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A Better Bagel Topping: Beet-Cured Salmon

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It's always more fun to DIY. Every week, we'll spare you a trip to the grocery store and show you how to make small batches of great foods at home.

Today: Derek Laughren, Test Kitchen Manager here at Food52, shows us how adding beets to a salmon cure makes for a better lox.

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Buying a good cured salmon from a reputable grocer can be more than a little pricey, but I've watched my friends make the sacrfice time and time again in the name of a perfect bagel. I don't think I'm alone when I say, nothing goes better with a pumpernickel bagel and pickled onions than slices of sweet, salty salmon. Fortunately, the home version of salmon lox takes about as much time active preparation time as it does to walk to your local bagel shop—and much less money.

More: While you're at it, make your bagels at home, too.

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With only 4 ingredients, about 20 minutes of prep time, and a day and a half of setting it and forgetting it, you can make a visually stunning cured salmon that's sure to impress family and friends (not to mention yourself). This process leaves a brilliant red ring around the exterior of the fillet while dying the interior a vibrant pink. Either lay the vivid slices over toast or coil them into ruby-tinged rosettes. Enjoy them with a simple chived crème fraîche and capers, or lay them on thick over your morning bagel. However you choose to devour the salmon, save the recipe. This stuff goes fast.

Beet-Cured Salmon

Makes one side of salmon (roughly 1 pound, 10 ounces, since the salmon will lose water weight)

One 2-pound side of salmon
1 pound granulated sugar
1 pound kosher salt
3 pounds red beets

Start by cleaning the salmon. Pull out any pin bones using tweezers or needle-nosed pliers and remove any tough cartilage left over from the fins and belly flap. Carefully cut away any white flesh on the surface of the salmon and skin it by placing it skin-side down and placing your hand on top while you run the knfe along the skin (as shown in the photo above). Set the salmon aside.

Get the rest of your items ready: Cut a piece of cheesecloth large enough to wrap the salmon a couple of times around and mix your sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Set both aside.

To prepare the beets, cut off the tops and bottoms, then peel them. Using a medium cheese grater, grate the beets. To avoid staining your counters, it's best to do this over a sheet tray, newspapers, a flattened cardboard box, or whatever you have handy. Wear gloves to avoid being caught red-handed. Wring or press the beets to remove as much excess juice as possible. 

  

  

Lay out the prepared cheesecloth over a metal cooling rack placed over a sheet tray. Place about half of the grated beets in the center, in the shape of the salmon. Lay about half of the sugar and salt on top of this. Finally, layer the salmon on top of this. Push any excess salt, sugar, and beets up against the sides of the salmon to make sure the whole bottom and sides of the salmon are covered. Press the remaining sugar and salt onto the surface of the salmon. Lay the remaining shredded beets over the top (as shown below).

Firmly wrap the salmon and its toppings in the cheesecloth, tight enough to keep the seasonings pressed against the flesh, but not so tight that the salmon can't lay flat. Keep the salmon on the wire rack over the sheet tray. Wrap the whole thing tightly in plastic wrap and place it on the lowest shelf in your fridge.

The salmon will need two to three days to cure. Check it daily, draining any fluid that accumulates in the pan. When you're ready to unveil it, two to three days later, cut a small test portion from the tail end to ensure that you have a nice ruby ring around the outside of the salmon and that the flesh tastes salty enough for you. When you're happy, gently scrape away the beets, salt, and sugar with your hands or the back of a knife.

You can rinse the whole thing gently under cold water, or you can wipe it down with a wet towel. Don't leave the salmon in the cure too long, or it will be too salty, and, eventually, tough. When you serve it, shave thin slices (roughly 1/8 to 1/4 of an inch) off of the salmon and plate it. For a boosted presentation, curl the slices up into rosettes or waves to give the red edges a rippling effect—not that they'll need any dressing up.

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom

Tags: small batch, salmon, cured salmon, beets