A friend of mine works at the Headliners Club here in Austin (it’s a restaurant, not a nude dancing establishment I swear.) A couple weeks ago was his girlfriend’s birthday. Being one of those powerless-to-resist-food food freaks, he of course went all out.
One of the (many, many) dishes that he prepared was some home cured lox. He is a bastard. See, I’ve been thinking about/talking about/desperately wanting to make cured salmon for a really long-ass time. Unfortunately, I’m lazy. Luckily, his brilliant and delicious fish, coupled with his two sentence explanation on how to do it shamed me into action.
As some of you may know, the hotness Mme. Pants, procured for me Michael Ruhlman’s excellent book Charceuterie, and ever since I’ve been smitten with old school meat preservation. Turns out that salmon is one of the easiest and most delightful of all meats to preserve. Way to roll salmon!
My chef friend was lucky enough to be able to order a large and pristine fillet through his restaurant; the thing probably tipped the scales at over five pounds. I, on the other hand, decided that I would just go out and buy the best piece of whatever wild salmon I could find (if you’re wondering, wild caught really does make a huge freakin’ difference.) Finding no large single hunks, I opted for three one pound slabs instead. And since I’m a freak, I took this as a sign that I should try not one, but three separate curing rubs. Don’t fight fate people.
The basic method is super simple. First, you debone and pat dry your piece of fish. Then coat it with a mixture of 1 part salt and 1 part sugar. Stick it in a plastic bag in the refrigerator and leave it for one to three days. Jostle occasionally. Remove give a quick wash and eat. That’s it. Seriously. It’s amazing.
As I’m sure you guessed there are naturally endless variations and customizable tweaks. For example, you probably want to add some seasonings and flavorants to the salt/sugar cure. Also, you can introduce any number of alcohols and citrus elements to the process. Some people suggest you press the fish as you age it and many swear by a light smoking to finish the process. All fine and dandy, but I just want to make it crystal clear that at the core of it, the shit is real easy.
So what fine and delightful variations did I whip out, you’re asking? Well let me introduce you to my little triad. First up, we have a fennel and lemon combo. I started by rubbing the salmon all over with a couple tablespoons of lemon juice. Then it got dredged it in the basic cure with the addition of some ground, toasted fennel seeds, white pepper, and lemon zest. Oh my.
Next was an Asian riff. I started this with lime juice instead of lemon and then went with a spice mix heavy on the Sichuan peppercorn, ginger, cloves, white pepper, cinnamon, allspice and lime zest. The last and possibly most delicious was a savory blend of juniper, coriander, black pepper, yellow and brown mustard seeds, and a healthy dose of vodka.
I stuck all three fillets in separate bags, weighted them down with a few canned goods between two baking sheets and slapped the whole heap in the fridge. One day later- badass lox. Just rinse, slice and eat.
The first appearance of the delicious fishes was for my cuz’s wedding brunchy thing. I put out a bunch of traditional accoutrements and some sesame crackers and watched the carnage.
A few days later I did a different spread just for me and the wifey. This one involved scrambled duck egg and toast points. Eating this should be mandatory.
Dry curing aquatic creatures- it’s for winners.