Today marks the last big meal of my holiday season as we enjoy Ukrainian Christmas. A menu full of meatless dishes so hearty and soul-satisfying, that missing meat is not a worry at all.
Traditionally, there are 12 meatless dishes on our Ukrainian table. Three types of perogies; potato, sauerkraut, and prune, two types of cabbage rolls — rice and buckwheat, baked perogies soaked in cream-dill sauce, crepes filled with dill and cottage cheese, numerous salads, and savoury fish dishes. It truly is a bonanza buffet of awesome Ukrainian goodness.
This year, my contribution is going to be a different take on fish. Designed to increase variety and color at the table, I chose a recipe that would add monster flavour and compliment the hot dishes. Keeping with the meatless theme, I used some wild sockeye salmon that my cousin Derryl shared with me. A gift of delicious proportions, his job takes him to Alaska, so while it is very cold and far away, he does have the perk of fresh caught seafood.
To showcase the amazing natural flavour and texture of the salmon, I pulled out a school recipe for curing salmon that I love because it uses traditional Ukrainian ingredients. Beets, horseradish, and vodka: all pretty common in Ukrainian culture, the flavour is robust and the color is electrifying.
Beets are one of nature’s most powerful super-foods. Vibrant color and distinct flavour, beets add a depth of flavour to the salmon that is very complimentary. The horseradish adds the zang to the dish and gives it unmistakeable character. The shot of vodka adds a little more preservative to the fish, but little flavour. Gin would be a great substitute if you wanted to add a more herbaceous profile to the recipe.
The technique is simple and based on principles that our ancestors used to preserve meat for centuries. The function that salt serves is crucial; it is the catalyst for the removal of moisture from the meat. Removing not only the water, but also blood and other impurities, only kosher salt must be used. Refined salt, like iodized table salt, will produce undesirable results.
As I write this column, I find myself giggling at the irony. This is my Ukrainian Christmas recipe, yet is has NO GARLIC. But it’s ok — we eat it sliced, fresh, and whole at the supper table this time of year!
Beet and Horseradish Cured Salmon
1 side of salmon, skin on.
Large sheet of cheese cloth, enough to wrap up the fillet.
Clean and sanitized needle-nose pliers or tweezers
Prepping the salmon: Rinse in cold water and remove the scales from the skin if they are still on. Use the back of a chef knife and scrape towards the tail to remove the scales quickly and effectively. Rinse again and place the filet, skin-side-down, on a large cutting board. Run your hand gently but with slight pressure back and forth along the meat to feel for pin bones. If you find bones remove them with needle-nose pliers or tweezers.
Rinse the fish again, pat dry with paper towel and place skin-side-down and centered on the large piece of cheese cloth.
12 oz grated beets
1 lb of horseradish, grated, (fresh is awesome, but I used prepared and it worked alright)
6 oz of sugar
6 oz of kosher salt** the kosher salt crystal has many more sharp sides which help to increase surface contact and proper moisture removal.
1/ 2 oz of cracked pepper
1 oz of vodka or gin
1 oz of lemon juice
1 oz of lime juice
1 lemon, zested
1 lime, zested
Mix the lemon juice, lime juice, vodka, and citrus zest together and brush onto the flesh of the prepared fish.
Mix the beets, horseradish, salt, pepper, and sugar together until thoroughly combined.
Gently pack the beet mixture onto the flesh of the fish. Place more beet mixture on the thicker part of the fish, and less on the thinner part of the fish. Thinner meat cures quicker, so this will help to achieve a more even final cure.
Wrap the fish up with the cheesecloth.
As the salt works, it will pull the moisture out of the fish so you will need a vessel that holds the fish and the liquid that will be pulled out.
It is important to use non-reactive dishware when curing. Place the fish in a large glass, pyrex, or stainless steel dish. Lightly cover with plastic wrap.
Place in the fridge for three days. After the third day, gently remove the cure and marvel at the amazing color.
Use a thin, sharp blade; slice the salmon as thin as possible and use in a multitude of ways. It makes for a great addition to a variety of appetizers, cold dips, or you can go really outrageous and create incredibly classy breakfast sandwiches. Either way it will be impressive on the eyes and magic on the palate.