Salt-cured salmon is well worth the extra time it takes to prepare. Ouzo, an anise-flavored liqueur widely consumed in Greece and Cyprus, enhances the flavor of the fennel seeds added to the salt cure mix. Can’t find ouzo on the shelf? Substitute aquavit, sambuca, or another anise-flavored liqueur for the same flavor boost.
The aromatic salmon, served on pumpernickel squares with ribbons of fennel and cucumber is perfect for a light, warm-weather brunch. The addition of the fresh vegetables sweeps one’s palate clean, a fresh start with every bite.
Salt-cured Ouzo Salmon with Fennel & Cucumber Ribbons
Serves 6-8 pieces per person
Recipe by Shereen Pavlides
Total Cooking Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
Active Cooking Time: 2 to 3 days
- ⅓ cup kosher salt
- ⅓ cup finely chopped fresh dill
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1½ tablespoons lemon zest (from 1 large lemon)
- 2 tablespoons whole fennel seeds
- 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 2 tablespoons ouzo, aquavit, sambuca, or another anise-flavored liqueur
- 1½ pounds center-cut wild king salmon fillet, skin on, scaled, pin-bones removed
- 12 to 16 slices pumpernickel bread
- 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1 large lemon)
- 3 tablespoons rice vinegar
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 small fennel bulb, fronds removed, bulb halved and cored
- ½ English cucumber halved lengthwise and seeded
- ½ cup chopped fresh dill
- ½ teaspoon salt
- Extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed if salted
- Fresh chives, snipped into batons
- ½ cup (4 ounces) crème fraîche
- Mortar and pestle or a coffee/spice grinder
- Clean brick, large heavy cans, or bottles of juice, for weighing down the salmon while curing
To cure the salmon, place the kosher salt, dill, sugar and lemon zest in a large bowl. Using a mortar and pestle or a coffee/spice grinder, coarsely grind the fennel seeds and peppercorns. Add the spice mixture to the salt mixture. Add the ouzo and mix, using a fork, until all the ingredients are moistened.
Line a small rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the salmon skin side down on a long piece of plastic wrap (large enough to cover and wrap the entire piece of salmon). Rub and coat the salt mixture evenly over the exposed salmon flesh, creating a packed crust. Wrap the plastic over the salmon to seal and cover it securely. Transfer the wrapped salmon, skin side down, to the lined baking sheet. Place another piece of parchment paper on top of the plastic-wrapped fish. Balance a second small rimmed baking sheet on top and weigh it down with a clean brick or a few heavy large cans or bottles of juice. Refrigerate the salmon, with the weight on top, for 2 to 3 days. The fish will be ready on day 2 but will be more flavorful on day 3.
After 2 to 3 days, remove the weights and plastic wrap and rinse the salmon under cold water, but don’t submerge it. Dry the salmon well between heavy-duty paper towels. Cut the salmon in half lengthwise (to yield manageably sized slices) and thinly slice it on an angle, leaving the skin behind. Arrange the salmon on a large serving platter. Keep chilled until ready to serve. After the salmon is cured, it will keep for up to 2 days in the refrigerator, tightly wrapped.
To serve the salmon, preheat the oven to 350°F.
Cut the pumpernickel bread into 1½ by 1½‒inch squares, using a square mold cutter or a chef’s knife, discarding the crusts. Place the pumpernickel squares on a baking sheet and bake until toasted, about 8 minutes. The toasts can be prepared up to 4 hours ahead. This makes about 46 toasts.
In a large bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, rice vinegar, and sugar until the sugar is dissolved.
Using a handheld mandoline or sharp knife, thinly slice the fennel and cucumber. Add to the bowl with the lemon mixture. Add the dill and season with the salt. Toss well several times, to evenly coat. Strain, reserving the lemon mixture for another use. Mound the fennel and cucumber ribbons onto the serving platter, alongside the salmon slices.
Lightly drizzle extra-virgin olive oil over the salmon slices. Garnish the salmon with the capers and snipped chives. Arrange the pumpernickel toasts on the side, being careful not to place them too close to the salmon or fennel and cucumbers or they will get soggy. Place the crème fraîche in a small serving bowl and place this on the platter. Instruct guests to spread crème fraîche on the pumpernickel toasts, top with a folded slice of salmon, and top with fennel and cucumber ribbons.
Photo by Andrea Coan