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Fancy food | Blackcurrant-Cured Salmon with Herbed Cream Cheese

Salmon fillet before and after curing with salt, sugar and blackcurrant powder

I actually mean it – make this dish and you will feel so, so fancy. It’s elegant. It’s delicate. It’s raw fish, dyed purple and eaten on thin slices of sourdough bread. There’s even herb flowers in there; I mean, come on! We are talking classy. Classy doesn’t come easy, mind you, so it’s only fitting that the recipe should contain an obscure ingredient that you will need to hunt down, but trust me on this one: imagine this purple salmon served as a starter at Christmas Day lunch or a canapé for your New Year’s Eve party. It’s definitely worth the effort.

Blackcurrant-cured salmon served with herbed cream cheese

I don’t normally do fancy – I’m sure you’re well aware of that – but that doesn’t mean that I’m not a food snob (I am) or I won’t be wowed by a new idea (happens all the time). I’m not going to be forcing the latest food trend on you any time soon (I don’t want to eat egg-flavoured marshmallows aka “cloud eggs” or rainbow-coloured unicorn food anymore than you do) but I am so into food that looks gorgeous and is actually very simple to make.

Home-cured salmon (also known as gravlax) is hardly new – I’ve wanted to try these gin-cured  and beetroot-stained versions for ages – but I’m really not the type to hurry. Way back in January I was in New Zealand dipping into a local food magazine and came across an article about the local blackcurrant industry. Apparently New Zealand’s relatively unpolluted environment and high ultra violet light intensity produces blackcurrants with high levels of anthocyanin, which is a potent antioxidant. Lately blackcurrant farmers have been experimenting with products other than whole fruit and most brands now offer a freeze-dried powdered blackcurrant that can be added to smoothies and such. The article featured a gorgeous photograph of blackcurrant-cured salmon and I just had to make it.

Soft fresh herbs for chopping, sprinkling and mixing with cream cheese

One short shop on the way to the airport later and I had a bag of blackcurrant powder stashed away in my bag. It took several more months before I actually made the fish, but that’s because I needed an occasion. Curing salmon is hardly something that you’d do for a mid-week meal, but a dinner party with friends in May provided the perfect excuse. It was as good as I had dreamed and everyone LOVED it; of course, I then waited another five months to make it again and share it with you.

Blackcurrant-cured salmon with herb and lemon cream cheese

The recipe is so simple but you do need to cure the salmon for a total of 12 hours: no more and no less. This means that if you want to serve the fish at 7pm, it will need to be nestled into its curing solution by 6.30am of the same day. You could cure it overnight, store it and avoid an early rising,  but it’s my opinion that a story of dedication and self-sacrifice always makes food taste better. There’s also the fact that your guests will love to see you pull their entree from the fridge as a murky, blackish lump before being rinsed and sliced to reveal its true beauty.

Texture is important in this dish and slicing the fish as thinly as possible really does improve the flavour. Use your sharpest knife and shave that fish whisker-thin. The curing process draws out a lot of the moisture in the fish so this is easier than it sounds, but try to be your most-patient self and shave, shave, shave. The salmon is served with a smear of cream cheese, delicately scented with lemon and herbs. Slices of sourdough are available for spreading and gorging purposes and that’s about it: beautiful, raw, purple fish!

Salmon cured with blackcurrant powder and served with herb cream cheese

[A word about the photos – I’m currently forcing myself out of my comfort zone to use the manual settings on my camera. It hurts a bit, I’m not going to lie, but I know it’ll be good for me in the long run. Most of these photos came out blurry because I used a slow shutter speed to keep it moody. I should have used a tripod I know (gahhhh), but I’m not exactly going to run out and buy a new piece of salmon as you’d be waiting another year for the recipe if I did. Taking better photos is a process. Mistakes will be made and there were plenty here to learn from.]

Slices of blackcurrant-cured salmon

Blackcurrant Cured Salmon with Herbed Cream Cheese

Slightly adapted from Miles Drewery’s recipe, featured on Food to Love but originally published in Taste Magazine (NZ).

For the cured salmon:
500g salmon fillet, pin bones and skin removed
2 Tbsp sea salt
2 Tbsp raw sugar
2 Tbsp blackcurrant powder

For the herbed cream cheese:
125g cream cheese, at room temperature
2-4 Tbsp finely sliced soft herbs, such as mint, apple mint, sorrel and/or marjoram
1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest

To serve:
Finely chopped chives
Finely grated lemon zest
Herb flowers, such as chive or rosemary flowers
Sourdough bread (I used a rye and walnut sourdough)

Inspect your salmon and ensure that any excess fat on the skinned side of the salmon has been trimmed away as the cure can’t penetrate through fat. Place the salmon fillet in a glass or ceramic dish large enough for it to lie flat. In a small bowl, mix together the salt, sugar and blackcurrant powder (break up any lumps in the blackcurrant powder). Sprinkle the mixture generously over both sides of the salmon, but reserve 1 Tbsp for later. Use your fingertips to pat the curing mix into the fish. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6 hours.

After 6 hours turn the salmon over and sprinkle it with the remaining blackcurrant, salt and sugar mixture. The salmon should be very dark in colour and liquid will be gathering in the dish as the salt draws out the moisture. Re-cover and refrigerate for another 6 hours.

Mix together the cream cheese, soft herbs and lemon zest until smooth, and season with salt and pepper. Start with the smaller quantity of herbs and taste the result. You want it to taste fresh but delicate, with no single herby flavour dominating. The cream cheese can be prepared ahead of time and stashed in the fridge.

When ready to serve, remove the salmon from fridge and rinse off the excess curing solution under cold running water. Pat the fillet dry using paper towels. Using your sharpest knife, slice the salmon very thinly. Place a dollop or smear of cream cheese on each plate, top with a ragged pile of salmon slices and sprinkle with chives, lemon zest and herb flowers (if you have them). Serve with thin slices of fresh sourdough bread.

27 Comments

  1. so. i couldn’t find the blackcurrant powder, but i have found dragonfruit powder which is a luminous shade of deep pink. xmas day sorted, thank you!

    • That sounds gorgeous Lucy, bright pink salmon and it should retain a fruity flavour – it is perhaps more delicate than the blackcurrant though, if the fresh fruit is anything to go by. So maybe (just maybe) you should consider Michele’s approach (comments in the thread) and use creme fraiche instead of cream cheese? Either way, let me know how it goes!

    • Well…I did choose the best ones (there weren’t many) and edited them as best as I could. I can still see problems but it’s good to know that they not completely terrible!

  2. Gravlax is standard Christmas fare in out house. If I can get hold of some blackcurrant powder I’ll try your version this year. I’ll check your supplier link above, thanks

    • What’s your favourite way to make it Sandra? This was my first attempt and I’m keen to try other versions – there are so many lovely sounding recipes out there.

      • Thanks! It sounds great. The differences between the two recipes are interesting – yours uses a bit less salt and sugar than mine but has a much longer curing period. I like the idea of the alcohol helping to preserve it a bit longer, as that would be very useful. I’ll definitely try your recipe – it’s all about experimentation isn’t it 🙂

  3. This looks fabulous! Chief has done beetroot cured salmon on many occasions but not blackcurrant. Will add it to the ‘to do’ list. And your photos are fabulous – making me want to eat through the screen is the result you want! 🙂

  4. like you, i adore fancy food, rarely do it though. i am so glad you made this and shared it, i have always wanted to make gravlox. i have a fear of: 1. playing with fish and, 2. serving said fish to anybody other than my husband. (one person sick vs a handful of guests…) my birthday weekend is coming up, i think i might have to attempt some kind of gravlox for a breakfast with my sweet hubs, though i don’t think i’ll be able to get my hands on blackcurrant powder. you’ve inspired me to do fancy!

    PS. your pictures are lovely, hooray for manual mode!

    • I’m so happy to hear that Lan! This dish is great – worth touching raw fish for. I’ve seen a blueberry version before too, using powdered blueberries which might be more available to you. Anyway, that’s my fancy effort for the year 🙂

  5. Oh that looks amazing Chez. I have made beetroot gravad lax before but never blackcurrant. This might actually tip me over the edge and force me to buy a dehydrator as then I make blackcurrant powder as well as dehydrate raspberries. I think your photos look amazing as usual and I am very jealous of the nice way you style everything. I would love to use the manual settings on my nice camera but as I am functionally illiterate when it comes to reading instruction manuals (odd given my job, but there you go ….) this basically means I really only use my phone camera – which I should probably just call my camera as I never use it as a phone.

    I really want to go and eat salmon now …

    • I also hate reading my camera manual and have only improved over the years through taking lots and lots of photos and picking up the odd tip here and there from friends. I have also done a couple of really basic 1/2 day workshops. I’m into manual mode now only because I watched a brilliant online tutorial that explained the basics so clearly that literally had one of those giant lightbulbs hovering over my head!! Let me know if you want details 🙂

      • Oh, the workshops sound fun. I would love the details of the on-line tutorial if you have them please – although it might have to wait until current deadline is over and done with and I can relax a bit 🙂

      • I recently subscribed to Skillshare and the best tutorial so far has been Fundamentals of DSLR Photography by Justin Bridges. There were so many lightbulb moments for me while watching it – highly recommended!

  6. urma2016

    Sounds/ looks amazing Chez. Did the procuring of the blackcurrant powder occur on the way to Brisbane or Auckland airport?

    • Hi Ronit, I’ve never tried beet-cured salmon but it looks very similar doesn’t it, only purple whereas beets turn the salmon more of a reddish colour. Can you detect the flavour of the beet in your salmon? You can taste the blackcurrant in this dish – it’s quite subtle, but really lovely.

      • Yes it’s exactly the same principle, and you could detect a subtle beet flavor.
        I really like the idea of blackcurrant flavor with salmon. Will keep it in mind for next time! 🙂

      • Michele Edmondson

        For such a simple recipe it was swoon worthy. A late night and early start was a small price to pay for this to grace the brunch table. And although I did do the cream cheese and herbs, we all found the alternative of creme fraise with chives and a touch of lemon zest to be a fresher contrast to the richness of the salmon. This will be a certain starter on our Christmas Day menu. What brand is your blackcurrant powder? I need to order some. And thanks for encouraging me to finally attempt the ‘curing’ game.

      • So glad that you liked it! My powder is from Crown Range Cellar in NZ but I checked their website just now and it looks like they are out of stock. Try investigating the link that I included in another comment on this post – they stock a couple of NZ brands.

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