Eric Akis: Smoked salmon with capers a perfect partner for bagels, tartines

Eric Akis

When I was growing up, I ate the same kinds of sandwiches other children did, such as peanut butter and jam. But there was one type of sandwich I would sometimes bring to school for lunch that my classmates found weird: smoked fish.

I can thank my late, Latvian-born dad for introducing them to me. His preferred type was made with Riga-style sprats. Sprats are small herring that are cleaned, smoked and sold packed in cans.

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My dad would most often set sprats on sturdy, buttered, rye bread, creating an open-faced sandwich. Not sure if I keenly ate them right from the start, but at some point during my childhood I took a bite and found the dense, smoky fish to be very palatable.

I’ve been eating smoked fish sandwiches ever since. But when I got older, and especially after moving to the Island 26 years ago, I now most often make them with smoked salmon rather than sprats. It’s produced locally, not a continent and ocean away, comes in range of delicious styles and can be adorned in tasty ways, as displayed in today’s recipes.

One recipe is topped with cold- smoked sockeye salmon. It’s made by smoking brined fillets of the fish at cool temperatures, around 21 C to 32 C, which help to preserve the salmon’s rich colour. This type of smoked salmon looks almost raw, feels slightly firm, and has a luxurious, silky texture when sliced.

It’s popular to serve this type of smoked salmon on a bagel. I kicked things up several notches by slathering the bagel with a cream cheese flavoured with dill, lemon and horseradish. Once the salmon was set on the bagel, I also topped it with tangy, homemade, pickled red onions and fried capers, creating an open-faced sandwich that was pretty gourmet.

My other sandwich uses hot- smoked salmon. As with cold-smoked salmon, the fish is brined and then smoked, but in this case it is done so at higher temperatures, ranging from 49 C to 82 C. This creates a product that is firmer, more opaque-looking and fully cooked, but still moist and can be separated into coarse flakes.

I used salmon to make hot-smoked salmon tartines. Tartine is a French term for a slice of bread with a savoury or sweet topping. My version of it saw slices of locally made rye bread topped with a tangy, mustard-flavoured sauce, salad greens, hot-smoked salmon, caper berries and sliced cucumbers and radishes. It created splendid-tasting and looking tartines that one could enjoy for lunch or dinner.

Bagels with Cold-Smoked Salmon, Pickled Red Onions and Fried Capers 

You can make the onions, capers and flavoured-cream cheese needed for these divine smoked-salmon-topped bagels the day before you make them. Serve them for brunch, lunch or dinner.

Preparation time: 40 minutes

Cooking time: five minutes

Makes: four (two half bagels each) servings

For the pickled red onions:
1 small to medium (about 7 oz./200 gram) red onion
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
2 tsp granulated sugar

Place four cups of water in a pot and bring to a boil. Very thinly slice the red onion and separate into rings.

When water is boiling, add the onion to the water and turn off the heat. Let onions steep in the boiling water two minutes. Pour the onions into a sieve and let drain a few minutes.

Now pack the onions into a 250 ml canning jar.

Place the vinegar and sugar in a pot, bring to a boil, and stir until sugar is dissolved.

Slowly pour this mixture over the onions. Let onions cool to room temperature. Now seal the jar and refrigerate onions at least four hours.

The onions will keep a week or more in the refrigerator.

For the flavoured cream cheese:
1 (250 g) brick firm cream cheese, at room temperature
1 Tbsp horseradish
1 Tbsp chopped fresh dill
1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 Tbsp lemon juice

Place ingredients in a mixing bowl, or bowl of your stand mixer, and beat well to combine. Transfer to a serving bowl, cover and refrigerate flavoured cream cheese until needed below.

For the fried capers:
3 Tbsp capers, drained well
1/3 cup olive oil

Thoroughly pat capers dry with paper towel (this will help prevent splatters when you fry them). Set a small, fine sieve over a small bowl.

Place the oil in a small pot set over medium-high heat. When oil is hot, add the capers and fry until opened and crispy, about 30 to 45 seconds. Pour and drain the capers into the sieve. Now drain the capers on paper towel, transfer to a small bowl, and use as directed below. (The oil leftover after frying the capers can be used to flavour salad dressings, fish, pasta and other dishes.)

For the bagels and to serve:
4 sesame seed, poppy seed or all-dressed bagels, halved and toasted (see Note 1)
170 to 200 grams, thinly sliced, cold smoked sockeye salmon (see Note 2)
• small dill sprigs, to taste

Spread each half, toasted bagel with some of the flavoured cream cheese. Divide and top the bagels with the sliced smoked salmon. Now top each bagel with some pickled red onions, fried capers and dill sprigs, and enjoy.

Note 1: I bought the bagels for this recipe in Victoria at Mount Royal Bagel, 1115 North Park St. Their bagels are the best!

Note 2: Sliced, cold-smoked salmon is sold at most supermarkets and seafood stores. It’s often sold frozen and, of course, will need to be thawed before using.

Eric’s options: For even more flavour, you could also top the smoked salmon bagels with pea shoots or alfalfa sprouts.

Hot-Smoked Salmon Tartines

These appetizing looking, open-faced sandwiches see toasted rye bread tastily topped with a tangy sauce, flaked smoked salmon, crispy vegetables and pickled caper berries.

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: a few minutes

Makes: two to four (one or two sandwiches each) servings

For the sauce:
2 Tbsp sour cream
2 Tbsp mayonnaise
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp honey, or to taste
1 tsp chopped fresh dill

Combine ingredients in a small bowl. Cover and refrigerate until needed below.

For tartines:
4 slices dense rye bread, toasted (see Note 1)
1 1/2 cups baby salad greens
225 grams hot-smoked salmon, coarsely flaked (see Note 1)
12 to 16 small caper berries, or to taste (see Note 2)
3 Tbsp English cucumbers, cut into thin, 2-inch strips
3 Tbsp radishes, cut into thin, 2-inch strips

Spread one side of each bread slice with some of the sauce, and then top with salad greens. Top the salad greens with the smoked salmon. Now top the salmon with cucumbers, radishes and caper berries. Top each tartine with a few small spoonfuls of the sauce, and enjoy.

Note 1: The rye bread used in this recipe was bought in Victoria at Wildfire Bakery, 1517 Quadra St.. The smoked salmon was bought at Oak Bay Seafood, 2024 Oak Bay Ave.

Note 2: The shrub that yields capers also yields caper berries, a small fruit that is pickled. It is sold in jars at Mediterranean food stores and some supermarkets.

Sooke competition chooses best smoked salmon

This Sunday, from 1 to 3 p.m., Sooke, our country’s self-proclaimed smoked-salmon capital, will host its third annual competition to determine who makes Canada’s best smoked salmon. The entries are not from commercial sources. They must come from household aficionados truly passionate about making sublime smoked salmon.

The 100 people who bought a five-dollar ticket to judge the event will choose the winner. Those judging tickets, open to the public, are being sold at Eagle Eye Outfitters, Sooke Region Museum and Charters River Salmon Interpretive Centre. That interpretive centre’s scenic picnic site, at 2895 Sooke River Rd., will also host the event.

If you are unable to get a judging ticket, you can still take in the action and attend the event and have some fun while you do. During the afternoon, live bluegrass music will be played, beverages and food, such as salmon burgers, will be available for purchase and the interpretive centre will also be open. During the event you can also meet T’Sou-ke nation boat carver Harvey George.

For more information about this event, go to salmonforsooke.ca and click on special events.

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