Cured salmon has become a staple for so many brunch buffets over the years. It’s a really nice light breakfast served with bagels and cream cheese, but it’s also a great afternoon snack. Either way, I don’t think enough people know how easy it is to make. You can add all different flavors to the cure to make it your own. I like putting bourbon in just about anything possible, and it works really well with this dish too. So, if you’re feeling up to adding a new weekend favorite to your culinary arsenal, there are a few things to know.
Curing vs. Smoking Salmon:
Curing salmon is a way of seasoning and preserving salmon that has been around for centuries. Before refrigerators and freezer, curing was a way to keep meat for longer. Smoking salmon can have the same outcome, but it introduces different flavors and is a different process. Smoking does use salt and other seasonings as part of a brine, but the preservation mostly comes from the smoking process. In a cure, salt is the main preservative. Moisture is one of the necessary factors needed for bacteria to grow, and both curing and smoking reduce the amount of moisture in the salmon.
Choosing Your Salmon:
Fresh fresh fresh. Sushi grade salmon is obviously the best when we’re looking to eat salmon without cooking it. I would very much avoid any fish that has been previously frozen when curing.
Look for a few things when selecting the salmon. Consistency and freshness are key:
- No strong or off-putting odors
- Even coloration throughout the fish
- No stickiness or film on the flesh
- Even texture/firmness
Skin on or off?
I like to take the skin off the salmon based purely on personal preference. Most recipes you might find actually say nothing about removing the skin, or even suggest leaving the skin on. I like to take it off because I am then able to trim the filet to my liking. The bloodline of the fish lies between the skin and the meat. I find that this part is very fishy tasting and I like to take much of that off.
Preparing the Cure
Our cure will be a bourbon cure complimented by our On The Rocks Bourbon Pepper seasoning. On the Rocks has peppercorns, blood orange and bourbon which are all going to meld together to make a really well rounded savory profile when applied to our salmon. Also, we’re going to add some actual bourbon to boost the sharpness.
Salt and sugar are the two major parts of the sure. Sugar for a little sweetness and flavor and salt for the same. The salt is also going to draw moisture out of the salmon. Make sure to use kosher salt. Iodized, or table salt, is too salty. Normally the salt to sugar ratio is higher compared to this recipe, but because of the bourbon and extra seasoning being added, we are reducing the amount of sugar.
The idea of the curing process to press the salt and other seasonings into the meat. We’re going to do this by wrapping the seasoned fish with plastic wrap, and then by pressing it down with a weight on top.
In a baking dish, lay plastic wrap in the bottom and spread out the cure along with some of the bourbon. Place the fish in the pan and top the fish with more cure. Wrap the fish as tightly as possible as plastic wrap. Place another baking dish on top of the fish to press. There should be 1-2 lb of weight on top of the salmon. (If you have a vacuum sealer, use it instead of wrapping in plastic wrap)
The waiting game:
Now that the cure has been applied and the salmon is wrapped, place it in the fridge. The curing process will take a few days. Allow 24-36 hours for a medium cure, and 48 up to 72 hours for a hard cure. During this time, flip the salmon every 12 hours to allow the flavors and salt cure to evenly distribute throughout the fish. A medium cure will have a softer texture and have a milder flavor. A hard cure will result in a stiffer salmon, and will also be saltier. I like using a hard cure on my salmon because cured salmon is supposed to be salty. This way when you eat it later, you won’t need to add any extra seasoning.
When the salmon has cured, its time to take off the extra seasoning and salt that did not get absorbed into the flesh. Simply rinse the fish under cold water. Then pat the meat dry as best you can with paper towel. If time allows, place the cured salmon back in the fridge unwrapped for a few hours. Think of this as a resting time similar to when cooking a steak. The salt and other flavors will distribute more evenly with this process. This surface will dry out a little more as well.
Days after the process started, it’s now time to enjoy the cured salmon. Using a very sharp knife, slice the salmon against the grain of the flesh, as thin as possible. Big hunks of cured salmon are not desirable and the thin slices are still packed with flavor. Serve your salmon with all the classic fixins. Cocktail bread or bagels, capers, dill and of course, a few lemon wedges.