I first cured salmon at culinary school where I learned to scale, gut and fillet whole fish. If you’ve ever peeled fish scales from your cheeks or plucked them from your hair, you’ll know that scaling fish is a messy job. Fortunately, fresh salmon is readily available scaled and filleted, making the curing process simple even for the most reluctant cook.
There are numerous variations for curing salmon but the principles are similar: bury the fish in seasoned salt and sugar, add a few pounds of weight (cans work well) and allow the salt to work its magic. The salt draws the moisture from the fish and transforms its texture; it’s a preservation technique that’s been around long before refrigeration.
I’ve flavoured my salt with wispy fennel fronds but you could use dill, parsley or a combination of your favourite herbs. Just stay away from pungent herbs, like rosemary, because they’ll overpower the fish.
I enjoy cured salmon drizzled with a simple vinaigrette and served with raw shallots, fresh dill, capers, lemon and freshly ground black pepper. Cured salmon keeps for about a week in the fridge, but it never seems to last that long.
Makes About 1 lb.
■ 1 1/2 pounds salmon fillet, skin on
■ 2 generous handfuls of fennel fronds, coarsely chopped
■ 2 1/2 cups kosher salt
■ 2 1/2 cups white sugar
■ 1 Tbsp fennel seeds, crushed
■ 1 lemon, sliced
■ 2 Tbsp capers
■ 1 shallot, sliced
■ Freshly ground pepper
You’ll need a container large enough to contain the salmon, sugar, salt and herbs. The salmon will release plenty of liquid as it cures, so select a container that will accommodate the additional fluid.
Run your fingers over the flesh of the salmon to check for pin bones; remove with tweezers if present.
In a large bowl, combine the chopped fennel fronds with the salt, sugar, and crushed fennel seeds. Place half the mixture in a large shallow container. Nestle the salmon on top and cover it with the balance of the mixture.
Cover the salmon with plastic wrap and weight it down with a flat object, like a small plastic cutting board, and then with 2-3 cans or other suitable objects weighing about 5 pounds in total. Refrigerate for 24 hours.
Remove the salmon from the curing mixture and rinse thoroughly in cool water. You’ll notice that the salmon’s texture has become firm. Pat completely dry with paper towels.
Using a sharp knife, slice the salmon thinly at a 45-degree angle, holding a corner of the skin to keep it in place. Discard the skin.
Serve with fresh lemon, capers, thinly sliced shallots and freshly ground pepper.
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