Sunday, May 24, 2009

Smoked Salmon Pasta Salad

First: I'm sorry for the week (or more) without a post - I'm such a slacker!

Second: Now that the weather is nice (more or less) all the time, it's time to bust out the BBQ. I know a lot of people like to grill salmon hot and fast, but I prefer smoking it low and slow. The smokiness adds a real depth of flavor that you don't get from cooking it over high heat. If you don't have a grill or smoker, you can use a broiler or grill pan along with a light spritzing of liquid smoke for added flavor.

Salmon

Ingredients
  • 1/4 cup pickling salt (don't use table salt - it has a metallic taste from the iodine)
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon 5-spice powder (ginger, clove, cinnamon, anise, fennel)
  • 20-24 ounces salmon, pin bones removed (or use 4 frozen salmon fillets, thawed)
Directions

Combine the salt, sugar, garlic, pepper, and the 5-spice powder. Rinse and pat dry the salmon. Apply about 2 tablespoons of the salt cure mixture to each side of the salmon (don't apply to any skin). and pat on to adhere. Reserve the remaining cure for another purpose (or the next time you make this recipe!) Tightly wrap in plastic wrap, place on a lidded baking sheet or pan (to catch any liquid) and refrigerate 6-10 hours (or overnight). Discard plastic wrap and rinse off the salt cure with cold water. Pat dry and place on a rack on a baking sheet. Put in a cool, dry place with a small fan blowing on it for 2-3 hours, or until the fish dries slightly and a tacky skin has formed (called a pellicle).

Meanwhile, light 1-2 quarts of charcoal briquettes using your preferred method (I prefer a chimney starter and newspaper, and I discourage lighter fluid when smoking because it can leave a slight chemical flavor). Soak 2-4 handfuls of hardwood chips (depending on how smoky you like it) in water while the coals get hot. When the coals are hot, dump them onto only half the grill. Drain the wood chips and put directly onto the coals. Put the grill grate on and put the fish on the cold half of the grill. Put on the lid, with the vent placed on the opposite side of the grill as the fire. All the vents should be half closed. Smoke until the fish reaches at least 140 degrees (30-45 minutes), but you can go longer if you want a smokier flavor (I generally go to about 180-200). Either serve the fish immediately (very nice as a fish sandwich on sourdough toast with mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato), or put on a plate wrapped with aluminum foil, chill completely, and put into the salad that follows.

Salad

Ingredients
  • 1 pound of pasta (rotini, fusili, or some other twisty variety), cooked according to package directions in salted water (it should be soft, not mushy - a little bit past al dente), rinsed and chilled.
  • 2-3 green onions, chopped
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped, lightly salted, and put in a colander (in the sink or with a bowl underneath!) for 15-30 minutes to drain excess liquid
  • 1/4 cup roasted bell peppers (either freshly roasted or from a jar), chopped.
  • 1 recipe smoked salmon (see above), cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 3-4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • juice of 1 lemon (about 3-4 tablespoons)
  • 2 tablespoons red or balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ground pepper
Directions

Toss together pasta, onions, tomatoes, bell peppers, and salmon. Mix together oil, lemon juice, vinegar, and pepper and fold into the salad until everything is coated. Serve with fresh melon slices and garlic toast.

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