Christmas Curing

To the lovely I. who sent me the most beautiful comments about this blog. Please know that you are always invited for cured salmon, or whatever else is cooking.

Having just returned from London, my new flat in Athens is filled with Christmas magazines and foodstuffs I bought (bagels, fresh cranberries, chocolates). After a hectic year, I finally managed to move to Athens for my fieldwork, thanks to my fairy godmother A., and a small scholarship from the University which I now call home. I am sitting on the couch flipping the colourful pages of all these magazines, sipping earl grey tea with milk. Jamie Oliver’s December issue has a recipe for maple and bourbon cured salmon which I know will be fascinating. Only thing is, curing is like a black box to me. I am always concerned that things...well...will not cure if that makes any sense. But Christmas dinner is an excellent opportunity to experiment, so I decide to be brave and cure that salmon. I think it is time to get back into the kitchen and face all things which were, until today, impossible. Both in and outside of the kitchen.

When I think of curing my mind always goes to my Russian friend K. The queen of food preservation herself, she can turn pork belly into bacon or milk into cheese in what seems to be an effortless food miracle. Me on the other hand have always bought bacon at the market. Until today! I manage to get the last 400gr-piece of salmon in a chaotic market, where people run like crazy and I am left wondering: are they really enjoying Christmas preparations, and why on earth is everyone buying lamb?

A few hours later, it is 9.30 in the evening and I am dry frying coriander, peppercorns and star anise, the latter brought to me straight from the “exotic” Trinidad by my brilliant friend S. After a mini-tasting session of the closest thing I could find to bourbon (Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whisky), I use my food processor to mix the (now more fragrant) spices with salt and brown sugar, only to realize that I have forgotten to first grind them with my pestle and mortar.

Oh well, I think, and I pour the alcohol and the maple syrup into a glass, measuring exactly the quantities the recipe calls for – it is my first time curing anything, better go by the book. Mr N., in a very timely manner, points out the definition of “snug”, just as I was getting a large tray out of the cupboard. Oh it means tight! Well, that makes more sense, I say, as I search the kitchen for a smaller, “snug” tray. Salmon skin down, massage with the maple-bourbon (not bourbon in our case but anyway) syrup and then pat the sugar-salt mixture.

I look at the unappealing beige sand which has covered the salmon, slowly turning darker as it comes together with the liquid syrup, and I wonder if this will even work. But then it dawns on me: no matter how much uncertainty I have before me (for the cured salmon or for my new career), I do feel serene when I am in the kitchen, smelling the tantalising aroma of the coriander, pepper and anise, sliding my fingers across the smooth pink-orange salmon flesh, tasting the sharp whisky; and I feel happy because I am where I am supposed to be: doing something that I love. I will feel happier of course if in two days’ time the salmon is cured, but until then all one can do is pour some whiskey into the measuring glass and enjoy it as it mingles with the sweet, woody maple flavour. Make sure to smell it first with your mouth open. Laugh not, it makes all the difference in the world!

See you in two days!


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