I never believed in love at first sight until this recipe. Call me shallow if you like, but I fell for the colours in this fish even before I had my first bite.
Of course, colour is much more than just skin deep in this dish. I’m not just talking about how the beetroot cure seeping slowly into the flesh of the salmon leaves every opalescent slice with a crimson aura that fades into the salmon pink like a sunset over the sea. No – almost every ingredient in that we add to this salmon is marked by its relationship to a colour. The beetroot, infamous for its vibrant stain, is matched with zest of an orange – the fruit that takes such bold pride in its hue that they named the shade after it. The cure -BROWN sugar, BLACK peppercorns. (The dill, fresh and bright and grass-green though it may be, may be the exception that proves the rule). All of which makes pairing this salmon with inky caviar or slices of forest-green avocado almost irresistibly beautiful, combining the taste and appearance of a rainbow to the very idea of one.
But there’s wisdom behind this beauty as well. The classic pairing of smoke and cured salmon is adored for its peaty darkness – the earthy, fruity flavour of the beetroot combines to similar effect. The orange provides the indispensable citric squeeze for the salmon. Orange and beetroot also play surprisingly well off each other. There’s a famous dish-come-playful study in colour by Heston Blumenthal. He serves “Beetroot and Orange Jelly” with the mischievous recommendation to “eat the orange one first”. The orange one, of course, tastes of beetroot and the beetroot-red one tastes of oranges.
This beetroot-cured salmon does not aim to confuse though, only to delight. A riot of colour both on the plate and behind the scenes. The first bite is with the eyes, but a whole feast that lies beyond that. It’s something special, any way that you slice it.