My love of Top Chef has gotten to the point that I have a section of my main bookshelf dedicated to some of my favorite judges* and cheftestants from the show—though I will admit that Tom Colicchio’s books live up in my New York section, because most of these books came out way after his did—and while I’ve enjoyed them all, I’ve been heartily enjoying Gail Simmons’ Bringing it Home as it is filled with really interesting recipes and lots of excellent anecdotes about Top Chef from foods she loved while on location to lots of interesting tips based on professional chef techniques that she’s observed along the way, along with her own insight from her days in culinary school. Gail has long been one of my favorite staples of the show because she’s a delightful mix of knowledge, insight, warmth, and the occasional dollop of well-timed snark:
That episode (part II of Restaurant Wars, season 13) goes into my top five of all time because of that exchange and that exchange only.
That exchange also comes to mind as I’ve been figuring out how to best wax rhapsodic over Gail’s fabulous beet-cured salmon from her first cookbook Bringing it Home, because between that recipe along with a fantastic beet spaghetti from the Cherry Bombe cookbook I have finally come to appreciate beets the way they should be valued. Gail’s recipe is not the first beet-cured salmon recipe I’ve seen, but it’s the first that I’ve been compelled to make, and that feels…significant.
Like any cured salmon, you need to give yourself some time to let it cure properly; in this case, three days does the trick nicely. You should also have some accompaniments to serve with the salmon; the first time I served this I did it straight, and it was salty and intense…but it was still really good. I think the next time I would make a really thing socca toast and have a little ramekin of goat cheese to serve with it—it’s more delicate than cream cheese, and therefore less likely to destroy a delicate toast. I also want to try some of the cream cheeses that Gail features in her book, and frankly all of it gives me a reason to hold a midday party over the weekend to relax with some mimosas and salmon and bagels.
I have a lot more to say about this cookbook, but the fact that it took me this long to talk about it at all means that I should keep this short and sweet.
Lightly adapted form Bringing it Home by Gail Simmons
- 1 lb Alaskan salmon
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup kosher salt
- 3 small-to-medium beets, peeled
- 1/3 cup fresh dill, roughly chopped
- 1 teaspoon white peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- Zest of half a lemon
Using a plastic cutting board and a box grated with the wide holes, grate the beets and set aside (preferably in a stainless-steel bowl).
Heat the pepper and coriander in a small dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant and lightly toasted. Empty into a mortar and pestle and let cool, and then crush lightly. Combine them in a small bowl with the salt, sugar, dill, and lemon zest.
Check for pin bones in the fish, carefully tweezing them out with pliers or tweezers (I like these), and then place in a non-reactive baking dish with the skin side down; a snug fit tends to work well in my experience. Cover the fish with the salt and sugar mixture (I like to have some on the bottom of the dish as well), and then cover the fish with the grated beets and any juices from them. Place some plastic wrap directly on the fish, and then place a small pan on top and weigh down with cans or 2.5 lb weights if you have them, and let the fish cure for three days.
After three days, gently scrape off most of the beets and then rinse off the fish. When ready to serve, slice the fish very thinly and serve with bagels, cream and/or goat cheese, and scallions.
*After watching Ed Lee’s half-season on The Mind of a Chef I will be so sad if he isn’t a guest judge in season 16 when they are in Kentucky, since he was a cheftestant back in season nine.