If I was to be brutally honest, I’d have to say that salmon is one of the few fish that don’t really get me excited. Don’t get me wrong, I eat it, and on occasions I enjoy it, but all too often, it’s just dull. I don’t dislike salmon, but the tediousness which it delivers often leaves me searching elsewhere on a menu. There are exceptions; the Blue Elephant’s Salmon Laab – a spicy fresh Thai salad – is highly recommended, as is a good salmon tartare with capers.
It therefore stands to reason that when I made my very first step into charcuterie, is was not with salmon. Well, actually it was! Here’s why. Many of the other dishes (do you call charcuterie items dishes, or do they have some other designation?) took timescales of six or seven days minimum (or required equipment I didn’t, at the time, have), but the salmon only took three days and needed a glass dish (well, two dishes). Also, Mrs IG – like most ladies – likes the salmon, and when Mrs IG is happy, my world is a quieter place with less resistance to my moments of insanity.
I went to see Jimmy the Fish, but all of his salmon fillets were scrappy small bits, and I wanted a large fillet. That’s the problem with going to see a fishmonger late in the day! All he had in a decent size was a salmon loin. I figured that would do, so purchased a piece of around 1 kilo in weight. It was a bit thicker than I had expected, but I couldn’t be bothered to fanny around and slice it in two so worked with it as it came!
I mixed up 135g of coarse sea salt, 200g of brown sugar, 10g of ground black pepper and 120ml of Pastis. It’s a sure sign of getting old when you use Pastis for cooking. As a lad, we favoured Pastis for its ability to get you raging at night, then after a sleep you’d awake sober, until that first cup of coffee, when you’d be pissed out of your head again.
Anyhow, I spread half the mixture in a glass dish, laid on the salmon, and covered it with the remainder of the mixture. Then I put some clingfilm over the top, and added another dish of the same size to press down on the loin. I weighted this with a few 1 litre bottles of vodka, and left it for 24 hours. When I went to turn it over, there was a thick stodge in the bottom of the dish. I stirred this up into a semi-liquid form with my fingers (saves on the washing up), flipped the salmon, and redistributed the goo. Then it went back in for another 24 hours.
After 48 hours it was supposed to come out, but it still felt a bit soft, probably due to its thickness, so I restirred the stodge, turned the salmon once more, and back in it went for 24 hours. Once the time was up I rinsed it off, dried it, and it went on a rack in the fridge for another 24 hours to dry.
Then it was time. Thinly slice with some rocket and tomato, and a few beads of balsamic vinegar, it was – quite frankly – delicious. It had a full-on salmon taste, with a slight background of aniseed from the Pastis, and a little heat from the black pepper. The texture was firm, but not dry or hard, and it had no saltiness above and beyond what you’d expect.
With shop-bought smoked salmon being bloody expensive, bland and often greasy, I think the IG household will no longer be purchasing such products. The ability to add flavours (I’m going for juniper next) makes this simple cured salmon a breeze and more flexible than a Chinese contortionist. More importantly, Mrs IG loved it!
Also, I am now looking at the salmon through very different eyes!