The perfect bagel brunch with beet-cured salmon

By Gail Simmons
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Weekend brunch is a meal worth savoring and, when I have the time, I try to make it as special as possible, inviting friends and family to linger around my table. Along with eggs of all kinds, cured salmon and warm, fresh bagels are favorites in my house. Curing your own salmon is both deceptively easy and perfect for serving (and impressing!) a crowd. Beets add a touch of sweetness and a stunning pink-to-red ombré color, created as the salty-coated salmon absorbs the beets’ dark purple juices during the curing process. The cream cheeses with flavorful mix-ins add another fun savoury twist to the traditional feast of bagels, lox, and cream cheese. Both the salmon and the cream cheeses can easily be doubled or even tripled if you’re serving a larger crowd.

Feel free to make one, two, or all three of the piquant cream cheeses. Each makes 225 grams of cream cheese. A good rule of thumb while serving a crowd is 60 grams of cream cheese per person. The cheese can be mixed up to three days ahead, and you can use full-fat or low-fat cream cheese. Keep them covered and refrigerated until ready to serve.

SERVES
8
 TO
12
TOTAL TIME

Ingredients

  • Toasted bagels toppings: sliced cucumber, red onion, tomatoes, capers, lemon wedges

Toasted Fennel Seed-Lemon Cream Cheese

  • 2 teaspoons fennel seeds
  • 225 grams plain cream cheese, at room temperature
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons freshly grated lemon zest
  • 2 generous pinches freshly cracked black pepper

Aleppo-Chive Cream Cheese

  • 225 grams plain cream cheese, at room temperature
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped fresh chives
  • 2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper

Everything Cream Cheese

  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  • 225 grams plain cream cheese, at room temperature
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
  • 1 teaspoon dried onion flakes
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Beet-Cured Salmon

  • 340 grams beets (4 to 5 medium), well-scrubbed, trimmed, and quartered
  • 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons white peppercorns
  • 2/3 cup kosher salt
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup finely chopped fresh dill
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 (900 gram) skin-on salmon fillet

Directions

  1. For the Toasted Fennel Seed-Lemon Cream Cheese: In a small, dry skillet, toast the fennel seeds over medium heat, occasionally shaking the pan back and forth, until the seeds are fragrant and lightly toasted, three to five minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and let cool, then coarsely crack with a mortar and pestle, or by rocking the bottom of a heavy skillet back and forth over the seeds.
  2. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in a mixing bowl with a standard hand mixer, whisk the cream cheese and salt on medium-high until airy and smooth, one to two minutes. Fold in all but a generous pinch each of the cracked fennel seeds, lemon zest, and pepper. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with the remaining fennel seeds, zest, and pepper.
  1. For the Aleppo-Chive Cream Cheese: In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in a mixing bowl with a standard hand mixer, whisk the cream cheese and salt on medium-high until airy and smooth, one to two minutes. Fold in all but a generous pinch each of the chives and Aleppo pepper. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with the remaining chives and Aleppo pepper.
  1. For the Everything Cream Cheese: In a small, dry skillet, toast the sesame seeds over medium-low heat, occasionally shaking the pan back and forth, until the seeds are lightly golden, four to six minutes. Transfer to a plate and let cool.
  2. In the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment or in a mixing bowl with a standard hand mixer, whisk the cream cheese and salt on medium-high until airy and smooth, one to two minutes. Fold in the sesame seeds, all but a pinch of the poppy seeds, the onion flakes, and garlic powder. Transfer to a serving bowl and sprinkle with the remaining poppy seeds.

For the beet-cured salmon:

  1. In a small, dry skillet, heat the coriander seeds and white peppercorns over medium-low heat, occasionally shaking the pan back and forth, until the spices are fragrant and lightly toasted, five to seven minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and let cool. Coarsely crush with a mortar and pestle, or by rocking the bottom of a heavy skillet back and forth over the seeds. Place in a bowl and stir in the salt, sugar, dill, and lemon zest to combine.
  2. Before beginning the curing process, check for pin bones in the fish by running your index finger along the center seam of the flesh (you’ll feel them if they’re there). Working one by one, using tweezers or small needle-nose pliers, grasp the tip of each bone, then pull up and out at a slight angle to remove.
  3. Rinse the salmon under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. Place in a nonreactive baking dish, skin-side down. Rub about one-third of the salt mixture into the top and sides of the fish, then pat the remaining mixture over the top and sides, fully covering the fish. Top with the beets and their juices.
  4. Cover the fish with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap directly into the fish, then place a second baking dish or a heavy pan on top and weight the dish with several heavy cans. Cure in the refrigerator for three days.
  5. Gently scrape off the curing mixture and discard before cutting the salmon into thin slices (see Chef Tech).
  6. The cured salmon keeps, covered and refrigerated, for up to one week or frozen for up to three months. Cut into portions before freezing to avoid freezing again once thawed.

 

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