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.
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.
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.
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!
[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.]
Blackcurrant Cured Salmon with Herbed Cream Cheese
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
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.