I spent the summer after my first year of medical school living in the Mission District on San Francisco, doing orthopedic research, and living in a rented room in a kind soul’s home. Living in someone else’s space severely limited my ability to do much cooking. So I was forced to survive on a steady diet of Cliff bars, mission burritos, and salmon and kale. Salmon and kale? Sounds like a pretty rough life.
I’d constantly ping pong between the super fancy cappuccino machine, my desk, and the operating room during the day. Then I would book it to the gym in Hayes Valley after work to get in a few hours of training. By the time I made it back to the apartment, it would be pitch black. So dinner would consist of a handful of raw kale and a few slivers of Costco cured salmon.
Even though I’m an avowed brunch hater (more on that another day) cured salmon has got to be one of my favorite brunch items. There’s something magical about the combination of lox, capers, red onion, tomato, and cream cheese on an everything bagel. When Sarah and I lived in New Orleans, our place of choice was Stein’s. Now that we’ve moved to DC, we frequent a cheekily named place, So’s Your Mom to get our fix. Sometimes though, when we’re feeling fancy (or when we want more lox than the 2-3 slices delis often drape over a bagel), we make our own.
Curing is a method of preserving food prior to refrigeration. There are a lot of ways to cure using smoke, fermentation, pickling, salt, sugar. Personally, I like to use a mixture of salt and sugar curing for salmon. The salt draws out the moisture from both the salmon and any micro-organisms living on the salmon via osmosis. In the process, it slows down or kills the growth of bad micro-organisms. The sugar serves a two-fold purpose – it balances out the flavor of the salt and is an energy source for good microbes like Lactobacillus which drops the pH and also inhibits growth of bad microbes. In the process of curing, the salmon will shrink in size as the moisture content decreases, but what it loses in size it gains in additional flavors of the cure. I also love seeing the color of the salmon change to a darker, richer hue of orange after curing.
Simple Cured Salmon
- Fresh Salmon 1/4-1/2 lb cut
- Salt (not iodized) 1/4 cup
- Brown Sugar 1/4 cup
- Grapefruit/Lemon 1
The combo of salt, sugar, and some form of citrus is a classic combo for curing. You can riff off of this as you like with more herbs and seasoning to create more layers of flavor. Start by drying off your piece of raw salmon with paper towel. In a bowl, combine equal parts salt and brown sugar. Be careful not to use iodized salt as it can impart a bitter flavor. Zest your citrus of choice into the bowl. Mix sugar, salt, citrus zest with your hands to make uniform. Lay salmon on a piece of plastic wrap. Cover salmon with a light layer of curing mixture and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Place it on a plate in your refrigerator to catch any juices that collect. Leave for 2-3 days in refrigerator.
Unwrap from plastic wrap and gently rinse off the curing mixture and pat dry salmon with paper towels. Slice thinly and enjoy!