The Perfect Hors D’ouvres for a New Year’s Weekend

Cured salmon, often referred to as gravlax, is the perfect do ahead hors d’oeuvres for the long New Year’s weekend. Cured salmon will keep happily in your refrigerator for more than a week.

Right now Christina and I are not sure of our plans — except for New Year’s Eve when we celebrate the anniversary of our engagement with a dinner for two at home.  But I made a large batch of roasted sweet and hot peppers last week — I added more sweet this weekend as I had too many hot — and Sunday I began a citrus-cure of two pounds of salmon. I’ll make some crostini tonight and know that I have two at-the-ready hors d’oeuvres for welcoming guests…whenever they appear. The following recipe is from At Home by Steve Poses: A Caterer’s Guide to Cooking & Entertaining. The recipe suggests a two to three day cure, but you can make a lovely and light cured salmon with a twenty-four hour cure. The length of the cure is also dependent on the thickness of your filet with a thin filet requiring a shorter cure. My filets were fairly thin and the salmon was perfectly cured after twenty-four hours though a longer cured would have intensified the flavor and produced a somewhat drier outcome — not better, just different.

Mastering Cured Salmon

Cured salmon is a versatile meal starter. Once you get comfortable with the simple process of curing salmon, you’ll be able to create your own variations. The basic cure mixture always includes sugar and salt: The salt draws out moisture and breaks down the natural protein, while the sugar provides sweetness. The recipe below uses only the basic mix, but you always want to add an accent; you can find these in the variations described below. Salmon has a high fat content that results in a firm and pleasant texture, but tuna also takes cures well. Buy very fresh fish. Avoid the narrow tail end of the salmon, as it will easily dry out and resist slicing. Thicker portions are preferred though they will need more time to be cured.
do ahead Cured salmon can be made well ahead. You can start up to three days in advance for lightly cured salmon or up to two weeks for long-cured salmon. Store cured salmon, tightly wrapped in plastic, in the refrigerator.

Basic Salt and Sugar Curing Mix
1 pound salmon filet
3 tablespoons salt
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, coarsely ground
flavor accent (see variations below)

1 Remove skin and trim away fat on the skin side of the salmon. Trim off the thin striated strip that runs down one side of the filet so the piece of fish is uniform. Run your finger along the top flesh, about an inch from the thick side, checking for pin bones. Remove any pin bones with tweezers or needle-nose pliers. Rinse filet and pat dry.
2 Make the basic cure by combining salt, sugar, pepper and additional flavor accent. Use a fork to distribute ingredients evenly.
3 Spread a generous piece of plastic wrap large enough to easily wrap around the fish. Spread a layer of the cure mixture in the shape of the filet. If you have cheesecloth on hand, lay that down next. The cheesecloth will make it easier to remove the curing mix. Place fish on top and add enough cure mixture to completely cover, with some cure mixture spreading over the sides of the fish. Tightly wrap the fish in the cheesecloth, if using. Either way, wrap again in a second layer of plastic. Place wrapped fish in a shallow, nonreactive container with at least some slope to contain any moisture that escapes from the plastic wrap. Next, place a weight on the fish to aid the extraction of moisture. A plate and several large cans work well. Refrigerate anywhere from 3-14 days. The longer the cure, the firmer, drier and more intensely flavored the fish.
4 Once the fish is cured to your liking, remove plastic wrap and cheesecloth. You can cut a little slice of cured fish to check. If you want a longer cure, just rewrap the fish and return it to the refrigerator. Keep in mind that the first slice, surrounded on three sides by the cure mixture, will be more intensely cured than the interior will be. If you’re satisfied, carefully scrape away the curing mixture with a knife blade. If you prefer a less salty cure, rinse salmon under cold water and dry. (If you used cheesecloth, rinsing won’t be necessary.)
5 Use a very sharp knife to slice salmon on the bias against the grain. For lightly cured salmon, cut slices about 1⁄4-inch thick. For longer-curedM salmon, cut thinner slices. Cured salmon can be eaten without adornment, dressed with a touch of good olive oil or served with condiments on fresh or crisp toasted bread.

Pepper-Cured Salmon Add 1 tablespoon coarsely ground black peppercorns, 1 tablespoon coarsely ground green peppercorns and 11⁄2 tablespoons pink peppercorns to basic salt and sugar mixture. Leave some residual pepper and do not rinse. Just scrape.

Coriander-Cured Salmon Add 2 tablespoons ground (preferably toasted) coriander to basic salt and sugar mixture. Just scrape and leave some residual coriander.

Salmon “Jerky” Add 2 teaspoons ground (preferably toasted) coriander, 2 teaspoons ground (preferably toasted) fennel to basic salt and sugar mixture and use 3 tablespoons total black peppercorns. Use 1 pound salmon trimmings in place of filet. Cure for 5 days. Remove mixture, rinse and dry well. Slice thinly.

Juniper and Sage-Cured Salmon Add 1⁄4 cup crushed and chopped juniper berries, 1⁄3 cup chopped fresh sage to basic salt and sugar mixture. Serve with horseradish sauce (see page 216).

Traditional Dill-Cured Salmon Add 1⁄2 cup chopped fresh dill and 1 ounce brandy to basic salt and sugar mixture. Serve with dill honey mustard sauce (see page 223).

Citrus-Cured Salmon with Jicama Relish Add finely grated zest of 3 lemons, 3 limes and 2 oranges and 1⁄2 cup chopped fresh cilantro to basic salt and sugar mixture, using a fork to break up zest. Serve with jicama relish (see page 212).
serves 8

Wrapped and curing salmon filet after about twenty-four hours.

With natural moisture of salmon removed by the action of the salt gathered at the base of the dish.

Unwrapped filet ready to scrape and rinse.

Scrape away crust of salt, sugar, cilantro and citrus zest, rinse and dry.

Citrus-cured salmon sliced and ready to go. Add crostini or sliced bread and a dip and you have an easy, every-ready and elegant hors d’oeuvres.

A Family Christmas

It was not quite over the river and through the woods, but a trip up 95 and 287 brought Christina and I to Larry and Susan’s for our traditional Christmas Eve and Christmas Day family gathering. As previously noted, Larry is an an ambitious and excellent cook. Shortly after arrival, with Pomegranate-Lemon Martini from At Home in hand, we began our Seven Fish repast gathered in the kitchen. Larry always produces a printed menu that both lets guests know what’s ahead and provides a memento of the evening.

Citrus Cured Gravlax not pictured


Smoked Trout Dip

Boquerone (Anchovies)

Olive Ripieni di Pesce (Deep-fried olives stuffed with fish) not pictured
Regina’s Marinated Cod with Carrots not pictured

Steve’s Mediterranean Seafood (Shrimp & Scallops) Cakes with Green Olive Tapenade

Panko-crusted Calamari with Lemongrass-chili Sauce

Swordfish slowly cooking in olive oil with a little rosemary

Olive Oil Poached Swordfish with Blood Orange Salsa

Paparadelle with Poached Egg and Caviar

Buche de Noel

Christmas Cookies and Toffee

Four hours later, happy, sated and a bit exhausted — everything was delicious with the unquestioned best of show being the Swordfish and the Paparadelle.

Christmas morning was a noshers delight with some evidence of middle-of-the-night visitors. Susan’s pumpkin bread spread with cream cheese and the left-over smoked trout dip were the highlights.

Followed by a wonderful Christmas dinner.

Wine-braised hanger steak and short ribs of beef with a gratin of celery root and potatoes and asparagus with blood oranges. For dessert, Buche de Noel and Christmas Cookies and Toffee Redux. While the food was memorable, most important was the traditional gathering of family and friends and the ritual of food that surrounds that gathering.

Thanks for visiting.
Steve

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