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Fennel & Dill Salt-Cured Salmon over Baby Greens

Every summer, when it gets very hot, my husband and I salt-cure a salmon filet. It’s not only a quick thing to do; it yields enough fish to easily feed a dozen people and maybe even find yourself with leftovers the next day for topping crostini with Mascarpone and chives, or enriching a plate of homemade egg tagliatelle.

Basically a gravlax, this recipe requires only a pristine piece of salmon (I much prefer wild sockeye for its clean, intense flavor), sea salt, sugar, a few herbs and spices, and 48 hours of patience. Most gravlax recipes have you enclose the salmon in plastic while curing in the refrigerator; I find the flavor brighter if the fish is simply allowed to sit in a covered container, where it can breathe.

The most important thing when you are ready to serve the salmon is to use a very sharp knife to slice it as thinly as possible, and to serve it very, very cold.

If you aren’t sure about the weight of the salmon, weigh it; the amount of salt prescribed is for a 2-pound filet. If the filet is smaller, it will end up too salty; if it is bigger, it may lack flavor. Adjust the quantity of salt and sugar according to the weight of the salmon filet.

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Serves 8 as an appetizer

For the salmon:

  • 1 filet wild sockeye salmon (2 lbs), skin on, scales and pin bones removed, rinsed and blotted dry
  • 2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 2 teaspoons black peppercorns
  • 1/4 cup fine sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
  • grated zest of 1 lemon

For the salad:

  • 5 ounces baby greens, washed and dried
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Make the salmon: Place the salmon in a deep storage container with a tight-fitting lid, or in a large roasting pan.

Place the fennel seeds and black peppercorns in a mortar and crush with a pestle (or use a spice grinder) until medium-coarse in texture. The spices should not become pulverized, as a bit of coarseness adds to the visual and textural appeal of the final dish. Place in a small bowl and add the salt, sugar, dill, and lemon zest, and mix well.

Spread the mixture all over the salmon, on both the skin and the flesh side, putting a little more on the flesh side.

Arrange the salmon with the flesh side up. Cover the container with its lid or the roasting pan with a piece of aluminum foil, and refrigerate for 48 hours.

When you are ready to serve, blot the salmon filet on several layers of paper towels (I blot the skin side as well as the flesh side, but I try to leave the spicing intact if possible). Using a very sharp knife, cut into nearly transparent slices, leaving the skin behind and working the knife at an angle so the slices come out wider. Place the slices on a platter while you prepare the salad.

Make the salad: Toss the greens with the salt and pepper in a deep bowl. Add the lemon juice and toss again, then add the olive oil and toss one final time. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Pile onto 8 plates. Top with the sliced salmon and enjoy immediately.

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