Salmon is one of the fish scientists are always telling us to eat more of if we want to keep our marbles rolling and our hearts pumping. I am more than happy to oblige, though I came to this regal fish fairly late after suffering the tinned salmon sandwiches that were the Sunday evening tea of choice for my Mum and Dad when I was a nipper. It put me off the idea of salmon until, at the age of 20, I visited a friend's favourite restaurant and was persuaded that I didn't know what I was missing and should order some. So, I did. Well reader, it was blooming terrible – as dry as a rattlesnake's posing pouch and only slightly tastier! The fish had been murdered, though in my innocence, I thought that it was the salmon's fault. I also suspect that it had more bones per square centimetre than James Coburn had teeth.
So, salmon went off my radar for another ten years or so until I cooked it for someone whose favourite food it was, followed the recipe of a famous seafood chef and was astounded at the difference. Well, I was off and running on the salmon front. And the following dish is an extension of that, one that is satisfying to do, but which I would have prodded away with a barge pole all those years ago.
Ingredients (serves 4)
(curing takes 36-48 hours)
- 600g boneless fillet of salmon, skin on (as fresh as you can get, and in one piece)
- 150g sea salt, flakes or fine salt
- 100g caster sugar
- Zest of 2 limes, finely grated
- Zest of 2 lemons, finely grated
- A large bunch of dill (about two of the packets you usually get from the supermarket)
- 1 tbsp cracked black pepper
Finely chop the dill.
In a bowl mix the salt, sugar, lemon and lime zests, finely chopped dill and cracked black pepper.
Spread out a square of clingfilm large enough to wrap the salmon fillet on a work surface or chopping board. Spread half of the salt mixture on the clingfilm covering an area the size of the fillet and lay the salmon on it, skin side down.
Coat the flesh side of the salmon with the remaining mixture ensuring that all the salmon is covered and wrap the cling film tightly around the coated fillet.
Lay the wrapped salmon in a tray or rectangular dish big enough for the package to lay flat and put another smaller tray or dish on top of the salmon. Weigh the top dish down with a couple of tins to press the fillet and place it all in the fridge. Leave it for 36 to 48 hours, turning it every eight hours or so. It may leak some liquid which you can pour away or mop up with kitchen towel each time you turn the fillet. The longer you leave it in the cure the firmer the fish will become, so it's down to taste.
When the 36 to 48 hours is up, remove the clingfilm from the salmon and brush off as much of the salt mixture as you can, then rinse the fillet well under a cold tap to remove any remaining cure. Pat dry with a paper towel. You should see that the fillet is much firmer than the fresh fish, with a tawnier hue to the flesh.
Using a very sharp and preferably long, slender knife, slice the salmon thinly at an angle leaving the skin behind, and serve with wedges of lemon and lime and plenty of brown bread and butter.
Use the zested lemons and limes for wedges to squeeze on the fish, though extravagantly, I like to zest a couple more lemons and limes to decorate the fish before wedging them, plus more chopped dill, before slicing it and once plated. We often serve it with rye bread, thinly sliced, but any good brown bread will do. A lovely accompaniment is pickled cucumber or fennel, and we've particularly enjoyed it with a sharp mustard and honey sauce, similar to that used for the Swedish-cured salmon delicacy gravadlax.
The richness of the fish and the citrusy notes of the lemon and lime deserve to be paired with a white wine of character but with crisp, refreshment underpinning the fruit. Personally, I don't look a lot farther than a youthful, lively, zesty German riesling to serve alongside this silky salmon, though not the sweetest styles. The steely cut of Saarburger Rausch Kabinett, Zilliken 2019, the old-vine intensity of the Hochheimer Stielweg Riesling Alte Reben Trocken, Künstler 2019, the finesse and poise of the Heldenstuck Riesling Trocken, Schloss Lieser 2019, or the full-flavoured citrus fruit of Untertürkheimer Gips Riesling, Aldinger 2019 would all cut through the fat and silkiness of the fish and the citrusy saltiness of the cure that infuses it.
From beyond Germany consider the citrusy cut and fruit of Pazo de Villarei Albariño, Rías Baixas 2019, the ripe but mineral Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine sur Lie, Château L'Oiselinière de la Ramée, Chéreau-Carré 2018 or the taut, refreshment of the Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi Classico Superiore, Tenute Pieralisi 2019.