Cure Your Salmon in Whisky, Be Transported to Scotland

November 29, 2017

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Growing up in Scotland, the long summer days of my childhood were spent outdoors: on the beach searching for treasures in the shape of shells or tiny fish in the craggy rock pools left behind by ebbing tides, or fishing for salmon with my grandfather. We would spend hours standing on the lush green grassy banks of the fast-running local rivers, my fishing rod taller than I was, waiting for the salmon to run.

The two tips my grandfather gave me on how to be a successful fisherman were to be patient and to be silent. At 8 years old, I sadly lacked both these qualities. But we’d somehow manage to catch at least one glittering, silvery-skinned fish. He’d wrap our catch up in newspaper and pack it into our large canvas fishing bag, and then we’d head home. This was my favorite part of the day: our customary lengthy and lively chat about how we would prepare the salmon. Shall we fillet it and simply pan fry with new potatoes? Do we roast it, or poach it in wine? Or should we cure it and serve the fish thinly sliced atop crisp green lettuce and cucumbers freshly picked from the garden? When we got home we would consider our options as my grandfather cleaned the salmon, his evening dram of whisky at hand.

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Those childhood memories have stayed strong for me—and so has my love of salmon. On every trip back to Scotland, my ritual is to seek out freshly caught wild salmon and cure it with whisky (my favorite way to prepare and eat this majestic fish). Whisky and salmon are part of my heritage, of course, but even better is that their flavors pair beautifully as well. The salmon is gently infused with the perfumed juniper berries, the earthiness of the whisky, and the bright herbal notes from the dill.

Whisky-cured salmon is wonderful to have on-hand, as it’s good for eating and entertaining and it lasts for a number of days. When I have weekend guests, I like to serve the cured salmon on a large wooden board with a range of accompaniments: oatcakes, thinly sliced pumpernickel bread, small bowls of assorted homemade pickles, crème fraîche, and lots of lemon wedges. Add a good bottle of whisky and let your friends get creative in their snacking.

For brunch the next day, I might top scrambled eggs with thin slivers of salmon and a little caviar, or put a spin on Eggs Benedict and swap out the ham for cured salmon.

And if, the following day, I'm lucky enough to still have some salmon left over, I toss it into a bowl of pasta, sprinkle with fresh herbs, add a splash of lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil and finish with a dusting of cracked black pepper.

I have enjoyed cured smoked salmon in many ways over the years, but the simple, no-nonsense recipe that I grew up with is my standard. I have traveled with the dog eared recipe written on a scrap of paper all my life. I live in California now, where wild salmon is readily available—I often make this cured salmon and smile, thinking back on my childhood, where I'm standing on the banks of those wild untamed rivers of the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland, trying to be patient and quiet.

What are your favorite childhood food memories? Let us know in the comments!

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