Urban graffiti, you’ve got some competition.
So, my salmon adventure comes to an end about a week after it started. I had sushi today for lunch, and after chewing on a small piece of smoked salmon in one of my rolls, can assertively say that this salmon beats any store bought/sushi chain version, any day.
In prepping for this recipe, I did a bit of research online to see if there were any methods or tricks that would make this the best cure ever. But there wasn’t, this recipe was so simple that there’s nowhere to go wrong. Through this research I also realized I was making Gravlax, not Lox. Lox is a cured, cold smoked salmon. Gravlax on the other hand is the term for a straight cure, also called Gravad Lax in some parts of Scandinavia.
The salmon can cure for as little as 24 hours, but most recipes I saw suggested at least a 36 hours cure. My bad boys sat in our spare fridge, wrapped in their juices, for a good 40+ hours. I was taking no chances.
As I unwrapped the salmon, I couldn’t help but notice how much juice had been extracted by the salt, for which I’ve always marveled at that magical ability of salt to suck the water out of any matter. I rinsed the filets under water to remove any bits of salt and dill, and patted them dry to inspect how the cure took to them. Now flatter, denser, and darker in color compared to its starting point, I held it up to my nose and- surprisingly- was shocked at the relatively light scent of salmon.
Using my best sushi-chef abilities and wielding my sharpest knife, I carefully sliced against the grain. Smooth slices on a bias, using one hand at the end of the salmon to catch each slice falling off. Finally my years of sitting in front of a sushi counter had done me some good. Oily, fleshy, salty, tender, oh-so-flavorful. It was so easy, once the mercury runs through my system I’m eager to try it again.
recipe adapted from Cooking for Engineers
- 2 pounds sushi-grade salmon filets, skinned, trimmed, and deboned.
- 4 Tbsp. kosher salt
- 4 Tbsp. sugar
- 3 tsp. ground black pepper
- Dill- fresh or dried
- Rinse salmon under cool water, and lay on towels to pat dry.
- Mix the salt, sugar and pepper.
- Lay the filet (mine was cut into 3 sections, so I did this three times) on a large sheet of plastic wrap. Cake the filet with the salt cure, making sure to cover the filet in a nice thick layer of salt.
- Sprinkle the top with dill, or lay fresh dill to cover the top
- Wrap up the filet, and repeat twice with two more sheets of plastic wrap.
- Let sit in the fridge for 36-48 hours, or more.
Yield: 10-15 servings
Would you believe if I told you that I practically skipped home from the salmon store? Probably. After looking online for various recipes and methods to cure salmon, I finally settled on Cooking for Engineers to provide general guidance. Hey, my dad’s a scientist- and this process seemed much more like a lab experiment than a kitchen play day, so I raised some salt to Dad and began the second phase of the Great Salmon Adventure.
I’ll present the recipe tomorrow, along with the final results….but it truly was a nervewracking experience for me. I’ve never “cooked” anything before where I had so little control of the outcome, and with the pressure of my first Passover breathing down my back, I made two other salads Saturday morning, just in case.
Let the waiting begin….
Right down the street from our apartment- so close I can almost see it from our 9th floor window- lies the “Convergency Scandinavian Seafood” store. B and I call this “the salmon place”- a much more understandable name than its real one. I didn’t even know what Convergence meant, until I looked it up:
Convergency: independent development of similar characters (as of body structure in whales and fishes) by animals or plants of different groups that is often associated with similarity of habits or environment
er, I actually still don’t really know what it means, or at least, why a store would name itself such.
Let’s rewind a bit, to talk about how seafood here isn’t (generally) safe. Friends here often joke that the fish served in restaurants is caught in the nearby Pearl River- the same river that hundreds of cargo ships pass through each week, the same river whose water is also often jokingly said to be bottled into the cheap “Pearl River Beer” that is sold at every restaurant, in every store. A friend asked me once, when I first got here, where I thought the fish that was sold in the markets came from- I was at a loss for words, partially for the lack of knowledge about the bodies of water in the region, and partially because I couldn’t fathom fish living in the water that I did know in the region.
Trying to read up about any positive thoughts of China’s status of seafood safety didn’t shed any greater light, and I encountered more negative articles than positive, scaring me away with all things aquatic. China does not have proper certifications, China’s waters are poisoned, and as the exporter of tons and tons of seafood, it does to its fish farms as you would imagine a large cattle operation does to its poor cows. Ever-conscious of where my meat comes from, both at home and here in China, I never thought the fear of where my seafood came from would actually be a legitimate concern (even after Dan Barber said so!).
So you can imagine the shock, followed by immediate trepidation, when I heard there was a little store in Guangzhou that sold fresh, sashimi-quality salmon. Within a stone’s throw of our apartment, at that. But our fellow Americans vowed it was true, and after taking their tips for where to buy cheese, bread, and beer, I took this salmon tip pretty confidently. But of course as I do with any other food operation, I walked by the store countless times to stake it out. I peered at their quality of fish, sanitation levels, signage, and decided that it looked legit. Plus it was expensive, so that was a good sign.
A few weeks ago I made the bold decision to buy a small filet of salmon belly for B and I for a sashimi dinner. it was fatty, marbled, clean, and delicious. After not getting sick and not growing extra fingers on our body, we deemed it safe enough for occassional consumption. And when an invitation for Passover rolled around at our good friend’s house, and a decree for dishes to be brought was made, I knew exactly what I was going to do. Because what’s more Jewish than lox?
I headed over to the salmon place last Thursday morning, giving myself two-and-a-half days of solid cure time for the salmon. The salmon guy was very helpful and I am sure slightly amused at me, trying to decipher my choppy Chinese description of home-cured salmon. We got stuck a lot on the part where I wasn’t going to cook it. I remember stating, in my best Chinese, that I was going to marinate the salmon in a lot of salt and sugar, and let it sit for a few days, and the salt would cook the salmon but it would still be raw, like sashimi, and sliced thin to put on bread or crackers, which is how the Jewish people eat it….”
The salmon guy looked at me quizzically (I don’t think he knew the slightest bit what Jewish people ate) but then a look of acknowledgement came across his face: “ahhh, you want what they have at Ikea!” And he happily cut me off close to 2 pounds of salmon.
Note to self: make reference to Ikea when wanting smoked salmon in Guangzhou.