Smoked Salmon Dip

I am pretty much forbidden from visiting my dear wife’s family without a sizable tub of this dip in tow. Call it a hostess gift. Call it a bribe. Call it a get-out-of-jail-free card. It always gets us in (and generally safely back out of ) the door.

As smoked salmon can be awfully pricey, the only way I can afford to keep the outin-laws happy is to buy fresh salmon when it goes on sale and smoke cure it myself.

The Salmon

1 salmon fillet (1-1/2 to 2 pounds), preferably wild-caught
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon Chesapeake Bay seasoning (I use Penzey’s, which is a blend of paprika, salt, mustard, celery, ancho, black pepper, red pepper, dill, caraway, allspice, horseradish, cardamom, thyme, ginger, bay, mace, cinnamon, savory and cloves)

Combine all of  the dry ingredients in bowl, mixing well. This is the dry cure.

Put the fillet flat in a large zip-top bag. Cover one side of the fillet with half of the cure, working it in with your hands to cover. Flip the fish and repeat on the other side. Squeeze as much air out of the bag as possible, seal, and lay flat in fridge for at least 12 hours, but no more than 24. Turn the fillet over every 3-4 hours.

Remove the fish from cure and rinse it well in cold water. Let soak in fresh water for 30 minutes.  Remove from water and pat dry. Place the fish skin-side down on a rack (I use a small baker’s cooling rack). Move the fillet to the fridge until surface is dry but slightly sticky to the touch – 1 to 3 hours.

This semi-gloss finish is called the pellicle, and it helps the fish hold both moisture and smoke.

Set up your grill for a 3 hour indirect cook at 225°F. Add your smoking wood (I used guava) and smoke until the fillet starts to flake – about 2 hours. Remove from the grill and let cool to room temp. Package and store in the fridge overnight so the flesh gets a little firmer and the flavors get to know each other.

I’ll often smoke several fillets up in advance, vacuum seal them, and freeze them for later. I’ve not noticed much loss in quality and it’s a ton cheaper than buying store-bought smoked salmon.

The Dip

1 smoked salmon fillet (1-1/2 to 2 pounds), skinned and de-boned
24 ounces cream cheese, softened
8 ounces sour cream
4 ounces mayonnaise
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh ground horseradish
1 teaspoon Chesapeake Bay seasoning
1 (3.5-ounce) jar capers, undrained
Fresh ground back pepper to taste

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine everything but the black pepper. Blend until smooth and almost paté-like (you can add more mayo or sour cream if the mixture is too dry). Season with black pepper. Store in a sealed container in the fridge. Top with more capers and/or a few pomegranate seeds scattered on top before serving. It goes great with almost any dipper – crackers, pita chips, corn chips, baguette slices, even sliced veggies.

The Verdict: ★★★★★
This dip is always a monster hit – smoky and rich with just enough tang from the capers to keep everything in balance. This recipe will make a good 2 quarts and we can finish it off during the course of a long weekend just hanging with my brother-in-laws and their families. Sometimes I’ll just make the smoked salmon and serve it as an appetizer with a fancy cheese log.

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