Tequila-Cured Salmon Gravlax
A friend from Seattle once described his family’s Christmas tree ritual. Every December, they’d go to the woods, pick a tree, argue a little, cut it down, then bring it home where they’d have hot chocolate together. A lovely story, but so wholesome, it seemed exotic. Told to a bunch of urbanites who believed Christmas trees sprouted up spontaneously from the sidewalks in front of grocery stores once a year, we wanted to know if there was a designated “tree section” of the forest. That’s the way I felt about making my own gravlax which I’d only bought pre-packaged and ready to serve (random connection I know but they’re both related to the Pacific Northwest). I love sushi, ceviche and all things smoked and cured, but when it comes to fish, I relied on chefs and Nova Scotians to tell me when it’s raw and when it’s lunch. This week I found a recipe for tequila-cured salmon topped with mango and lime relish that changed my mind.
Colombian chef Rafael Palomino was inspired by a trip to Mexico to make this party appetizer that’s cured with tequila and ripe pears then quickly sliced up for guests. I’d never seen tequila-cured salmon before so I knew that if I wanted to try it, I had to do it myself. The original recipe called for well over a pound of salmon, so I cut it down to make just enough for individual tartines. As usual, I went to Fish Tales on Court Street. Taking their advice on the amount of salt, weight, and time I’d need for a smaller cut, I got the assurance to go it alone. I was nervous when I removed the brine that I’d taken it out too soon (just under 24 hours), but it sliced cleanly and was butter smooth. Topped with the mango relish over a loaf of pumpernickel smeared with crème fraîche, it was a great light lunch. Completely worth a trip to the “gravlax section” of the salmon stream.
Tequila-Cured Salmon Gravlax
Adapted from Viva la Vida: Festive Recipes for Entertaining Latin Style by Rafael Palomino, Arlen Gargagliano, and Susie Cushner.
1 8-ounce salmon fillet, pin bones removed
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons mint leaves, finely shredded
1 ripe pear, cored and cut into 1/4″ thick slices
1 tablespoon gold tequila
Mango and lime relish (see below)
4 slices pumpernickel, rye or multi-grain bread
4 tablespoons crème fraîche (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Place each fillet on a piece of plastic wrap, skin side down. Cover fillet with salt and blanket with mint, followed by pear slices. Sprinkle with tequila and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Weight the salmon using a few canned items and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours.
Just before serving, unwrap the salmon and remove pears, mint and salt. Rinse and dry. To serve, slice on the bias. Spread each slice of bread with a tablespoon of crème fraîche and top with a few slices of salmon and relish. Season with salt and pepper.
Makes 4 servings.
Mango and Lime Relish
1 mango peeled, cut from pit, and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 small cucumber, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 tablespoons gold tequila
Juice of 1 orange
Juice of 2 limes
6 fresh mint leaves, stacked, rolled, and cut into fine shreds
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon Pommery of Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Combine mango and cucumber in a medium bowl and set aside. Combine the remaining ingredients in a small bowl and blend well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour over mango and cucumber and toss to coat. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve, up to three days.
Makes 2-3 cups.