightly over the top, pressing out as much air as you can.

 

Finally, wrapping the whole thing up tightly in plastic.

 

Pressure on the salmon helps the curing process, so the cure mix makes good contact with the flesh. I weigh it down with a few cans of tomato sauce.

 

Even pressure on the salmon fillets helps the curing process.

 

Put the salmon in the fridge for at least 48 hours, until the fillets are firm to the touch.

 

The fillets have changed color and are firmer to the touch once cured.

 

Once the salmon has cured, remove it from the plastic wrap and wash it thoroughly with clean, cold water to remove as much of the salt as possible. Some of the peppercorns will imbed themselves in the fish…remove those, too. Pat the fillets dry with paper towels.

 

The salmon is ready to eat just like this, but…

 

At this point, you’ve got Gravlax, and it’s delicious just the way it is. But I chose to go one step further and smoke the salmon, so I put the fillets on a metal rack in my fridge, skin side down, and let them dry out a bit for an hour or so. When the salmon dries, the flesh gets a bit tacky. That’s called the pellicle, and the sticky surface of the fish helps the smoke molecules adhere better. It’s a good thing.

 

The salmon fillets, drying in the fridge.

 

While the salmon is drying in the fridge, I get my smoking gear ready.

I like to use charcoal briquets and hickory chips for the smoking process. I bring my small camping grill next to my larger home grill. Using my charcoal chimney, I light the briquets and let them burn until they’re ashed over. Using a small smoking box, I place some hickory chips inside, then add a couple of hot briquets to it, making sure they burn the chips and the smoking starts. I place the smoking box inside my large grill with the vents open, laying my salmon fillets (skin-side-down) next to the smoking box. I close the lid of the grill, and let the smoking begin.

 

Lighting briquets in the camping grill before moving them to the larger grill.

 

Ashed-over coals in the chimney.

This is as close to a cold-smoking process as you can get at home. There is no heat actually cooking the salmon, just a smoke-filled grill that needs to be replenished every once in a while with hot coals and more hickory chips. I smoke the salmon for a couple of hours.

 

Let the smoking begin!

 

Once the salmon has smoked, you’ve got yourself a really special treat. You must eat some at this point, just to reward yourself for a job well done! Then, wrap the rest of the salmon tightly in plastic wrap, and keep it refrigerated until you’re ready to serve it. It will stay fresh in the fridge for several days.

My research for Salmon Smørrebrød resulted in many variations, but I ultimately chose one that used a horseradish cream on the fish. Just so happened that I have a giant horseradish plant growing in my garden, so it was time to dig some of the roots up!

 

Digging up horseradish.

Once I dug the roots out and washed them clean, they needed to be peeled down to their white center. Then they were ready to be grated. I used the same system my grandfather did, many years ago: a simple hand grater for the job. If you thought you cry when you slice onions, you ain’t seen nuthin’ until you’ve grated horseradish! But it’s worth the effort.

 

Cleaned horseradish roots, before peeling and grating.

 

You need freshly grated horseradish, not the prepared stuff you find in the supermarket for the cream…

 

12 tablespoons sour cream
6 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
4 tablespoons freshly grated horseradish
8 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 pinches of sugar
Kosher salt to taste

Combine these ingredients in a bowl and mix well. It keeps for at least a day, so you can make it the night before serving. This is a lot of horseradish cream, but I was making enough to serve 12 people.

 

The horseradish cream…delicious on a lot of things!

 

1 fennel bulb
2 Granny Smith apples
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

A few hours before serving, thinly slice a fennel bulb–paper-thin if you can–and place the slices in a bowl of ice water. Peel and core 2 Granny Smith apples and slice them as thinly as you can, placing them in the ice bath as well. After an hour, remove the fennel and apple slices from the ice water, pat them dry with paper towels, and place them in a bowl, sprinkling them with the lemon juice. Toss, mixing well, and then place the bowl in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

 

Slicing the fennel as thinly as possible.

 

A few last ingredients…

Sliced bread
Softened unsalted butter
Fresh dill sprigs

Smørrebrød is a sandwich, so of course, I needed some bread. I chose something from my heritage: Lithuanian bread, a combination of rye and pumpernickel that I find when I go back home to New York. I keep it in the freezer until I need it, and for this recipe, I sliced it thin.

 

Getting the ingredients together. The Lithuanian bread is the brown bread. We also had a couple of slices of gluten-free bread.

 

Now we’re finally ready to build this thing!

 

Slicing the salmon as thinly as possible.

 

Rather than making all the sandwiches myself, I decided I’d teach a Master Class of Smørrebrød-making with my fabulous guests. So I brought all the ingredients out, and we started building our sandwiches as I sliced the salmon as thinly as possible.

 

Everyone makes their own Smørrebrød!

 

 

First, you take your slice of Lithuanian bread and spread some of the butter on it.

Then, layer the fabulous salmon on top.

Next, a healthy spread of the horseradish cream.

Top with some of the sliced fennel and apple.

Garnish with just a few fresh sprigs of dill.

And then top it all off with a friendly sprinkling of Fleur de Sel, or your favorite sea salt.

 

Fleur de Sel at the end makes all the difference!

 

And that’s my Salmon Smørrebrød…a labor of love. But that’s what you do for friends, right?

 

Time to eat!

 

Leftover ingredients make a great sandwich on an everything bagel the next day!

 

 

In the past, when I reached for the smoker, it was always for a slab of meat: brisket, pork shoulder, ribs. I’m surprised it took me this long to finally smoke some fish. What have I been waiting for?

Brining and smoking fish, in this case a hunk of wild-caught Alaskan salmon, is really not difficult to do at all: you brine the fish in a simple salt, pepper and sugar solution for a few hours, let the hunk of fish dry, then throw it in a smoker for a couple of hours. It’s really that easy. This method is called hot smoking, not the cold smoking you often see described on packages of store-bought salmon. Cold smoking is a process that takes days and requires equipment that most homeowners don’t have, and don’t need.

About the fish: I’m not a fan of traditionally cooked or poached salmon. I like it raw or I like it smoked. I never buy Atlantic salmon or any other farm-raised salmon because of the way they raise them: in large pens out in the ocean, fed food pellets and antibiotics, over-crowded and diseased, polluting the waters around them with waste.

Wild-caught fish are just that: they eat their natural food sources. They are not crowded so they don’t need antibiotics. And you can tell the difference when you look at the beautiful bright orange flesh. Does the good stuff cost more? Of course. Worth every bit.

Though I try to make sure all the small bones have been removed from my fish, I like to keep the skin on the filet, because it helps hold it together in the smoker. I always keep the fish cold in the fridge until it is ready to be brined.

 

salmon

 

For the brine:

1 gallon water
1 cup Kosher salt
1 cup organic raw sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine the ingredients in a large pitcher made of glass or plastic and refrigerate until very cold.

When the brine is cold, remove the fish from the fridge and place it skin down in a glass or plastic container that will hold the filet without folding it over. Carefully pour the brine over the fish and make sure the fish is covered completely with the brine. If the fish filet starts to float, place a dish on it to push it down and then put the lid over the container. Place the container back in the fridge and brine for anywhere from 6 to 12 hours. (I always go for less than more. I’d rather have less salty than too salty.)

Once the fish has been brined, remove it from the container and rinse it well under fresh water. Pat it dry with paper towels and place it where it will get air circulating all around it. I use a small rack that stands an inch over a sheet pan. If you leave the fish out at room temp, do it for no more than an hour. Otherwise, it can stay in the fridge for up to 3 hours.

As the fish dries, it will form a shiny coat on the surface called a pellicle. This will actually help the smoke molecules adhere to the fish.

Start up your smoker. I use a digital smoker that runs on electricity, so I pre-heat to 220 degrees. When the fish has dried, I place it in the middle of the smoker and then add hickory chips to the smoker. I smoke the fish for about 2 hours, until the internal temperature of the fish is about 140.

Once it is smoked, I let the fish cool to room temp before I wrap it tightly and place it in the fridge for storage. Eat it within a few days…that should not be a problem!

I love salmon in all forms but cooked. To me, cooking changes the true flavor of this fantastic fish, so I enjoy it raw (as in sashimi), smoked, and cured.

The best smoked salmon uses the gentle process of cold smoking. It’s something that the average homeowner can’t really do successfully, so I simply buy cold-smoked salmon when I crave it. I’ve made hot-smoked salmon at home with some success, but the fish is so delicate, you really have to keep an eye on it. It takes no time for a juicy, perfectly smoked piece of salmon to turn into a dry, overcooked hockey puck.

Curing, which is how you get Gravlax, is really quite simple. You just need to have enough patience to wait a few days before you can eat it.

There are many gravlax recipes out there.  Some use peppercorns, fennel, caraway, even Aquavit in the curing process.  My opinion is: if you’ve got a beautiful piece of fish, why mask the flavor of it? I go with the simplest recipe possible, featuring just 3 ingredients that cure the salmon: salt, sugar and fresh dill,  and I lean toward the salty versus sweet side.

The first step, of course, is to get the right piece of salmon. What you want is that beautiful, vibrant, almost-orange wild-caught Alaskan or Pacific salmon that costs more than you thought you were going to spend. Wild-caught means the salmon has eaten the foods it loves, a balanced diet consisting of bugs, fish, shrimp, and small invertebrates. A natural diet gives the meat of the fish that beautiful color and incredible flavor. What the salmon eats is very important because you are eating the salmon. Wild-caught salmon is high in Omega-3’s…the good fats.

A beautiful piece of wild-caught salmon laying on a bed of the cure.

 

I avoid Atlantic salmon at all costs. Unfortunately, most restaurants on the east coast serve Atlantic salmon because it’s less expensive. There’s a reason for that. Atlantic salmon is farmed in the USA, Canada and Europe, which means the fish are kept in crowded underwater pens and are fed food pellets that contain a number of nutrients and additives. Often, farmed fish are treated to prevent sea lice, and are given antibiotics to prevent diseases caused by their tight living quarters. When you buy Atlantic salmon in the fish store, you can spot it a mile away, because it’s pale with a tinge of gray, and its flavor is bland and lifeless. Farmed salmon is much lower in Omega-3’s.

If it doesn’t say wild-caught Alaskan or Pacific salmon, it isn’t! Previously frozen vs. fresh fish matters less than where it came from and how it was raised.

2 lbs. wild-caught salmon, skin on, pin bones removed
2/3 cup (100g) Kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal)
1/3 cup (80g) sugar (I use natural beet sugar)
1 large bunch fresh dill, washed

 

If your fish monger hasn’t removed the pin bones from your salmon filet, you’ll need to get a pair of long-nose pliers and remove them. It’s not the worst thing in the world to leave them in there, but you really don’t want to be spitting bones out later.

The reason I mention that I use Diamond Crystal Kosher salt is because all Kosher salt does not weigh the same. Morton Kosher salt, for example, is much heavier by volume, so it weighs more even though you’re using the same cup measurement. In the case of Diamond Crystal, 2/3 cup weighs 100g. Same rules apply to the sugar.  This is really important point to keep in mind when you’re curing anything, fish or meat.

Get a non-reactive tray long enough to hold the salmon filet. I prefer glass.

Mix the salt and the sugar together, and sprinkle half of it evenly on the bottom of the glass tray. Lay the piece of salmon down on the cure, skin side down, and cover the top of the salmon with the rest of the cure evenly.

Lay the sprigs of dill on top of the cure, covering the entire piece of fish.

Cover everything with several layers of plastic wrap, pushing it down and tucking it into the corners for a tight fit.

Find a flat board or something similar (I used a clear plastic tray) and lay it on top of the plastic wrap.

Add heavy weights on top to press down evenly on all surfaces. I used cans of tomatoes.

Side view.

Place the tray in the fridge for 48-72 hours.

After 24 hours, remove the plastic wrap and, tilting the tray, baste the dill-covered salmon with the brine juices that have formed. Put clean plastic wrap on top, add the weights, and put it all back in the fridge for another 24 hours. Repeat that process at the 48-hour mark, if needed.

 

You’ll know the fish is fully cured when the thickest part of the filet is firm to the touch.

Unwrap the salmon, discarding the salt and sugar brine and the dill. Rinse the filet under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels.

I don’t like a ton of chopped dill imbedded into my gravlax as some do, but if you do, simply chop a bunch of dill, spread it out onto a board, and press the salmon into it flesh-side down.

To serve, place the gravlax skin-side down on a board. With a long, sharp narrow-bladed knife, slice the fish against the grain, on the diagonal, into thin pieces. Serve with mustard-dill sauce, chopped onion, capers, hard-boiled egg, bread, whatever you like.

Refrigerate any remaining gravlax immediately, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 2 weeks.

 

(My fresh dill bunch came with the roots intact, so I cut them off and placed them into the soil in my herb garden. New dill will sprout up quickly!)

 

 

 

 

 

I’m past the halfway mark in my 30-day low-to-no carb diet right now. Although nothing beats a New York City bagel, it’s just not on the menu. So I went with organic Romain lettuce instead.

I removed the thick central stalk from several washed lettuce leaves, then cut each half in half, placing the lettuce on a large plate. Then I stacked: a small cube of cream cheese, followed by a slice of hard-boiled egg, followed by a thin slice or two of onion, a few capers, and finally, the lox. Each lettuce leaf made a bite-sized wrap.

image

 

 

Delicious? Yes. But I still missed the bagel.

 

In the past, whenever I reached for the smoker, it was always for a slab of meat: brisket, pork shoulder, ribs. I’m surprised it took me this long to finally smoke some fish. What have I been waiting for?

Brining and smoking fish, in this case a hunk of wild-caught Alaskan salmon, is really not difficult to do at all: you brine the fish in a simple salt, pepper and sugar solution for a few hours, let the hunk of fish dry, then throw it in a smoker for a couple of hours. It’s really that easy. This method is called hot smoking, not the cold smoking you often see described on packages of store-bought salmon. Cold smoking is a process that takes days and requires equipment that most homeowners don’t have, and don’t need.

About the fish: I’m not a fan of traditionally cooked or poached salmon. I like it raw or I like it smoked. I never buy Atlantic salmon or any other farm-raised salmon because of the way they raise them: in large pens out in the ocean, fed food pellets and antibiotics, over-crowded and diseased, polluting the waters around them with waste.

Wild-caught fish are just that: they eat their natural food sources. They are not crowded so they don’t need antibiotics. And you can tell the difference when you look at the beautiful bright orange flesh. Does the good stuff cost more? Of course. Worth every bit.

Though I try to make sure all the small bones have been removed from my fish, I like to keep the skin on the filet, because it helps hold it together in the smoker. I always keep the fish cold in the fridge until it is ready to be brined.

salmon

For the brine:

1 gallon water
1cup Kosher salt
1cup organic raw sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Combine the ingredients in a large pitcher made of glass or plastic and refrigerate until very cold.

When the brine is cold, remove the fish from the fridge and place it skin down in a glass or plastic container that will hold the filet without folding it over. Carefully pour the brine over the fish and make sure the fish is covered completely with the brine. If the fish filet starts to float, place a dish on it to push it down and then put the lid over the container. Place the container back in the fridge and brine for anywhere from 6 to 12 hours. (I always go for less than more. I’d rather have less salty than too salty.)

Once the fish has been brined, remove it from the container and rinse it well under fresh water. Pat it dry with paper towels and place it where it will get air circulating all around it. I use a small rack that stands an inch over a sheet pan. If you leave the fish out at room temp, do it for no more than an hour. Otherwise, it can stay in the fridge for up to 3 hours.

As the fish dries, it will form a shiny coat on the surface called a pellicle. This will actually help the smoke molecules adhere to the fish.

Start up your smoker. I use a digital smoker that runs on electricity, so I pre-heat to 220 degrees. When the fish has dried, I place it in the middle of the smoker and then add hickory chips to the smoker. I smoke the fish for about 2 hours, until the internal temperature of the fish is about 140.

Once it is smoked, I let the fish cool to room temp before I wrap it tightly and place it in the fridge for storage. Eat it within a few days…that should not be a problem!