Skip the ham this Easter, and let salmon do all the work for you

A bagel slathered with cream cheese and draped with luxurious slices of smoked salmon is up there on the short list of reasons I'd actually be happy to venture out of bed on the weekends. Also on this list is Easter brunch - or as I'd like to call it, "Spring Thanksgiving," which presents an opportunity to choose from a veritable cornucopia of smoked salmon-friendly dishes. It's fun to think beyond bagels and to consider new ways where smoked salmon can become the star at your next gathering.

There are two types of smoked salmon: cold-smoked and hot-smoked. Both versions start as fresh salmon, often the sockeye or King salmon varieties. While the fillets are typically cured with a blend of salt and sugar, sometimes other ingredients such as maple syrup, herbs and spices are used to imbue the fish with additional flavors.

Curing salmon, a preserving practice that dates to before the advent of refrigeration, works by drawing moisture out of the fish. After the fillets have been cured and rinsed of excess salt, they are then smoked. While cold-smoking occurs at temperatures well under 100 degrees, making, technically, a raw preparation; hot-smoking takes place at temperatures high enough to cook the fish. In either case, wood is used to impart a smoky flavor to the salmon. In commercial processing plants, the finished product is usually vacuum-sealed, which further extends its shelf life.

It's easy to tell between the two when you spot them in the refrigerated cases in the seafood section of your grocery store, or at your local fish market where smoked salmon is prepared in-house. Hot-smoked salmon looks and tastes more like traditionally cooked salmon, save for the flavor of smoke. Sold as whole fillets or in chunks, the fish's exterior is often a dark reddish-brown, depending on the type of cure.

Cold-smoked salmon, on the other hand, with its silky texture, intense salmon flavor and subtle smokiness, appears raw, with rosy-to-orange-hued flesh sliced thin or chopped. (Cold-smoked salmon is not to be confused with loaddx, which is made only from the belly of the salmon and is cured in a salt-sugar brine - not smoked. Gravlax, similarly, is cured but with a dry mixture of salt and sugar, along with other ingredients such as dill fronds or coriander seeds.) Cold- and hot-smoked salmon are interchangeable in most recipes, so absent of specific directions, go with the texture you prefer.

Perhaps the greatest beauty of incorporating smoked salmon into brunch menus is in its convenience. Ready to eat right out of the package, it is perfect for platters, such as this riff on Salade Niçoise with smoked salmon standing in for tuna. Crostini present another delightful way to serve cold-smoked salmon in a lighter form than bagels. Simply spread a bit of softened cream cheese or goat cheese on toasted baguette rounds (or bagel chips!) and top each with a piece or two of salmon, thinly sliced red onion and tiny sprigs of fresh dill. For another unique crostini idea featuring salmon, this version topped with quail eggs and anchovies is sure to impress. Smoked salmon lends itself well to dips and spreads, which can be smeared on cucumbers or endive spears for a gluten-free brunch hors d'oeuvre.

If, however, you're up for baking, a smoked salmon and leek tart is not only delicious and fits perfectly into a brunch menu, but takes much less time to make than traditional quiche. One of the more imaginative recipes for scones I've come across, calls for adding goat cheese and bits of smoked salmon to the dough. And, not to be overlooked, smoked salmon waffles are here to steal the spotlight at your next gathering. (Who really wants to spend Easter morning frying chicken anyway?)

Finally, one of my favorite ways to use cold-smoked salmon is as a garnish for deviled eggs, which are a guaranteed hit for Easter. Any traditional deviled egg recipe will do, but up the ante by including cream cheese and chives in the filling instead of plain mayonnaise. As with deviled eggs, this spin on eggs benedict, further cements the notion that putting smoked salmon on just about anything makes it feel fancy. And if simplicity is more your thing, upgrade your scrambled eggs by folding in chopped smoked salmon at the end of cooking, just as the eggs are about set. Smoked salmon is also a fabulous addition to a spring-inspired frittata. The dish is a convenient way to feed eggs to a crowd as it can be made ahead of time, allowing you to spend more time with your guests. For a heartier meal, I bulk up my salmon frittatas with potatoes, and serve it alongside spring greens with a lemony vinaigrette.

Whether you're putting out platters to feed a crowd or dining solo, smoked salmon will make your brunch feel a little more special. All you need to do is figure out how you want to serve it.

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Smoked Salmon Frittata

6 to 8 servings

Here, hot-smoked salmon, potatoes, chives, creme fraiche and goat cheese make for an ultra-rich frittata that's appropriate for any brunch.

For this recipe, use a 10- to 12-inch, well-seasoned cast-iron skillet or ovenproof nonstick skillet. If you don't have either on hand, you can bake the frittata in a generously buttered casserole dish. (You'll need to cook the onion before assembly.)

Hot-smoked salmon has a flaky, more "roasted" texture than cold-smoked, lox-style salmon.

Ingredients

8 ounces Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice (unpeeled; about 1-1/2 cups)

12 large eggs

8 ounces creme fraiche

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon cracked black pepper

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh chives

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup diced red onion

8 ounces hot-smoked salmon, coarsely chopped (skinned; see headnote)

One 4-ounce log goat cheese

Steps

Place the potatoes in the microwave in a steamer bowl or microwave-safe container. Cover partially and microwave on HIGH for 5 to 7 minutes, until fork-tender. Drain any liquid.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Whisk together the eggs, creme fraiche, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, the black pepper and chives in a mixing bowl, until they are well blended and no streaks remain.

Melt the butter in your skillet over low heat. Add the onion and cook for about 5 minutes, until softened and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the cooked potatoes to the skillet and mix with the onion. Season with remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Cook for an additional minute, until the potatoes are warmed through. Scatter the chopped salmon into the pan.

Next, pour in the egg mixture. Use your spatula to gently push it around, ensuring the ingredients are evenly dispersed. Cook for a few minutes, until the bottom half begins to set. Dot the top of the frittata with pinches of goat cheese.

Transfer the skillet to the oven; bake (middle rack) for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the frittata is golden brown and puffed. It should still jiggle ever so slightly in the center.

Let cool for 5 minutes before serving. Run a table knife gently around the edge, then tip the skillet to let the frittata slide out onto a plate or cutting board.

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Smoked Salmon Deviled Eggs

12 servings

Food blogger Angela Davis likes to mix mayonnaise and cream cheese with the egg yolks for an even more decadent base for smoked salmon. Capers serve double duty as a pretty garnish and a pop of briny pickled flavor to cut through the eggs' fatty richness.

MAKE AHEAD: To prepare the eggs in advance, refrigerate the bag of filling and the hollowed egg whites, loosely covered with plastic wrap. When you're ready to serve the eggs, snip off one bottom corner of the bag to pipe the filling into the egg whites, then garnish as directed.

Ingredients

8 large eggs

2 tablespoons softened cream cheese

2 tablespoons mayonnaise, preferably Duke's, or more as needed

1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon or dill

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh chives

Kosher salt

Cracked black pepper

2 ounces cold-smoked salmon, chopped into 1-inch pieces, for garnish

1 tablespoon drained capers, for garnish

Steps

Fill a large bowl with cold water and ice cubes.

Bring a large pot of water to a full, rolling boil over medium-high heat. Carefully lower in the eggs. Cook for exactly 11 minutes, then drain the pot. Shake it vigorously back and forth a few times to crack the eggshells. Immediately transfer the boiled eggs to a bowl filled with ice water. Once the eggs have cooled completely, peel under running water.

Pat the eggs dry with a paper towel or lint-free cloth. Use a non-serrated knife to slice the eggs in half. Use a spoon to gently remove the yolks. (Tip: For a perfectly smooth filling, press the yolks through a fine-mesh strainer, which will shred them instantly.)

Discard 4 of the egg white halves; the extra yolks make for a more generous filling. Mash the yolks thoroughly with the cream cheese and 2 tablespoons of mayo. Stir in the lemon juice and herbs. Only if necessary, add a touch more mayo to make the mixture a smooth consistency that holds its shape. You don't want the filling to be gloppy. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Transfer the filling to a zip-top bag, pushing all the filling down to the bottom of the bag. Snip off one of the bottom corners to transform it into a piping bag. Pipe filling into the egg whites. Garnish each egg with a folded slice of salmon and a couple of capers.

Serve right away.

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Smoked Salmon Scrambled Eggs

3 to 4 servings

Soft and creamy scrambled eggs get even better with the addition of smoked salmon folded in at the last minute. The texture of cold-smoked salmon works best here (silky), but hot-smoked salmon (flakier, with a "roasted" texture) will do.

This dish is best prepared just before serving. If you like your eggs a little more firm, use a 9-inch skillet.

Recipes from Angela Davis, who blogs at TheKitchenistaDiaries.com.

Ingredients

8 large eggs

2 tablespoons heavy cream or crème fraîche

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

4 ounces cold-smoked salmon, chopped (see headnote)

Kosher salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh chives

Steps

Crack the eggs into a bowl and combine with heavy cream or creme fraiche. Whisk until well blended and no streaks remain.

Melt the butter in an 8-inch nonstick skillet over low heat. Pour in the eggs; the skillet will be full. Watch the edges of the pan, where you'll see the eggs set first. This typically takes 30 seconds to a minute. Once you start to see the cooked edges turn opaque, use a flexible spatula to push the outer eggs toward the center of the skillet. Every few seconds as the eggs set up again, push the cooked eggs toward the center, allowing raw egg to flow toward the edge of the skillet.

Once the eggs are mostly set, turn off the burner and let the residual heat finish cooking them, while gently stirring to break up larger curds and/or folding to help the top part of the eggs set. Fold in the chopped salmon. Taste, and season with a pinch of salt; however, be mindful that the salmon is already salty.

Finish with a sprinkling of cracked black pepper and chives. Serve right away.

 

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