For ages, I’ve wanted to make Salmon Rillettes and this year I finally got around to it. It’s a great time right now, during Lent to buy any fish or seafood! So I tried a few recipes and realized that Salmon Rillettes (at least the recipes I’ve tried) were nothing more than a fancy French name for Cold Salmon Salad!
If y’all follow me, you know I grew up in Iowa and am not one to put on aires. So Cold Salmon Salad it is! No Rillettes for me! It’s gotta be Cold Salmon Salad, although it is still a little fancy.
About Cold Salmon Salad:
It took a couple of tries to get there but I have just fallen in love with this little appetizer (or sandwich filling if you wish.) There was a bit of tinkering (and a lot of eating) along the way.
This salad has some salty, briny smoky flavors all balanced by the lemon. A little mayo (just a dab) holds this together but doesn’t overwhelm the salmon flavor. A light mix and toss leave the salmon chunky and distinct. If you would rather have the Salmon Salad more cohesive, you can add more mayo and stir more aggressively to break it up and help it to stick together.
The most important thing about this recipe, I think, is that you tinker a bit with the flavorful components until you get the balance that is perfect for you. That’s going to take it from “oh, this is good” to OMG THIS IS GOOD! Also know that whatever you do, it tastes even better the next day.
Salt Curing the Salmon:
There is one step that I highly recommend but it’s not a requirement. That is to salt brine your salmon. It’s going to add a little flavor but mostly it’s going to give an amazing texture to your Cold Salmon Salad. Some of the Salmon, mostly from around the edges will be a little drier and so flavorful. The pieces from the center are soft, luscious, and moist. I pay attention to texture (I think a lot of people do) and the curing process makes that salad texture so appealing.
When salt curing, the amounts and ingredients aren’t super set in stone. You have some leeway to fudge if you need to, or to improvise as you wish. Just make sure you have about equal amounts of salt and sugar and use the lemon zest.
- As far as the salt, almost any salt will work, no worries about trying to convert measurements from one kind or another. It’s just not that particular. There is one thing that DOES matter. If you use tables salt with iodine do not cure it for over an hour.
- I used white sugar, brown would be amazing, too. As far as the spices/herbs, don’t sweat them. Use what you have or you like rather than running out and spending your money on something you might not use again.
Making Cold Salmon Salad:
After the Salmon has cured, rinse it, pat it dry, and bake it. Don’t overbake, though. Let it cool and then cut/break it into small pieces.
Set it aside and mix together the remaining ingredients, toss it all together, and taste. Add more mayo if you want it more cohesive, and adjust any of the flavors to your own taste.
I would like to note that this salad, although very good when first mixed, tasted better after it sat for an hour (in the fridge) and was even better the next day. Make ahead if possible.
Options for Cold Salmon Salad:
Many of the recipes I’ve seen for Salmon Rillettes called for both baked or poached salmon along with smoked salmon. Hence the liquid smoke, and it is on my list of Top Secret Stealth Arsenal of Ingredients. (Yeah I’m full of it sometimes!) If you want to, you can add smoked salmon, an ounce or two, to the Cold Salmon Salad recipe and omit the liquid smoke.
I do use capers; I think they are perfect in this recipe. Other briny ingredients can work, too. Think maybe finely diced gherkin pickles. Diced Olives might be good.
If you go with capers, they keep just like pickles (which is just about forever, it seems) because they are pickles, and they are great in all kinds of “salads” like this. My fave recipe using capers though is the classic Chicken Piccata.
You could make this recipe a spread by using canned salmon; the canned salmon is so soft it will pretty much automatically be spreadable when mixed. Watch how much of any of the liquid ingredients go into it.
Storing Cold Salmon Salad:
There’s an old saying that goes something along the lines of both fish and relatives need to go after three days! Now I’d say, if you’ve properly refrigerated and handled the Cold Salmon Salad, it should be fine from 3 to 5 days.
Store in a tightly covered container in the fridge. Just don’t let it sit around for long periods of time at room temperature.
- There are specific times you can count on Salmon going on sale. Of course, when they are considered in season is one, but all types of salmon in different areas will be in season at different times. Other great times to buy salmon (as well as other fish and seafood) are before the Christmas holiday and during Lent, right before Easter. Check out my page, Win at the Grocer to see what might be on sale around other holidays.
- This salad would be a fabulous way to utilize leftover salmon (the texture may be a bit different than starting this recipe with uncooked fish.)
- In my case, I used a cheaper frozen wild-caught pink salmon. There were mostly odds and ends, so I used what looked like the tail portion. The salt curing helped a lot with the texture which was pretty soft after thawing.
- Specialty ingredients like capers can often be found pulled off the shelf and sitting in a discount bin, cart, or on a shelf at a reduced price. There is really no hard and fast date for items that are pickled like this despite what the producer stamps on the bottle.
I hope you have all been having a wonderful St. Paddy’s day extended weekend! How fun that it fell on Friday; so many celebrations were able to be on Saturday or Sunday. I think this little Cold Salmon Salad has some Irish flair and would be fabulous on some toasted Irish Soda Bread. Maybe if you have some left and want to take a break from your Corned Beef and Cabbage? If you’re American, that is, and served it!
Erin go Bragh!
Cold Salmon Salad
- Prep Time: 15 minutes
- Cook Time: 10 minutes
- Total Time: 30 minutes
- Yield: about 2 cups 1x
- Category: Appetizer
For the Cured Salmon:
- 1 pound salmon with skin
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup kosher salt
- zest from one lemon (zest the lemon for the salad, below, and use the juice in the salad)
- 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1/4 teaspoon thyme
For the Cold Salmon Salad:
- prepared salmon
- 3 shallots, minced
- juice of one lemon (zest first for the cured salmon (above)
- 1 tablespoon each of capers and caper brine
- 1/4 teaspoon white pepper
- about 10 to 12 drops of liquid smoke
- 2 dashes hot sauce
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise (maybe a little more)
- Crackers, toast, or bread for serving
For the Cured Salmon:
Mix salt, sugar, lemon zest, and herbs. Place salmon on rimmed plate or container. Cover and pack the salt mixture on the salmon and refrigerate for one to three hours. Rinse, pat dry.
When ready to cook, preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Bake for 10 to 14 minutes depending on the thickness of the salmon; on a piece of sprayed foil placed on top of a rimmed baking sheet until just done. Do check often and don’t overbake.
Once cooled enough to handle, remove skin and cut and/or break the salmon into small pieces.
For the Cold Salmon Salad:
Set aside the Salmon until cold. In a small bowl, mix together the remaining ingredients. Add Salmon and toss to incorporate. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Add additional Mayo if a creamier more cohesive mixture is desired. Best if refrigerated for at least an hour and preferably overnight.
Serve with crackers, toast, or bread as an appetizer or sandwich.
Keywords: Appetizer, capers, Fish and Seafood, hot sauce, leftover fish, Lemon, liquid smoke, Salmon, Sandwiches, shallot