Let it snow!: Salt fish sandwiches and martinis

8 Jan

I’ve never really understood people who hate winter.  If you barricade yourself indoors for weeks on end, any season can be depressing.  Instead, why not embrace all the opportunities that winter has to offer?  Nowadays, no matter where you live, fun and picturesque outdoor rinks abound so why not go for a skate or have a game of pond hockey? Alternatively, why not take up cross-country skiing, snow shoeing, snowboarding, or turn back the clock and go tobogganing like you are 10 years old again?

Pond Hockey in St. Jacob's, ON.

Pond Hockey in St. Jacob’s, ON.

Regardless of what you choose to do, I have found that the best way to reward yourself afterwards is with a salt fish (gravlax) sandwich and a martini. Gravlax, or salt-cured salmon, is a dish of Scandinavian origin, making it perfect for a snack on a cold winter’s day. The method of preservation allows for the flavour of the fish itself to shine through, as opposed to smoking which can be overpowering. Although I would love to share the specifics of my family recipe, my Finnish grandmother has strictly forbidden it.  What I can tell you, however, is that it involves salmon fillets, salt, sugar, dill, spruce boughs (seriously), and time (as opposed to thyme). To make a sandwich (open faced of course), place thin slices of the salmon on lightly buttered rye bread and garnish with green onions.  You may also substitute cream cheese for the butter, while capers and red onions are also acceptable garnishes.

Lunch of (Finnish) champions

Lunch of (Finnish) champions

The cleansing astringency of a martini makes it the ideal accompaniment, cutting through the salty, fatty richness of the fish. Until recently, a martini was unquestionably made with gin and this is how I prefer it. My gin of choice is Loyalist Gin produced by 66 Gilead Distillery of Bloomfield Ontario, but use whatever brand you prefer. With all due respect to Winston Churchill, his martini is really little more than a glass of cold gin. I prefer a 3:1 ratio of gin to dry vermouth. To me shaken or stirred is a matter of personal preference though some purists may disagree. I prefer shaken as it produces a drink that is bracingly cold. The crucial ingredient, one which is so often left out, is a dash or two of bitters.  Bitters are the salt of the cocktail world.  It rounds things out and brings all the ingredients together.  Just as you wouldn’t dream of cooking without salt (even sweet baked goods need a pinch of salt), bitters are a necessity when making a cocktail.  Additionally, with the wide array of bitters available today, you can make different drinks depending on what strikes your fancy while still keeping the gin and vermouth the same.  Some of my favourites to pair with a salt fish sandwich are Scrappy’s cardamom or grapefruit bitters, or Bar Keep’s lavender bitters.  For a non-alcoholic drink, or something to help you digest after some holiday over-indulgence, a few dashes of bitters add a new dimension to club soda.

Whether you buy or make your own salt fish I strongly recommend giving this combination a try.  Just make sure you get outside and earn your indulgence first.

*note: I had started writing this post prior to the extraordinary cold snap which has gripped southern Ontario in its icy fingers.  Having said that, I still stand by my initial statement.  Get outside and enjoy winter!



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