Part of cooking is learning to avoid rookie mistakes. Any chef knows that if you’re rocking a catering dinner for 50 people. you don’t grill steaks to order. You sous vide them rare, then sear them last minute, or you avoid the process entirely and make something completely forgiving and virtually un-fuck-up-able like braised short ribs. Anything else would be a rookie mistake.
Similarly, you don’t show up to the Rose Bowl parking lot hungover at 9:30 a.m. for a noon game with a few pounds of bacon, some ground beef, a dozen eggs, a cast iron, and a grill that only works if you tilt the propane tank at the right angle and then try to get cute with some breakfast burgers. That’s how you end up with second degree burns from trying to extinguish a grease fire with Keystone Light. Rookie. Fucking. Mistake.
I vowed that I wasn’t going to get drunk and cook in a parking lot for any UCLA game that started earlier than 5:00 p.m., which is in no small part why I made a bunch of mezcal-cured lox to throw on bagels for last week’s noon game against Colorado. Suck it, Buffalos. Suck on this recipe.
Go on and get yourself a nice two pound slab of skin-on Atlantic salmon. Since you’re going to be soaking it in liquor and salt for the next two days or so, any cheap cut will do. Rinse off your fish, dry it on paper towels, and make sure there are no pin bones peaking out anywhere.
Then, in a small mixing bowl, combine ½ cup of kosher salt, 2 tablespoons white sugar, ¼ cup of fresh dill, ¼ cup of mezcal (tequila if you can’t find it), and 4 tablespoons of grapefruit zest. Since mezcal has a really smoky flavor profile, it’s actually going to give a mock smoke effect to your salmon — and it’ll taste just like the stuff your bubby used to make (or buy from Costco). Mix it all up nice and good. It’s going to smell delicious — like liquor and fruit — but don’t drink it! It’s for the fish. You can eat the liquor fish later, I promise.
Lay down a few square yards of plastic wrap on a cutting board and plop the fish on it skin-side-down. Take all your salt and mezcal and grapefruit mixture and evenly spread it across the flesh, then tightly wrap it up. Place it into a large casserole dish, then put a second casserole dish on top so it’s applying pressure to the fish. The extra weight on top is going to press the salt into the fish and really draw out all the excess moisture.
Place your fish in the fridge; after 24 hours, take it out, unwrap it, and drain the excess liquid. Even though there’s alcohol in it, for legal reasons, we have to ask you to refrain from taking the fish juice like a shot. That’s how people get E. coli (maybe, I don’t know diseases work). Wrap the fish back up and throw it in the fridge for another 24 hours.
It’s pretty much done at this point. Take the fish out of the plastic wrap, rinse off the extra curing mixture, and slice it against the grain super thin. Throw some slices of that bad boy onto a toasted bagel with some cream cheese, red onion, tomato, and avocado —all optional, of course, Paleo dieters can just eat it with their hands — and enjoy. It pairs well with beer and college football and lack of necessary medical attention.
Still hungry? Check out the other installments of Bite Club here.
Photos by All photos by Josh Scherer