I’ve never really liked cured or smoked salmon. I mean, I still ate it, especially if I went to brunch at Hillel (I wanted to fit in…). But often I find salmon that comes out of a vacuum-sealed package and pre-sliced, slightly slimy and stale. Then I read a recipe for cured salmon in one of my favorite cookbooks, Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn. Seemed easy and quick enough, and I was eager to try curing my own foods. The recipe they suggested included fennel and anise flavorings. I find that those flavors can be overwhelming. They also suggested using pastrami seasonings – black peppercorns and coriander. Yes. Yes.
Coriander has become an obsession and I’ve been throwing it on everything. Here, the coating of pepper and coriander worked beautifully, lending the fish a mild spice, and an aromatic edge from the coriander. This recipe is unimaginably easy and makes a lot of cured salmon (and makes it cheaper than you’d pay for the presliced version).
I loved it. Sliced just before eating, served with capers, cream cheese, and bialys, it was the best cured salmon I’ve ever had (and I’m not just being humble). The slicing requires a sharp sharp knife. Cut at a 45 degree angle, thin slices of the salmon shine as they come off the knife. Not slimy or stale, there were tiny beads of fish oil on each slice having been freshly released upon cutting. And then you eat it – tender, melting in your mouth, tastes of the ocean, with the faint spice and perfume from the seasonings, you can’t believe this just came out of your refrigerator.
Make this. Now. You’ll never be lonely again.
Note: The amounts of the cure ingredients are given by weight, though predicted volumes are included. Not all sugars and salts are equal density, and when curing you want to be more exact. Invest in a kitchen scale.
Home-Cured Salmon, Pastrami style
Makes 2-3 lbs salmon, enough to feed at least 10 people for brunch.
2-3 lb salmon fillet in one piece, skin on, no thicker than 1.5 inches, bones removed
4 ounces / 125 grams sugar (about 1/2 cup)
6 ounces / 180 grams light brown sugar (about 1 cup, packed)
6 ounces / 175 grams kosher salt (about 3/4 cup)
2 Tbs black peppercorns
2 Tbs coriander seeds
Mix the sugars and salt. Spread half on the bottom of a non-reactive pan or baking dish. The pan shouldn’t be too large – just big enough to fit the fish. I used a 13X9 pyrex baking dish (and cut off any fish that didn’t fit). In an herb grinder, or mortar and pestle, or a pepper mill, coarsely grind the peppercorns and coriander. Apply an even coating to both sides of the fish. Lay fish skin side down on the salt-sugar mixture. Cover the fish with the rest of the salt-sugar mixture. Cover loosely with plastic wrap.
You need to weight the fish down to help press the liquid out of the fish. The liquid then mixes with the cure and creates a brine that covers the fish. I used a slightly smaller pyrex dish that covered most of the fish and put a brick on top (a couple soup cans works, too). Put the whole thing into your fridge for 48 hours. After 24 hours, redistribute the cure over the fish, recovering any spot that is bare. After 48 hours, check to see if the fish feels firm to the touch. It should not feel squishy or have too much give like raw fish. If it feels too soft, continue curing for another 12-24 hours (I ended up doing another 18 hours past the first 48).
Once it is done, remove from the cure, wash under gentle cold water, removing any salt and sugar. The pepper and coriander should stay stuck on. Pat it dry and it is ready to eat. Slice it thin and eat with your favorite condiments. Or dice it finely for salmon tartare.
Wrap the fish in parchment or wax paper and keep in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.
[If you prefer other seasonings, skip the pepper and coriander and put a good amount of fresh dill on top of the fish. Or try the zest of two lemons and oranges and some juice from both. Or try horseradish! Or make something up. Can’t go wrong.]