Beet &Horseradish Cured Salmon

Ingredients

  • 1 kilo of wild salmon – ideally a long “side” but a chunk will also do; leave the skin on
  • 1 Tbsp caraway seeds
  • 1 tsp chili flakes
  • 2 tsp dill seed
  • 2 tsp allspice berries
  • 1 Tbsp ground sumac
  • 2 Tbsp orange zest
  • 1 Tbsp pink peppercorns
  • 1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 Tbsp prepared horseradish
  • 240 ml shredded beetroot
  • 200 grams kosher salt or coarse non-iodized sea salt
  • 100 grams sugar
  • 75 ml vodka or aquavit
  • A generous handful of chopped dill and more to garnish

Instructions

  • In a clean skillet, over medium heat, combine the caraway seeds, peppercorns, chili flakes, dill seed, sumac, and allspice berries, and toast them for 3 minutes, taking care that they do not scorch. Grind in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. Set aside.
  • Remove the bones from the side of fish using tweezers. Trim the skin of all white fatty deposits.
  • Place the fish in a shallow, non-reactive baking dish, on top of a layer of parchment paper or plastic wrap. Rub the flesh side of the fish with the spice mixture.
  • Toss the sugar, salt, orange zest, grated beets, ginger, horseradish, dill, and vodka. It should be the consistency of wet sand.
  • Pack the sugar mixture around the fish: bottom, top, and sides. Then wrap the fish tightly with several layers of plastic wrap.
  • Weight the fish down with a platter or baking sheet — something that will cover the area of the fish completely. Then weight the top baking sheet down with tins or bottles so that there is sufficient pressure on the top.
  • Place the fish to cure in the refrigerator for 48 hours. When the fish is cured, gently brush off the cure from the fish — do not rinse— and wrap in fresh plastic if not serving immediately. The fish will keep for up to a week in the fridge if well wrapped.

Technique adapted from Bon Appetit

Serving cured fish

Anyone who’s ever gone to the theater in Moscow knows that Russians tend to serve their fish in a truly heinous manner: a thick slab of salmon slapped on a very stale piece of white bread, thickly coated with mediocre butter. When coupled mediocre warm champagne and a kilometer-long line out the ladies room, this presentation never fails to enrage!

To truly enjoy cured salmon, you need to cut it very thinly, on a shallow diagonal using a long, flat knife, moving against the grain to create pieces that are as wide as the side of salmon and as deep as you can make them. Nothing beats Russia’s lovely coriander-infused Borodinsky bread as the base layer; thinly sliced, the rich, tangy bread provides a perfect foil to the meaty, salty fish. If you don’t live in Russia, use pumpernickel or whole wheat granary bread.

I don’t think dairy is a must, but if you are going in for it, make sure it’s excellent quality. You can use butter, cream cheese, creme fraiche, Russian sour cream, or even tvorog. If you are feeling ambitious, spike your dairy with more horseradish, fresh chives, or dill. Thinly-sliced cucumbers and radishes provide a nice crisp flavor and textural foil to the richness of the salmon. To amplify the taste, serve with a bit of chopped onion and/or small pickles or capers, with lemon slices to spritz on a bit of citrus just before serving. Top it with a sturdy grind of black pepper, and hey…it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Jennifer Eremeeva writes about Russian history, culture, and cuisine. You can follow her on Twitter @JWEremeeva.