Both sets of my parents had gardens when I was little, and at my dad and stepmother’s house, we grew a lot of cucumbers. By August, the cucumbers would be going totally crazy, and we were at a loss for what to do with them. My stepmother Ronna’s family is Norwegian, and she borrowed her grandmother’s recipe for this light, creamy, and refreshing cucumber salad. It’s best eaten very cold, after the cucumbers have chilled in the fridge for a few hours (but not overnight).
The salmon is an easy at-home curing project and it’s less expensive than buying cured fish. You will need to plan ahead, however, as the fish must cure for 36 to 48 hours. The salmon can also be served without the salad, thinly sliced and accompanied by crackers or bagels and cream cheese.
Always buy the highest-quality wild-caught salmon available. Look for a thick, center-cut 2-pound fillet with the skin on. Do not buy two 1-pound pieces for this recipe, as you need a single 2-pound piece for the cure to work.
- 1 (2-pound) center-cut skin-on salmon fillet, 1½ inches thick
- 1 large or 2 small red beets, unpeeled
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 3 cups salt
- 10 juniper berries, toasted and very coarsely ground (see toasting spices)
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, toasted and very
- coarsely ground (see toasting spices)
- 2 tablespoons lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon lime zest
- 1 cup roughly chopped dill, stems included
- 0.33 cup roughly chopped tarragon
- ¼ cup aquavit or gin
- 2 English cucumbers
- 2 teaspoons very finely minced shallot
- 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons crème fraîche or sour cream
- 1½ teaspoons chopped dill
- 2 teaspoons chopped mint
- 1 tablespoon finely minced chives
- Torn mint or celery leaves, for garnish
- MAKE THE CURED SALMON Rinse the fillet under cold running water. Dry it with a paper towel, and then lay it on a piece of parchment paper. Remove the pin bones with culinary tweezers or with regular tweezers reserved for kitchen use. To locate pin bones, run your hand along the surface of the fish and feel for thin spikes. Angle your tweezers into the fish to avoid ripping the flesh, or use a small, sharp knife to cut the flesh back ever so slightly to expose the bone. Pull the tiny individual bones out in the direction they are running. Set the salmon aside.
- Cover your cutting board with a layer of plastic wrap so it doesn’t color from the beets as you grate them, and wear plastic gloves if you don’t want to stain your hands red. Working over the plastic wrap, grate the raw beets on the biggest holes on a box grater. Gather up the grated beets in the plastic wrap and transfer them to a food processor.
- Add the sugar, salt, juniper, and peppercorns to the processor. Using 15 to 20 long pulses, blend the ingredients until the mixture looks uniform and sandy. Transfer the beet mixture to a mixing bowl, add the lemon zest, lime zest, dill, and tarragon, and mix well with your hands.
- Splash the aquavit across the flesh and the skin side of the salmon and smooth your hand across both surfaces to “rinse” the salmon with the liquor. Place the salmon, flesh side down, onto the top one-third of the parchment paper. Spread half of the beet-salt mixture evenly along the center of the parchment paper in a strip roughly the same size as the salmon fillet. Flip the salmon over, skin side down, on top of the beet mixture. Pack the remaining beet-salt mixture across the flesh side of the salmon. Fold the short side edges of the parchment in toward the salmon and then fold the bottom side over the top. Flip the fish over, creating a package of rubbed salmon.
- Wrap the entire salmon package in several layers of plastic wrap to seal it well. Lay the salmon on a rimmed baking sheet; use a baking sheet with at least ½-inch sides, as a lot of liquid will escape from the fish while it cures. Place another baking sheet on top and top the second sheet with any object or objects weighing a total of about 5 pounds, such as canned foods or a big pot.
- Refrigerate the weighted baking sheets for 16 to 18 hours. After that time, flip the salmon over, then reweight it and refrigerate for another 16 to 18 hours. Open the salmon package and brush away the excess beet-salt mixture, reserving the mixture in case you find you need to continue curing the salmon for a few more hours. The salmon is ready when it springs back gently when you touch it. If it is hard, it is overcured; if it is too soft, it has not cured long enough. But the best way to know if it is ready is to cut into it and taste it. Rinse the salmon with water and thoroughly pat dry with paper towels.
- Place the salmon on a cutting board. Lay your knife flat on the surface of the board and slice horizontally between the skin of the salmon and the flesh to separate the two. Do not remove all of the salmon from its skin; slice only about 2 inches deep. Cut a ¼-inch piece off the end of the skinless section of the salmon, slicing it on a sharp 45-degree angle. Taste an interior slice (not the end cut you just removed) for even seasoning. If the amount of seasoning is to your liking, continue slicing in paper-thin pieces. If the salmon isn’t cured enough, repack it with the reserved beet-salt mix, rewrap it, reweight it, and cure for another 8 to 12 hours. If the salmon is too hard, place it in a bowl of fresh water and soak in the refrigerator for 4 to 6 hours, then drain and dry well. If it still tastes too salty to serve straight, fold it into cream cheese, eggs, or pasta. The salmon will keep, tightly wrapped, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
- MAKE THE CUCUMBER SALAD Peel the cucumbers and halve lengthwise. Place them cut side up and, with a sharp spoon or melon baller, carefully scoop out and discard the seeds. Flip a cucumber half over onto its cut surface and cut ¼ inch off one end of the cucumber at a sharp 45-degree angle. At this same sharp bias, cut the entire cucumber half into ⅛-inch-thick slices. Repeat with the remaining halves.
- In a bowl, combine the shallot, vinegar, salt, pepper, and sugar. Mix well to combine and let rest for 10 minutes to mellow some of the sharp taste of the shallot. Whisk in the crème fraîche; then wash your hands well, and add the cucumbers to the dressing and massage with your hands. Add the dill, mint, and chives and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to 4 hours before serving.
- To serve, make sure the cucumber salad and the salmon have been refrigerated for a few hours so they are very cold. Use a slotted spoon to remove the cucumbers from their dressing. Place about ½ cup of the cucumbers in a nice tight pile in the middle of each plate. Arrange 4 or 5 thin salmon slices on the top of the cucumbers in a rosette shape, and set mint along the perimeter of the cucumbers as a garnish.