Try a smoky, silky, salty, salmon spread for Easter
Easter is in a few weeks, so instead of a St. Patrick's Day recipe for corned beef or Irish soda bread, I thought I would share a recipe that would be great for Easter, or frankly any other day, for a unique smoked salmon layered spread. It is creamy, salty, smoky and has just the right amount of zip.
I found a version of this recipe in Bon Appetit magazine years ago but only made it recently. It caught my eye because it contained hot smoked salmon and because it was different than other salmon appetizer recipes I have seen.
Smoked salmon: Hot smoked, cold smoked, what is the difference and why does it matter?
According to FineCooking.com, hot-smoked salmon is smoked at 120 to 180 degrees Fahrenheit for 6 to 12 hours, cooking the salmon through and giving it a flaky texture. Silky, translucent cold-smoked salmon is cured in salt for up to 24 hours before smoking at 75 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit, usually for 6 to 12 hours. The keywords here are flaky and silky, and this is why it is important to use the appropriately prepared smoked salmon for your recipe.
I grew up on the northwest side of Chicago, about a mile from Hagen's Fish Market, located near the intersection of Montrose and Central. I remember going to Hagen's with my father as a little girl and hating the fish smell. My dad would occasionally bring them a fish he had caught and ask them to smoke it for him. I remember peering through the glass into their refrigerated deli-like cases at all the fish: fresh whole fish, filets, crab cakes and shrimp in one case, and very strange discolored-looking fish in another. Sounds appetizing, doesn't it?
Today, I know the fish I thought appeared strange had actually been smoked and precisely what I needed for this recipe, so off to Hagen's, I went.
Once at Hagen's, I realize not much had changed. Hagen's has been owned by the same family since it opened in 1946 and still uses the original open wood smoker that has been there since the beginning, the only one left within the city of Chicago. Once inside, it was just as I remembered and a bit of a step back in time for me, but well worth the trip.
They had three kinds of smoked salmon to choose from: teriyaki marinated, candied in brown sugar and spices, and regular smoked -- precisely what I needed. Hagen's smokes their salmon pieces; mine was almost a pound in weight for four to five hours. I will admit, it didn't look very appetizing, but my piece of salmon smelled wonderful.
The piece of salmon I bought was not a filet, rather a slice through the fish's circumference that included the spine and some bones. After discarding the skin, I used my fingers to gently ease the meat from the spine and found the fish flaked nicely, with most of the bones remaining attached to the spine. It was much easier than I thought it would be, and because I couldn't resist trying a piece here and there, I can also confirm it was delicious.
What about the other ingredients in this recipe? When I saw goat cheese on the list of ingredients, I will admit that I thought about leaving it out but stopped myself and included it anyway. I love goat cheese but wasn't sure it belonged with smoked salmon, and I am so glad I did. The tang of the goat cheese, coupled with the horseradish, is perfect with the smoky, salty salmon and the briny capers. It is the perfect combination.
This recipe is a winner and will be enjoyed by my family for years to come, and on those days when I don't have time to drive to Hagen's, I will buy smoked salmon at my local grocery store, as it is readily available. If you are really lucky, you might even know someone with a backyard smoker who will smoke it for you, but no matter where you get your smoked salmon, try it in this recipe. You won't be disappointed.
• Penny Kazmier, a wife and mother of four from South Barrington, won the 2011 Daily Herald Cook of the Week Challenge.
Smoked Salmon Layered Spread
8 ounces cream cheese
4 ounces fresh goat cheese
4 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
1 pound hot-smoked salmon, skin removed, flaked, divided into thirds
⅓ cup finely chopped red onion
½ cup drained capers, chopped and dried with paper towel
3 tablespoons finely chopped chives or green onions
Bagel chips, pita chips or pumpernickel bread
Line a 6" wide bowl or container with plastic wrap, pressing it along the bottom and up the sides, leaving at least 4" hanging over the edge. (Container should also be at least 5" deep.)
Combine cream cheese, goat cheese, horseradish, and lemon zest until well combined and creamy.
Press one-third of smoked salmon into an even layer across the bottom of mold. Spread one-third of cream cheese mixture evenly over salmon, smoothing surface with a rubber spatula. Top with red onion, spreading to form an even layer and pressing down lightly into cream cheese mixture
Top with one-third of remaining salmon, making an even layer, followed by one-third of cream cheese mixture.
Top with remaining salmon, followed by capers and remaining cream cheese mixture, smoothing with spatula.
Fold extra plastic wrap over the top of the bowl, pressing gently to slightly compact spread and chill at least 1 hour to allow spread to set and flavors to meld.
When ready to serve, uncover and carefully invert onto a plate. Carefully, peel away plastic, top with chives or green onions. Serve with bagel chips, pumpernickel bread, or pita chips.
This is best if made one day ahead.
-- Penny Kazmier