One of our most popular starters has for many years been the Lime and lemon-cured fresh salmon and white crab from our Catering Menu (p. 25). There’s nothing to not like about this dish with its fragrantly garnished and delicious white crab on top of citrus cured diced salmon complimented by the lime crème fraiche dressing. It is as attractive to look at as it is to eat.
There is of course the old adage that says “if it ‘ain’t broke, don’t fix it” but I believe that a recent tweak we made to the salmon has made the textures in this dish work so much better together.
In the past we used to dice the raw salmon and then cured it with lemon juice and lime zest. When it was ready we would drain the fish, dry it as much as possible and then mix it with chopped dill. There was nothing wrong but it did have two minor draw backs. Firstly, because there was still quite a lot of moisture in the fish it would sometimes leek onto the plate and secondly both the crab and the salmon had a similar soft, flaky texture to them.
Now, however, we cure our fish in a more traditional Scandinavian way with salt and sugar so that we end up with salmon in the style of Gravlax and it has made all the difference to the dish. The diced salmon now is intensely flavoured, beautifully seasoned and has a certain bite to it that compliments the softness of the crab perfectly.
And this is what I want to share with you today, cured salmon. It really is so easy and versatile that you could use it on dinners, canapés, buffets, BBQ’s or in salads. As long as you can organize yourself and give the salmon 24 hours to cure you will love the finished product; it even freezes really well if you have some left over. At its most basic level you only need a side of fresh salmon, salt, sugar and 24 hours to make this happen but I’ll explain what we do and suggest some variations.
- Get yourself a side of fresh salmon from the supermarket. They are readily available from the fish counter and you can ask them to prep it for you as required. Keep an eye out because they often have great deals on whole fish then you can do two sides and freeze down what you don’t use at the time.
- Decide what you want the fish for. If you want to dice up the fish get it with the skin off but if you want to do slices then its sometimes easier to keep the skin on.
- Mix two parts salt to one part sugar, about 150g to 75g. I use a good quality rock or sea salt and brown sugar but you could equally use table salt and caster sugar. The important thing is the 2:1 ratio.
- Into this salt/sugar mix we add lime, orange and lemon zest and some chopped dill. This is where you can influence the outcome of your salmon. As long as what you are putting in is dry, the sky is the limit. You could put any kind of herb, spice or seed to flavour your fish such as ground star anise, cinnamon or chopped coriander. Experiment and see what works for you.
- Put your side of salmon good side up onto some kind of rack or trivet that will allow liquid to drain into a container below. It is important that the salmon doesn’t sit in the liquid because it can over cure and become too salty and really quite unpleasant. If you are using salmon with skin on make a few shallow cuts across the flesh to allow moisture to escape and put it on the rack skin side down.
- Using your hands pack the salt/sugar mix onto the salmon, covering every part. Cover this with Clingfilm and pop it into the fridge for 24 hours.
- Pour yourself a well-earned glass of vino and wait with child-like excitement for your impending triumph.
- 24 hours is of course just a guide. If you want your fish cured more or less, adjust accordingly. 24 hours is just what works for us.
- When your time is up thoroughly wash your salmon under a cold tap until all the salt is gone and then dry with a clean cloth. The fish will have a soft leathery feel about it and the thin parts (tail) will be more cured than the thicker parts.
- At this stage for us it’s done. We then chop it up into 5mm dice and mix it with some freshly chopped dill ready for service with the crab, but you could take it a stage further.
- You could cover it with chopped dill before you slice it to make it more like Gravlax or alternatively cover it with chopped, cooked beetroot and let the surface become stained with the juice. After a couple of hours remove the beetroot and wash again before slicing it up. This really does look wonderful if you’re serving it as a starter.
Enjoy curing your own salmon. It really is so simple and the end product is so rewarding.