Anywhosers, I was reading the NY Times and I came across this recipe for Brown Sugar-Cured Salmon that looked so simple and good. It was a recipe from Betty Fussell, one of the last great food writers of her era who can get away with honestly writing about the beauty of food without having to bore us half to death with the glories of einkorn or some other obscure ingredient just to prove they know something.
This salmon is a perfect example, it is simple, straightforward food that is neither boring nor fussy. It sounds super complicated but its not. It requires eight ingredients, two steps, and and a little waiting time. Here’s how it goes.
First, the salmon gets a good rub down with a cure of brown sugar, salt and spices. Betty used allspice and mace but I used chipotle chili powder for a hint of heat. I also used a little lime zest, ’cause you know, lime zest.
Then you let that sit for at least 4 hours or up to overnight. The salt kind of cooks the salmon as it sits and intensifies its flavor. It firms up the flesh and looks like this.
After the salmon has cured you want to rinse some of that rub off otherwise it will be too sweet then grill it with a mixture of charcoal and hickory chips which add a hint of smokiness. I have been sitting on a bag of hickory chips for over a year now and haven’t used them because I thought it would be too complicated. But this recipe has you soak them for 30 minutes then drain them and toss them right on top of the hot charcoal—that’s it! But make sure you close the lid to your grill to trap in the smoke and also keep it out of your face. Serve with a garlicky greens and baguette for a light dinner or enjoy it as I did, as a snack, with a squeeze of lime.
Recipe adapted from Betty Fussell and Melissa Clark
- 2 1/2 pounds salmon
- 1/4 cup light brown sugar
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
- finely grated zest of 1 lime, plus a few lime wedges for serving
- Olive oil, for brushing
- 1 1/2 cups hickory chips, soaked for 30 minutes
- Cut salmon into 6 fillets, if necessary and pat dry. Combine sugar, salt, pepper, chile powder, and lime zest in a small bowl. The rub fish on all sides with the cure. Let sit at least 4 hours or overnight.
- Lightly rinse salmon and brush with a little olive oil.
- Light a charcoal grill to medium heat (it is best to pile the charcoal in the middle of the grill leaving a ring around the outside where you will place the salmon) and scatter the hickory chips over the top. Cover the grill leaving a slight gap in the vent for 1-2 minutes to let the chips start smoking.
- Place the salmon fillets, flesh side down, around the outside of the grill, not over direct heat and cover the grill. Cook for about 5 minutes or until the salmon easily releases from the grill. Flip and cover grill again, cooking the other side until done to your liking, about 3-4 more minutes for a dark pink middle.
- Serve immediately with lime wedges for squeezing.