Food + Drink

From the Chronicle Kitchen:
Ruhlman’s Twenty

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!

Happy cooking!

Citrus-Cured Salmon

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.

Purchase: Ruhlman’s Twenty: The Ideas and Techniques That Will Make You a Better Cook.

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  • amorette April 11, 2012 at 9:37 pm

    wow. i have never attempted to cure anything, but this looks easy and pretty- the question is, would i trust feeding it to my toddler? i'd try it a day in advance first, i think. which is a comment to my beginner skill set, rather than the author's directions!


  • Lee April 12, 2012 at 8:50 am

    I've never cured anything at home. However, I love anything having to do with salmon and would probably give this a try. I really enjoy Michael Ruhlman's writing style and the book sounds like a "must-have" for my cooking library.


  • Matt April 12, 2012 at 12:41 pm

    this sounds awesome, as does the salmon pastrami. I have yet to cure anything it am, but after seeing this and how seemingly easy it is, that will be changing soon.

    Ive been eyeing this book for quite some time and I would love to add it tom my collection.


  • larrylootsteen April 12, 2012 at 1:41 pm

    I have always been a little scared to try and do this. Part of it is the ability to afford good quality salmon to attempt this with. Sounds like a great idea for an anniversary dinner when you are willing to blow a few extra bucks on the quality ingredients!


  • Lulupetals April 12, 2012 at 4:14 pm

    I love salmon and citrus. The sugar makes me hesitant to try this, but I will as i have never cured salmon before.


  • Steven April 13, 2012 at 9:35 am

    Won’t be able to use enjoys recipe as I’m allergic to seafood, but have cured pork before and loved it. Braising is also a perennial fav.


  • Linda S. April 13, 2012 at 10:32 am

    I think after reading this post, I'd be willing to try curing something–maybe salmon. I've read and enjoyed a couple of Michael Ruhlman's earlier books, but haven't seen his book Charcuterie, which would probably go into this technique in more detail. My Italian grandparents cured meats, so I should be able to give it a try!


  • Betsy April 13, 2012 at 12:50 pm

    Would love to try this with the salmon we catch this summer.


  • lien May 8, 2012 at 8:02 am

    I love salmon! can`t wait to try this out!


  • Jillian May 8, 2012 at 8:09 am

    Looks delicious. I might have to try this thing called curing 😉


  • Gertrude Geeraerts May 8, 2012 at 8:29 am

    sounds delicious!!


  • Larissa LitPimp May 8, 2012 at 8:55 am

    I'm forwarding this post to a cook friend of mine! I doubt she's ever thought of curing a salmon using citrus!


  • wendy May 8, 2012 at 10:27 am

    I've never cured a thing, but someone once gave me some cured salmon and I wondered how long it was good for.


  • Justval May 8, 2012 at 11:16 am

    The salmon looks amazing. Curing foods, I would love to try that!!


  • Regina May 8, 2012 at 11:27 am

    We are experimenting in sausage making right now, and we expect to cure or smoke those. My boyfriend is excited for this abundant salmon season in Northern California, so we might try out this recipe sometime this summer.


  • Elizabeth Lopez May 8, 2012 at 11:59 am

    This sort of thing always seemed so darn intimidating but I have to say, the step by step details here make it sound very approachable!


  • 'Lizabeth May 8, 2012 at 2:15 pm

    My kids would love this… (need I say that they are all grown up?) Might try this recipe for our next get-together! Thanks for postingit.


  • Susan S May 8, 2012 at 5:03 pm

    Sounds delightful! And Mr. Ruhlman makes the curing process seem so simple – simple enough for me to try. Thanks!


  • Peter Perez May 10, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    …and the lucky winner of the James Beard Foundation Book Awards' Best General Cookbook of the year is Matt!
    Thanks to all for your great posts.


  • Peter Perez May 10, 2012 at 7:26 pm

    And p.s. to wendy, direct from Michael:

    "Cured salmon will last a couple weeks, or until it tastes bad or grows mold. it's cured, so it could last up to three weeks. But, it picks up bad flavors. If it tastes good, it's ok, not to worry. If it stinks, throw it away."


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