We’re thrilled to have Michael Ruhlman as our guest blogger this week.
Ruhlman’s Twenty just won the IACP Cookbook Award in the Food and Beverage Reference/Technical category, AND it’s nominated for the forthcoming James Beard Foundation Cookbook Awards in the General Cooking category.
Have you ever cured something at home? Will you attempt to after reading this post? Leave a comment and you’ll be eligible to win a copy of Ruhlman’s Twenty that we’ll give to a random lucky winner (offer eligible in the US and Canada only).
People often ask me what’s my favorite food to cook. I usually don’t answer with a food but rather with a technique, usually it’s braising. But it’s also curing. How are these techniques related?
They’re all about transforming food. Grilling a steak, sautéing a chicken breast—that’s heating. A braise takes a tough, inexpensive cut, and through long slow cooking, turns it into something tender and succulent and delicious. That’s transforming.
Curing likewise transforms food. One of the easiest and best things to cure is salmon. Simply pack it in salt and half as much sugar, add some seasonings, refrigerate it for 24 hours, and you’ve got something completely different from what you started with, something really delicious. And you “cooked” it without applying any heat at all.
I love citrus with salmon (learned that one from Thomas Keller). But fennel and tarragon and that flavor profile works as well. In the 1990s, David burke coated his with coriander and black pepper, the flavors that make pastrami what it is and sold it as salmon pastrami. He’s a genius.
When you know one technique, you have a thousand recipes at your fingertips!
The following is the recipe for cured salmon from my book Ruhlman’s Twenty, beautifully photographed by my wife Donna, and beautifully designed by Chronicle’s own Vanessa Dina. I can’t say I’m prouder of any book I’ve written, and I’ve written a lot!
Makes 2 to 2 1/2 pounds/1 to 1.25 kilograms cured salmon
I’m not a big fan of cooked salmon, but I adore cured salmon for its deep flavor and dense texture. It’s easier to make than bacon, and salmon is easier to find than fresh pork belly! I like the freshness that citrus zest brings to the salmon, but once you’ve got a sense of how curing salmon works, you can add different flavors, such as fennel or dill, and change the sugar to brown sugar or honey.
Cured salmon is best sliced so thinly that it’s translucent. If you find this difficult, it can be diced or finely chopped.
One side of salmon will be enough to create hors d’oeuvres for 15 to 20 people, or an appetizer or first course for 8 to 10. For an easy canapé, mix some minced red onion or macerated shallots into crème fraîche, spread it on a crouton, top it with a slice of salmon, and garnish with chives or a little grated lemon zest. Of course, it’s also awesome on a bagel with cream cheese.
1 cup/225 grams kosher salt
1/2 cup/100 grams sugar
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
1 tablespoon grated grapefruit zest
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon lime zest
One 2- to 3-pound/1- to 1.5-kilogram skin-on salmon fillet, pin bones removed and very thin pieces of flesh trimmed
In a small bowl, combine the salt and sugar and stir to distribute the sugar throughout the salt. In another small bowl, combine the citrus zests.
On a work surface, lay a sheet of aluminum foil large enough to extend beyond the length of the salmon. Spread a third of the salt mixture in the center of the foil to serve as a bed for the salmon. Place the salmon skin-side down on the salt. Distribute the citrus zest evenly across the salmon. Pour the remaining salt mixture over the salmon. It should be covered. Fold the foil up to contain the salt. Place another sheet of foil over the salmon and crimp the sheets together firmly. The idea is to have a tight package in which the salt mixture is in contact with all surfaces of the salmon.
Set the foil package on a baking sheet/tray. Set a pan or dish on top of the salmon and weight it down with a brick or a few cans. This will help press the water out of the salmon as it cures. Refrigerate the salmon for 24 hours.
Unwrap the salmon and remove it from the cure, discarding the foil and the cure. Rinse the salmon and pat dry with paper towels. To remove the skin, place the salmon skin-side down on a cutting board. Holding a sharp, thin, flexible knife at about a 30-degree angle, cut between the flesh and the skin. When you can get a grip on the skin, pull it back and forth against the knife to separate it from the flesh. Set the salmon on a rack or on paper towels on a tray and refrigerate for 8 to 24 hours, to allow the salt concentration to equalize and to dry the salmon further. Wrap the salmon in parchment/baking paper and store in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
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