Candy and smoked salmon are not the most obvious pairing, but “Indian candy salmon” or “wigwam salmon” sustained many the tripper exploring Canada’s remote areas during the heyday of the Hudson’s Bay Company. The combination of salmon, salt, maple syrup and hours of smoking creates a confection-like treat that is good for at least two days—a lifesaver for those who braved the wilds in an era before coolers and car camping.
Salmon was the primary source of protein for some of British Columbia’s coastal First Nations, and the fish figures prominently in the art, music and culture of the B.C. bands.
Salmon is a metaphor for life, and a mystical figure that has nourished them since the beginning of time. And it’s no wonder. Salmon are one of the few anadromous fish, which means they hatch in fresh water, swim to the sea to grow and then return to fresh water to reproduce. They have a treacherous journey upstream, jumping over rocks and fighting against the current to return to the place where they were born. After reaching their destination, some varieties may return to the ocean after spawning to begin the cycle again. Others will die soon after releasing their eggs. A mystical life force, indeed.
Historically, smoked salmon, gravlax and candy salmon evolved as forms of preservation, but because these methods have such delicious results, we now tend to consider cured salmon a luxury food.
Canada boasts two kinds of salmon: Atlantic and Pacific.
Almost all Atlantic salmon is farmed, while the majority of Pacific salmon is wild. There are concerns about the environmental and health effects of eating farmed fish because of the amount of antibiotics and pesticides used to control disease in the fish pens. Farmed fish is kept in open cages so the waste flows directly into the ocean, possibly affecting the aquatic life nearby. So err on the side of caution and purchase wild Pacific salmon, which has both a deeper colour and taste.
But Canada isn’t the only nation to have a stake in salmon (so to speak). In fact, the fish is indigenous to most northern countries, including Iceland, Denmark and Finland, and each nation has some form of cured or smoked salmon.
Whether it is preserved using smoke, or just salt, the salmon’s firm texture is maintained and even enhanced by curing. Historically, smoked salmon, gravlax and candy salmon (essentially a salt-cured version that has sweet syrup added) evolved as forms of preservation, but because these methods have such delicious results, we now tend to consider cured salmon a luxury food. The common denominators in all these preparations are salt and weighing down (or even burying) the fish. The salt draws the water out of the meat and breaks down a protein called myosin in the muscle protein, preventing spoilage. True candy salmon is preserved with salt, soaked in maple syrup and then smoked over hot coals for at least six hours to reach a consistency one step away from jerky. In our recipe, we’ve dispensed with the hot smoking to create a slightly sweet Canadian version of the more delicate and tender gravlax.
Use the best-quality salmon you can find—tell your fishmonger you are curing it at home or ask for sushi grade. As the salt draws the moisture out of the fish, the bag will begin to fill with liquid —this is how you can be sure that the process is working. Once the salmon is cured, it will keep fresh in the refrigerator for about five days. Use cured salmon as you would use gravlax. Delicious with a bite of cucumber and cream cheese, you can dress it up as fancy as you please.
- 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
- 2 tbsp kosher salt
- 1 lb salmon filet
- 1/4 cup maple syrup
- Coarsely ground black pepper
- Combine sugar and salt in a small bowl
- Lay fish skin-side down in a sealable plastic bag. Sprinkle sugar and salt mixture in an even layer over fish, and drizzle maple syrup over top. Squeeze as much air as possible out of the bag and seal tightly (this is to ensure the fish will get fully covered in cure). Massage fish slightly to distribute syrup. Lay fish in a baking dish and then place a plate or another dish that will fit inside it on top.
- Top the second dish with a few cans or other heavy items to help weigh it down and refrigerate salmon, turning every 12 hours or so, for two to three days or until it feels firm and is slightly darker in colour.
- Remove fish from bag and pat dry with paper towels. Cut fish off of skin in thin slices using a sharp knife held at a slight angle. Serve salmon sprinkled with black pepper, if desired.