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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Dueling Salmon

We were invited to a swanky gathering out in the woods yesterday. It was a perfect day with lovely weather, charming company, and very generous hosts.  A pool party pumped up.  Way up.  Everyone in this group loves to cook and share food.  Impeccable food.

I wanted to take something special. Something different.  Something easy.  Something that would transport to...well...the country.

I decided to cure salmon and serve canapes.  I love curing meats and fish. All it requires is a bit of time.  The rest is easy.  It practically and literally cooks itself.

I always use Jacque Pepin's recipe for curing salmon.  His twist is unusual and delicious.  I typically use recipes as a guide instead of as a rule. I wing most dishes, replacing ingredients if I don't have them in the pantry.  However. certain recipes need to be carefully followed both for safety and outcome.  Curing falls into that category.
It was a small gathering, so instead of curing an entire side of salmon, I found and used gorgeous fresh Atlantic Salmon filets.  After checking for pin bones, I rinsed the filets and patted them dry.

I tossed together 1 cup  kosher salt, 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice, 1/2 teaspoon paprika, 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, and 1/4 teaspoon cayenne.

After blending the curing mix, I generously rubbed both sides of the salmon filets, made sure they were coated thoroughly, and wrapped them tightly in several sheets of plastic wrap.  They went onto a sheet pan and into the refrigerator for the first 12 hour step of the process.

The next step was the unusual Jacque Pepin twist.  The following morning, after 12 hours of soaking up the spiced salt, I unwrapped the firm salmon filets and bathed them with a whisked blend of 1/4 cup  molasses and 2 tablespoons  soy sauce.  Odd and very interesting.

I rewrapped the filets and threw them back into the refrigerator for 24 hours to finish curing.

After 24 hours, I took the filets out of the plastic shroud, patted them dry, placed them on a wire rack, slid the rack over a sheet to catch any drips, and placed them into the refrigerator to air dry for another 24 hours.

That was it.  Sure, there was alot of wrapping, unwrapping, and  rewrapping, but it was pretty easy.  The most difficult part was slicing the salmon into paper thin pieces.  Using a very sharp boning knife, I started at the thickest parts of the filets and carefully sliced through the flesh while pulling the knife upward.  I knew it would tear.  It did.  It wasn't perfect, but I got some lovely ribbons of salmon meat.  I finely diced the remaining salmon.

I couldn't really decide how I wanted to serve the salmon..  I had two ideas in mind.  Each had very different flavor profiles while using the exact same salmon. 

I chose to do both. Dueling Salmon.
The first approach was very traditional.  I sliced seedless cucumbers on the bias, hollowed out a bit of the flesh, spread herbed goat cheese in the cavities, and topped them with the diced cured salmon, minced red onion, capers, snipped chives, and fresh dill.

The whacked part of my brain threw culinary wisdom to the wind and tried something a tiny less conventional with the sliced salmon ribbons.

After thinly slicing dark pumpernickle bread into rounds, I toasted them on crinkled foil to create undulating canape bases.  When cooled, I brushed herbed goat cheese over the toasts, swirled the shiny salmon over the cheese, and tucked sweet sliced white peaches, slivered shallots, and chive prongs into the salmon.

Very different looks, tastes, and approaches.

I loved what the molasses and soy did to the salmon.  It didn't penetrate all way through the flesh, but stained and flavored the outer layers, creating a two toned effect.  The slight earthy sweetness from the molasses paired nicely with the salt cure and the soy sauce.  In the first method, the sultry slamon was brightened by the capers, dill, and goat cheese, while the cucumbers provided refreshing cleansing moisture.

The whacked method was unusual.  Different.  Very good.  Who knew that peaches, shallots, and chives could work with cured salmon?  The white peaches had enough crisp and sweetness to tame the shallot and enough fruit juice to wet the silken salmon under the crunch of the canape.

Fun to make.  Fun to eat......if you have 60 hours to invest!

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