Simply Sensational Salmon Appy

Each month we celebrate Fernie’s amazing food scene by challenging a local pro to create a five-ingredient recipe with delicious–and revealing–results.

Jay Squires’ Salmon Gravlax appetizer

  • Salmon gravlax
  • Greek yogurt
  • Fennel
  • Pickled pearl onions
  • Blueberries

The late, great jazz musician and composer Charles Mingus once said, “Making the simple complicated is commonplace; making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” By that definition, Jay Squires, Executive Chef of Cirque Restaurant at Lizard Creek Lodge, has nailed the creative appetizer–a surprisingly complex combination of flavours from five uncooked ingredients.

“My philosophy in food has always been simple, fresh and tasty,” Squires told me. But it was in Australia, after starting in the food industry in Wales at the age of 15, and gaining experience in France and New Zealand, that he discovered “My love for seafood and raw ingredients.”

Gravlax is raw salmon that’s been cured for a couple of days in a dry brine of salt and sugar. For extra flavour, a fresh herb (dill is classic) or a combination of herbs or spices can also be added. Squires’ extra flourishes are caraway seeds and a splash of Taffel Akvavit, a classic Scandinavian distilled spirit (think schnapps) made with caraway seeds. The process for making your own gravlax is remarkably easy (Google it) but if you want a shortcut, use smoked salmon or, Squires’ preferred choice, raw salmon. “Ever since working [next to] the Great Barrier Reef, I love using raw ingredients–having the food [as] it’s naturally meant to taste.”

If you opt for store-bought smoked salmon, Squires suggests you don’t smoke the yogurt. Yep, you read that right. For this dish, Squires gives the Greek yogurt “a 45-minute cold smoke” using a smoker, applewood chips and ice. You can use plain old Greek yogurt but if you’ve got your own smoker, it’s worth the effort. And make a lot. Squires also blends smoked yogurt with smoked garlic to make a dip for calamari.

Shave the fennel as thin as you can, preferably on a mandoline. “Fennel can have quite a bite,” said Squires. “If you shave it nice and thin, it’s essentially a really good slaw.” Save some of the fronds for garnish, too. Squires’ pickled pearl onions are baby red onions steeped in red wine vinegar and sugar but you can just buy a jar of pickled pearl onions. At this point, you may be relieved to know that the blueberries are, well, just nice fresh blueberries.

OK, now you’re ready to plate. Start by slicing your gravlax nice and thin. Spread a dollop of the yogurt on a small plate. Loosely roll each slice of salmon and stand each roll up on end to create a little drama. Sprinkle some of the fennel slices, a few halved pickled onions and the blueberries around the salmon rolls and garnish with the fennel fronds. “You don’t want to overpower any of the flavours”, warned Squires, so strive for a balance of all five ingredients.

And there you have it–a dish that’s taken Squires “about a year” to develop and get just right. If you want to taste his version, you’re in luck. It’s debuting this month on the Cirque menu.