I may never buy smoked salmon again after making this Tarragon Cured Salmon! It is so easy and so much less expensive than buying it commercially.
This is one of those things I am so excited to share because it turned out so well. And.. I can’t believe how easy it was. It only takes a bit of planning ahead to give it the right amount of time to cure.
I usually buy smoked salmon because that is what is more readily available in my stores. I am not married to the smoked aspect so I found this cured version actually rather refreshing.
Smoked or cured salmon is already pretty decadent but I found a way to up the ante on it by adding Limoncello to the cure. It is subtle but it left a definite complex lemon flavour on the finish!
You start with high quality salmon, slather the salt/sugar rub, wrap it up, weight it down and cure it for 24-48 hours. Rinse, slice and serve!
I served it on crackers with cream cheese, lemon and capers. Then I made Eggs Benedict and in keeping with the tarragon theme of the cured salmon – I made Bearnaise sauce (with tarragon) instead of Hollandaise. I was in heaven!!
Cured salmon is similar to smoked salmon in texture but doesn’t have that smoky flavour because it never gets near a fire. It is commonly known as Gravlax – and of Bagels and Lox fame.
How Does Curing Work?
Salt and sugar draw the moisture out of the flesh of the salmon and the resulting environment is inhospitable to microbial growth that spoils food. It is a form of dehydration that has been used for centuries to preserve food before the days of refrigeration.
What Kind of Salmon Should I Use?
Start with salmon that is sashimi-grade salmon. Sashimi or Sushi grade salmon a term to identify fish that is known to be safe to eat raw. I don’t believe it is a controlled term but it is meant to convey that the fish has been caught, bled and gutted quickly then thoroughly iced.
If you can’t find Sashimi or Sushi grade then buy the highest quality available, fresh and freeze it yourself. You should freeze it at 0 degrees F (at least) for 7 days. then defrost in the fridge and proceed.
Chef’s Tips for Tarragon Cured Salmon
- See the notes above regarding grade of salmon to use.
- The salmon can have skin on or off. Some people say it is easier to slice thinly with the skin intact on the bottom. I didn’t have any trouble with no skin. If you do have a skin-on fillet then the skin will face the outside during the curing process and obviously skin side down when serving.
- Gravlax is typically flavoured with fresh dill. Dill can be substituted for the tarragon if desired.
- The Limoncello or Gin are optional but they do add a depth of flavour that is enticing.
- One of the keys to the brine is to use equal parts salt and sugar. Just remember that if your upscaling or downscaling.
- The salt must be coarse salt – like Kosher or pickling salt. If the salt is fine too much will be absorbed in the fish and ruin your dish.
- Use regular sugar, not superfine or powdered.
- When you whirl the salt, sugar,herbs and spices to make your ‘paste’ do not over process or you will end up with salt and sugar that are too fine. Just pulse or blend enough to get an even mix. The ‘paste’ will actually be dry – more like a rub.
Wine Pairing for Tarragon Cured Salmon
Lots of choices here! A Sauvignon Blanc with its herbal profile would be a great pairing. You want a medium to high acid wine here in light of the lemon flavour and possible lemon garnish. A Chablis style Chardonnay would work. There are also more exotic choices like Greek Assyrtiko or Italian Falanghina.
On the red spectrum- I tend to fall back on Pinot Noir when it comes to salmon. Look for a cool climate Pinot -like Burgundy, New Zealand or Oregon or Ontario to ensure good acid levels. A Beaujolais, Northern Rhone Syrah or Barbera d’Asti could work as well.
Tarragon Cured Salmon
- 300 grams high quality salmon 12 oz (see Chef's Notes regarding salmon)
- 30 grams coarse salt about 2 Tbsps (do NOT use table salt or fine salt)
- 30 grams sugar about 2 Tbsps
- 1/2 tsp black pepper
- 10 grams fresh tarragon finely chopped (about 1/2 cups loosely packed)
- 2 Tbsps Limoncello can substitute Gin
- zest of 1 lemon
- Mix salt, sugar, pepper, tarragon and lemon zest quickly in a blender or food processor. It should look like a loose paste.
- If your salmon fillet is thin cut it into 2 equal size and shaped pieces. If it is very thick cut it horizontally into 2 equal pieces. Spread one side with the herbed salt/sugar paste. Drizzle the Limoncello over the salmon face. Fold the faces of the 2 pieces of salmon together. (If there is skin on your fillet that is ok. Just make sure the skin if facing outward).
- Wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Place on a rimmed plate with another plate on top. Weight the top plate down with jars or cans so the fillet has some pressure on it. Don't skip the rimmed bottom plate because the salmon will release a lot of liquid.
- Turn the salmon over every 8 hours. Cure 24 hours for if you want lightly cured, 36 for medium and 48 hours for a hard cure. (I did 36 and it was perfect for me.)
- When finished curing, drain the excess water, rinse the salmon. There should be no evidence of any salt or sugar left on it but some of the herbs will adhere to the salmon. This is a good thing.
- Slice salmon very thinly on a 45° angle. Serve with fresh lemon wedges for drizzling, capers, salty crackers or dense pumpernickel squares.
- Salmon will keep in fridge 2-3 days. You can freeze it for up to 3 months. Thaw in fridge overnight.