Christmas Kitchen: Easy DIY Gin & Dill Cured Salmon
These 100% from scratch cured salmon, crème fraîche and dill bilinis look super professional and super complicated, right? Well, no actually. These take no special kitchen skill, specialist ingredients or equipment. They only take a little bit of time and patience, and are the perfect make ahead then assemble canapé for holiday gatherings. And stepping aside from these nibbles, if you just want to stick to the salmon, who doesn’t want a piled plate of salmon you’ve impressively cured yourself stashed in the fridge over Christmas week?
This blog post is basically the reason why on Saturday I essentially ate my weight in bilinis, and there is still a fair bit of salmon leftover in the fridge for festive eating. On Wednesday afternoon after we’d been Christmas tree shopping I mixed up a few cure ingredients in a bowl, slathered them onto the tail end of a side of salmon we’d got on special offer from Waitrose and sliced into filets for the freezer (setting this pieces aside), wrapped the whole thing up in cling film, and left it on the fridge. On Saturday morning I unwrapped, rinsed and dried off the salmon, sliced it as thinly as I could with a very sharp knife, and stood over the AGA for a while, flipping what are essentially baby pancakes. It really is that simple.
Aside from remembering to pick up some fresh dill, and adding dried juniper berries to your spice wrack, everything in this cure I’ve adapted from Natalie Coleman’s recipe you probably already have at home. We’re talking flavours here, so you want to use the most botanical gin you have; I used The Botanist.
The salmon you see here is the pickings from a 250g-300g salmon piece, which is enough to top the 35 bilini pancakes the recipe below makes (kidnapped from BBC Good Food), with about 2 portions leftover if you want to make sandwiches, scrambled eggs or stir pieces into a creamy pasta sauce. This is about 1/4 of a side of salmon, so if you quadruple the cure mix, you can do an entire side to slice thinly and lay across a long serving plate decorated with fresh dill and lemon slices for a Boxing Day or New Years Day table, which will easily serve about 12 people, depending on which side dishes and accompaniments you go for.
As I said, if you do want to make these up as canapés, they’re great to make ahead. The bilini pancakes will keep covered in the fridge for a day or two (just remember to bring them up to room temperature first), and the salmon will be good for about 3-4 days, too. Then, you just need to worry about assembly. And remembering to chill the champagne, obviously. (We like to ring in the New Year with Italian 75’s in our family!)
For the Salmon
- 250-300g (8-10 oz) Salmon Fillet (preferably the tail)
- 70g (2.5 oz) Rock Salt (the type you use to fill up your salt grinder)
- 60g (2 oz) Golden Caster (Granulated) Sugar
- 25ml (1 1/2 tbsp) Gin
- Large Handful Fresh Dill
- 6 Dried Juniper Berries
- 12 Whole Black Peppercorns
- Zest of 1/2 Lemon
For the Bilini Pancakes
- 100g (3.5 oz) Plain (All Purpose) Flour
- 1 Large Egg
- 150ml (10 tbsp) Milk
- Freshly Ground Sea Salt & Black Pepper
For the Salmon Bilinis
- Fresh Dill
- Crème Fraîche (Neal’s Yard if you live in London)
Roughly chop the dill for the cure. Toast the juniper berries and black peppercorns over a high heat in a small saucepan until the oil starts to make the juniper berries shiny. Remove them and crush them slightly in a mortar and pestle (I swear by this one), or using the side of a large knife. Mix the dill, pepper and juniper together with the sugar, salt, lemon zest and gin.
Using kitchen towel, pat try the salmon the best you can and lay out (skin side down) on a double layer of cling film (food wrap). Spoon the cure mixture over the salmon, covering all the exposed pink flesh up the best as possible. Fold the film in over the salmon as tight as you can, trying to leave as little air inside as possible. Wrap the salmon three more times to try and prevent any liquid escaping during curing (though it is not the end of the world if it does – it has happened to me, and while the salmon will be a little drier and saltier, it will still be delicious). Place in a dish big enough to have the salmon flat, and weight it down with whatever jars of things you happen to keep in your fridge. Leave for 2-3 days.
When you’re ready to slice your salmon, unwrap it over the sink and rinse off any excess cure. Pat dry with kitchen towel. Using a very sharp knife, carefully slice along the length of the salmon (assuming if it were still part of a large salmon side). With practice, you’ll start getting bigger, thinner slices. Now, lots of salmon, be it smoked or cured you buy removes the brown bit at the bottom. I can’t see anything wrong with it, and I dislike waste, so I include that in my slices too.
To make the bilini batter, whisk together the flour (seasoned well with salt and pepper), egg yolk and milk until smooth. In another bowl, whisk the egg white until it is stiff. While for a lot of whites I’d recomend an electric mixer, you can easily do one by hand. Gradually fold the batter mix into the egg white with a metal spoon.
In a small, non stick frying pan over a medium to high heat, fry off the mini pancakes, four at a time. If you’re using a non-stick pan, there should be no need for any extra butter or oil in the pan. Set these aside to cool before assembling the bilinis, with just a dab of crème fraîche on each one, topped off with a twirl of salmon and a small frond of dill (you can make sure this sticks by pressing it into a little of the crème fraîche already on the bilini.)
If you need any more ideas of what to do with your cured salmon, I’m dying to find out how it tastes replacing the smoked salmon in my Smoked Salmon Latkes. On the things-to-go-with-drinks front, you can also make our families favourite Classic Cheese Straws, my Breaded prawns with Sweet Chilli Dipping Sauce or my Parsley Butter Popcorn.