Lemon-Cured Salmon w/ Arugula Pesto

Lemon Cured Salmon w/ Arugula Pesto & Raw Kale, Cabbage & Jicama SaladThank you, Thomas Keller

We enjoyed the most amazing fillet of salmon yesterday with every bite a revelation. The fresh, wild salmon had a firm, tender and moist texture, crisp-skin and subtle lemon flavorLemon-Cured Salmon with Arugula Pesto as a result of the fabulous recipe I lightly adapted from Chef extraordinaire Thomas Keller. According to Keller, the curing time with the dry brine (finely grated lemon zest, salt and a tiny amount of sugar) “act[s] to denature some of the protein structure, changing it and improving texture and increasing retention of moisture in the cells.”  He is sooo right.

Fresh, wild salmon
Fresh wild salmon from Alaska is available from June through September. The rest of the year wild salmon can be found in the freezer section of many grocers. When you have an option, choose wild Sockeye or King salmon. Nutrient-rich wild salmon has a distinctive rich flavor and firm texture and is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids.

Don your apron and cook like a chef
There may be a number of steps in this recipe though none of them are difficult or time-consuming. The recipe is actually straight forward and easy to prepare. And you’ll quickly feel like a pro as you rub the salmon with the dry brine and wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. As the salmon sits in the fridge for 24 hours to cure, remember to begin preparing the salmon about 25 hours before you plan to cook it.

Meyer lemons
Zesting a Lemon Using a Microplane Grater (c) jfhaugenRegular Eureka lemons work wonderfully in this recipe. Should you have access to Meyer lemons, use them as Keller did in his original recipe. The zest of the Meyer lemons adds an additional layer of delight with their perfume and lower acidity.

The rest of our menu
Here’s where I totally veered away from Keller’s suggested accompaniments. I wanted an easy menu with fresh, local ingredients. My Arugula Pesto provided an aromatic and bold-tasting counter to the richly flavored salmon. But then any pesto would be a great accompaniment.

The entire menu consisted of recipes from previous posts (and one future post). I offer this menu as a guide for planning your own summer luncheon or dinner party.

Sun-dried Tomato & Kalamata Olive Tapenade
with Hummus & Crackers
Lemon-Cured Salmon with Arugula Pesto

Raw Kale, Cabbage & Jicama Salad
Fresh Lemonade
Rhubarb Apple ‘n Ginger Crisp & Greek Yoghurt

Lemon Cured Salmon w/ Arugula Pesto (c) jfhaugenLemon-Cured Salmon with Arugula Pesto
Inspired and adapted from Thomas Keller’s recipe in the Los Angeles Times
Although, I prepared 2 pounds of salmon, here is the recipe for 1 pound of salmon. The recipe can easily be increased to serve more guests.

 Makes four 4-ounce servings

1 pound middle section, boned salmon fillet with skin
1¾ tablespoons lemon zest using a Microplane zester (from organic lemons if possible)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon organic sugar
Olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 recipe Arugula Pesto
½ teaspoon fleur de sel or other coarse sea salt
Grated lemon zest from 1 lemon, using a Microplane zester (from an organic lemon if possible)

Rinse the salmon and pat dry. Place the salmon on a large piece of plastic wrap, skin-side down.

Lemon-Cured SalmonCombine the 1¾ tablespoons lemon zest, kosher salt and sugar. Rub this mixture evenly over the flesh side of the salmon.

Lemon-cured Salmon



Tightly wrap the fillet in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours for curing, skin-side down. (Note: in this photo, I am using two 1- pound fillets of salmon. I wrapped them individually in plastic wrap.)

Lemon-Cured SalmonAfter 24 hours, remove the plastic wrap and gently rinse the salmon and dry it very well. Place the salmon flesh-side down. In order to have really crispy skin, use the back of a knife to “squeegee” the skin, removing as much moisture from the skin as possible. Do this a number of times, wiping the skin dry each time.

Lemon-Cured Salmon Coming to Room Temperature (c) jfhaugenCut the fillet into 4 portions. Place the salmon, flesh-side down on a plate. In order for the salmon to cook evenly, let the salmon come to room temperature before sautéing—at least one half hour.

(Note: I used two fillets and cut each one into four portions.)

Heat a large sauté pan over high heat. Add the olive oil to a depth of 1/16th of an inch. When the oil is hot, place the individual portions skin-side up in the pan. After 30 seconds, reduce the heat to medium-low and continue cooking until about 1/3 of each portion is cooked through. (You can tell by looking at the side of each portion of salmon.)

Turn the pieces of fish over so they are skin-side down. Add the butter to the pan. Reduce the heat to low. Continue cooking the salmon until another third of each portion is cooked through.

Lemon-Cured SalmonWhile the salmon is cooking, prepare the plates. Here I’ve put the Arugula Pesto in a squeeze bottle and piped a design on the plate. Alternatively, use a spoon to make two “swirls” of the pesto at opposite sides of the plate.

Place each portion of salmon skin-side up on top of or between the pesto depending upon the design. Sprinkle the salmon lightly with the fleur de sel and a bit of lemon zest.

Add a portion of Kale Salad to the plate and serve.

 Click Lemon-Cured Salmon, Arugula Pesto and Raw Kale Salad for printable versions of these recipes without images.

7 thoughts on “Lemon-Cured Salmon w/ Arugula Pesto

  1. Pingback: Salade Nicoise w/ Salmon--Summer on a Platter Healthy, Elegant, Fresh

  2. I just love the salmon,perfect! I recently catered guest who loves salmon…. The raw salad was a success… I do all raw foods Vegan…catering, the recipe came just in time…
    thanks, chef.

    • Way to go, Melissa, thanks for writing–so glad to hear that both the salmon and kale salad were a success.

  3. Janice,
    An absolutely gorgeous presentation/photo.
    It glistens! Also loved the woman with fish old time picture; great touch.
    Would you please explain the reason for keeping the skin on the fish? Other than to keep the pieces intact, is one supposed to eat the skin?
    Thanks Janice – your amazing skills are a joy to behold.

    • Thanks, Sharon!
      yes, you can eat the skin. When prepared this way it is very, very crispy and texturally a wonderful contrast to the tender, moist salmon. perhaps you’ll give it a try 😉

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