How To: Tea-Cured Salmon

(Sorry, veggie-oriented friends; I know I have a history of sharing recipes that involve animals and animal by-products. Next time, okay?)

Thanks to an awesome Twitter friend of mine, I recently came across a recipe for tea-cured salmon. Having never cured anything before in my life, it sounded both frightening and possibly food-poisoning-inducing, so obviously I had to give it a go.

The main thing that this recipe’s got going for it is laziness. Similar to ceviche, you’re making seafood safe (“safe”?) to eat without using any ungodly heat to cook it, and you barely have to get up off the couch to do it. It may already be August here, and we’ve blessedly fallen out of triple-digit temperatures in central California, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still sweating my face off every time I step into the kitchen. So: use the magic transformative powers of salt, and make yourself some got-dang fish!

tea-cured salmon

Tea-Cured Salmon (from The Asian Grandmothers Cookbook)

1 pound fresh skin-on wild salmon (scaled, pin bones removed–I couldn’t find a whole 1-pound piece of fish at the store so I went for two smaller pieces)
1/2 cup salt
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup loose-leaf tea, any variety

Mix the salt, sugar, and tea in a small bowl.

(Note: You can use just about any type of tea you like; if you’re hesitant about using the expensive fancy teas in your cabinet, you could also go through the trouble of cutting open approximately four hundred Lipton black tea bags, just for funzies. I used a mixture of black and white teas, and I honestly couldn’t taste either of them in the final product, which strongly resembles smoked salmon to my palate.)

Take a non-reactive casserole dish or baking pan that will fit the fish and line it with plastic wrap so that several extra inches are hanging off the sides. Shake half the curing mix evenly onto the plastic. Pat the salmon dry and lay it skin-down on the curing mix. Sprinkle the remaining curing mix over the salmon, coating it all over, including the sides.

Fold the edges of the plastic wrap over the salmon and wrap it as tightly as you can manage. Place something heavy on the salmon to weigh it down; I used assorted cans of food from the pantry, but a plate or other weighty item would work too. Place in the fridge for three days; if any liquid accumulates, drain it or pat it off, and flip the salmon over once a day.

After three days, rinse off the curing mix and run the salmon thoroughly under water to remove any excess salt. You may have to rinse it again after tasting–it does get quite salty. Pat the salmon dry and place it skin-down on a cutting board. Use your longest, thinnest, sharpest knife to slice the salmon diagonally off the skin. You can see from my picture that I wasn’t very diligent at first, but I started cutting more closely to the skin as I went along; you get more salmon that way, although the fat and the bits closest to the skin do get a bit chewy. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for a week, if it lasts that long.


The recipe’s originator used the salmon to make a Chinese New Year salad called yu shing; I ended up putting it to use in a simple salad of baby greens and arugula, cucumber, and cherry tomatoes, dressed with olive oil and rice vinegar. Its similarity to smoked salmon also means it would probably be delicious on a bagel with cream cheese, capers, and thinly-sliced red onion. The texture is smooth and buttery, and the flavor is salty and fishy in a way that some people–people who are not me–probably find kind of repulsive. But hey: you can’t please everybody! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go eat tea-cured salmon until I grow gills and start swimming upstream.


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