Just like anything else you make, your final product is only as good as your ingredients. Smoked salmon can be pricey, so watch for specials in the weeks leading up to the holidays and stock up. Just be mindful of expiration dates. The good news is that a little goes a long way, so even a four-ounce package can make a great holiday appetizer like this one.
Smoked Salmon: The smoked salmon is the star here so buy the best one you can afford and like the taste of. If you need help picking out a good one, ask the person who works at the fish counter in your store. I like wild-caught, but there are newer ways of sustainable fish farming and those can be a good option.
Smoked salmon is made by—you guessed it—smoking the salmon to preserve it. Smoking is a preservation technique that’s been used for centuries. The fish is placed above a smoker, so the smoke permeates the entire fish without actually cooking it, which kills pathogens and preserves the fish. Different types of wood chips are added to the smoker to produce different flavors. How healthy smoking is—the preservation technique, not the cigarettes—is debated in the health community. On one hand, it’s been used for centuries in healthy world populations. On the other, some think the smoke is unhealthy. I’m split, but since smoked salmon is pricey, it’s usually only consumed occasionally anyways. Salt preservation techniques are often used in conjunction with smoking, so smoked salmon will have high amounts of salt. Salmon has a lot of health benefits, including high amounts of protein and omega-3 fats, but since smoked salmon has an excessive amount of sodium, use it an occasional treat and not an every day health food. Like everything, read the ingredients and get the best you can afford.
Cucumber: A thin slice of cucumber makes an excellent base here. It needs to be thick enough that someone can pick it up, but not so thick that it’s the only thing people taste. Slice your cucumber into about 1/4-inch slices. English cucumbers have thin green skins and work really well here.
Yogurt: Creme fraiche—France’s favorite form of cream—is often used with smoked salmon because it’s tang and texture pair really nicely with the strong salmon flavor. However, creme fraiche can be really pricey and not available in all stores. Plain unsweetened yogurt is healthier and better priced. If you want to splurge on creme fraiche for a holiday, do it. If not, use Greek or Iceland-style yogurt like I used here. If you allow your yogurt to sit in a coffee filter over a jar for an hour or two, you can remove even more of the liquid from it and it will pipe through a piping bag to look pretty on your plate. A little lemon zest adds delightful flavor to the yogurt. To make this dish completely dairy-free, you can use a vegan cream cheese instead. Whatever you use, just use a small dab—about 1/4 of a teaspoon—on each appetizer. It’s meant to be a compliment, not a main flavor. You can use a small spoon if you don’t have a piping bag, but the piping bag with a star tip makes a for a really pretty appetizer.
Fresh dill: It’s possible that God made fresh dill to go with salmon. They’re perfect together. And yes, use fresh dill. It tastes much better and has a distinct flavor over dried. Fresh dill is also loaded with antioxidants so use as much as you like. Use leftovers to add wonderful flavor to your mixed green salads.
Capers: Capers are berries that have been pickled, and they’re used to add tang and a salty zip to dishes. It’s really used for decoration here, so if you don’t have any on hand or can’t find them you can skip it. But use them if you can—it makes the dish more interesting.
1 5-ounce container of unsweetened Greek or Icelandic yogurt (I use Siggi’s)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon zest
Slice the cucumber into 1/4-inch slices.
Top each cucumber with a 2-inch piece of smoked salmon
Optional: Place the yogurt in a coffee filter over a small jar for one hour to allow the liquid to drain.
Mix 1 teaspoon of lemon zest into the yogurt, creme fraiche, or vegan cream cheese.
Top each appetizer with a small dollop of the yogurt, a big piece of fresh dill, and one caper. Use a piping bag for the yogurt or cream for an extra pretty appetizer.
Best assembled within a few hours of serving. Store in the refrigerator until 10 minutes before serving.
You’ll probably have some extra ingredients left over. Make as many appetizers as you can out of the amounts listed above. You should get at least 16, and probably more. *Use vegan cream cheese, such as Kitehill almond milk cream cheese, as a substitute for the yogurt to make this appetizer dairy-free.