Monday, January 16, 2023

Guns and Roses Cured Salmon

I know what you are about to ask. I can see the question on the tip of your tongue, so let me answer and get the thing out of the way. No, I am not into hard rock and even less so into any form of firearms. And no, this post has nothing to do with the band or any weaponry; instead, it has everything to do with my enduring fascination with rose petals, smoky flavors, and the ideal salt-to-sugar ratio when curing salmon.

I’ve been making gravlax on and off for many years, and it’s been a journey. With just three parameters to choose from – the proportion of salt to sugar, the amount of cure per pound of fish, and the curing time – one would think that cured salmon is an easy-peasy thing to pull off. One could not be more wrong. Some gravlax recipes call for an equal amount of sugar and salt, some double the latter, others double the former, some cure for 12 hours, and some for three days. And maybe they are all correct, and maybe they all work, because in the end, it all boils down to how you like your gravlax. The way I like mine is nice and delicate, not overly salty, not overly sweet, with a flesh that is moist and velvety, yet easily sliceable into paper-thin pieces. If that’s the ideal you seek, you’ll find your magic ratio on page 85 of Heston Blumenthal’s “Heston Blumenthal at Home” cookbook. (To spare you the suspense, it’s 330 g salt and 165 g sugar per 500 g of salmon, cured for 16 hours.) I so wish I discovered it 15 years ago, it would have saved me a lot of experimentation.

Now, let’s talk flavors. I’m pretty sure you’ve tried dill, citruses, Earl Grey, tequila slash bourbon slash vodka, red beets slash pink peppercorns, and of course caraway. All mighty awesome, no questions asked, but have you tried rose petals and smoke? It’s a stunning, stunning combination that works in everything: as a color (dusty pink), as a perfume (so many on my V-day list as we speak), in a tea (try adding rose petals to your Lapsang Souchong), and as a cure for salmon.

This is an elegant, delicately perfumed gravlax. Think salmon cure gone Alexander McQueen. Don’t expect either rose or smoke to punch you in the face, they are just a fleeting sensation really -- an innuendo. And the flavors may fade away after a day or two in the fridge, so I recommend serving the fish right after it has been cured. It’s wonderful with crème fraiche, some quick-pickled mangos and cucumbers, and a glass of champagne. I hope you will consider it for your upcoming V-day, it’s the kind of thing that makes people feel special. And don’t forget the roses. 

Guns and Roses Cured Salmon

200 g kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal)
130 g hickory or alderwood smoked salt (I use Viva Doria and San Francisco Salt Company)
30 g rose petals
6 g black cardamom pods
500 g high quality raw salmon (see Note below) about an inch thick, skin removed

Using a mortar and pestle or electric spice grinder, crush the black cardamom into powder.

To make the cure, mix both salts, sugar, and cardamom powder.

Place a large piece of plastic wrap onto a work surface. Spread half of the cure on the plastic wrap (it should be about the same in size as the piece of salmon). Top with half of the rose petals so that they are covering the cure in one even layer. Place the salmon on top. Spread the other half of the rose petals on the other side of the salmon, then top with the remaining cure.

Wrap everything tightly with the plastic wrap, place in a container, and store in the fridge for 18 to 20 hours.

Remove the salmon from the cure and rinse thoroughly. Pat dry and leave in the fridge uncovered for another 2 hours, until the fish is fully dry but a little sticky.

If not serving immediately, wrap the salmon tightly with a plastic wrap, and keep in the fridge for up to a week.

When ready to serve, with a sharp knife, slice the fish as thinly as possible. Serve with crème fraiche and bread of your choice. 

Note: Eating raw fish is a concern for many, so let’s talk about selecting the right piece of salmon for curing. Many recipes for cured salmon call for “sushi-grade“ or “sashimi-grade”, but officially, there is no such grading for fish. As Serious Eats puts it, “the term is only as trustworthy as the fish market that makes it”. One of the main concerns with raw fish is parasites. Wild salmon may contain parasites; in order to reduce the risk, you need to freeze the salmon at a specific temperature and a specific time (7 days in a home fridge, and 1 to 2 days in a commercial fridge). Farmed salmon from reputable fisheries is fed parasite free food and should be parasite free. One such fishery is Ora King from New Zealand, (check here to find retail shops that carry Ora King worldwide). To find out if your farm-raised salmon is parasite-free ask the fishmonger or the manufacturer of the salmon. If you are not sure, freezing is a way to go. 

Pickled Mango 

1 large green (unripe) mango
1/4 cup red onion, sliced into very thin ribs
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 teaspoon red jalapeno, cut into 1/8-inch dice (depending on your heat preference, if you like it spicier, replace the jalapeno with Thai Bird chili.)
1 tablespoon red pepper, cut into 1/8-inch dice
1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
a pinch of freshly ground pepper

In a small bowl combine the onion slices with the lime juice.

Using a vegetable peeler, peel the mango. Shave the mango into long, thin ribbons.

In a bowl, combine the mango with the onion and lime mixture, jalapeno, and red pepper dice. Season with salt and pepper. Taste, and if needed add sugar. Cover and chill for 2 hours before serving.