Hope everyone a had a wonderful Thanksgiving weekend! After a week of no electricity and frigid temps, the power came back on just in time to host Thanksgiving dinner at our house. The table was full and the house was warm, and all felt right again. Nothing like a little discomfort to shake things up a bit, and perhaps the shakeup did me some good.
A few weeks ago, Tito’s Handmade Vodka, challenged me to come up with a recipe using their small batch hand-crafted vodka – which I have to tell you is hands down, one of my favorite vodkas, so when they sent me a couple of bottles to “cook” with, I was truly elated.
Have you ever made lox at home? It’s SO easy! This simple recipe for Salt Cured Salmon with rosemary, juniper berries (optional) vodka and lemon zest requires only a few minutes of prep, and then watch as nature takes its course. The resulting lox, after 36 hours of curing, is the perfect addition to your holiday gatherings. And here’s a festive cocktail to bring a a little holiday cheer to the party.
I have always wanted to cure fish with vodka and lo and behold, last week I had the perfect opportunity. My freezer was quickly defrosting due to lack of power, so this lovely piece of wild king salmon was in desperate need of saving.
Those of you who are familiar with lox, will probably already know that it is “cured” rather than cooked or smoked. It is actually a very simple, fun process that easy to make at home, quite economically, with very little hands-on time. This time around I used crushed juniper berries, peppercorns and rosemary for a wintry twist, though in Spring I would veer towards fresh dill or tarragon. Play around with this, make it your own and have fun!
Tito’s Handmade Vodka, is produced in Austin, Texas, in the state’s oldest legal distillery. The founder and distiller, Tito Beveridge (yes, I’m told this is his real name) makes his vodka in small batches, using old-fashioned pot stills, then tastes every batch to make sure it’s to his satisfaction. Tito’s process is similar to those used to make fine single malt scotches, requiring a bit more skill and effort than conventional vodkas, and because of this, it has become my “go-to” vodka, both in catering and at home.
What is great about curing your own salmon, is when it is done it can be used in many other healthy dishes, if you start thinking beyond bagels and cream cheese.
To give you other ideas, use the homemade lox in these healthy sushi hand rolls, or this salad, wraps, pasta dishes or even in an omelette. Dress avocado toast with it, or add it to bibimbap. The possibilities are truly endless. Here it’s served as a holiday appetizer, Nordic style, with rye crostini, pickled fennel bulb, mustard seeds and creme fraiche.
To make the lox: Crush juniper berries and peppercorns. The juniper is optional, so if you can’t find it, don’t let this stop you, use more peppercorns.
Add chopped rosemary or any herb you like!
Add zest from one or two lemons.
Add salt, sugar and some Tito’s Handmade Vodka, just enough to moisten.
Stir it up and coat the salmon with it.
Wrap the salmon tightly in plastic wrap, and place on a sheet pan or in a baking dish.
Place another sheet pan or baking dish over top and press down. Weigh this down with cans.
Refrigerate for 24 -48 hours. Note that any longer than 48 hours, will produce lox that is very salty, so I’ve found the optimal time is 36 hours.
Rinse off the curing salt well, and pat dry. Then slice however you like.
For the bruschetta board, I pickled some fresh fennel bulb, although pickled red onions would be a fine substitute. In the slightly sweet pickling liquid, add mustard seeds, pink peppercorns and caraway seeds for a delicious twist. For the creamy cheese spread, try creme fraiche, labneh, sour cream or whipped cream cheese.
- 2 pound filet king salmon (center, thivk cut)
- 12 juniper berries (optional)
- 1 teaspoon whole peppercorns
- ½ cup salt
- ⅛ cup sugar
- zest from 2 large lemons
- ¼ cup chopped rosemary ( or other herb)
- ¼ cup Tito's Handmade Vodka
- Place salmon skin side down on a plastic lined sheet pan.
- Pat dry.
- Crush juniper berries and peppercorns (a course grind is fine)
- Place in a small bowl and add salt, sugar, lemon zest, chopped rosemary (or other herbs). Stir to combine. Add a scant ¼ cup of vodka, just enough to moisten the salt mixture.
- Stir and Spread evenly over the salmon, pressing it down.
- Wrap up tightly in plastic wrap. Place salmon in a baking dish, and set another slightly smaller baking dish over top, pressing down firmly. Pile up a few cans to weigh it down and refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours. 36 hours seems to be ideal.
- Unwrap the salmon and rinse the cure off under cold, running water. Pat dry and slice diagonally into paper-thin slices.
- Notes: The longer you cure it, the saltier it will be. I find that it is perfect at 36 hours, but no longer than 48 hours.
- The cured salmon keeps up to 5-6 days in the fridge and can be frozen. To freeze, wrap tightly with plastic wrap so no air is in contact (which will discolor it) then place in zip lock bag. Sometimes I'll freeze in smaller portions. Thaw in the fridge for 24-36 hours.