Chow Town

Smoked salmon and tarragon make a sensational summer combination

Smoked salmon salad sandwich with tarragon, pickled red onion and cucumber
Smoked salmon salad sandwich with tarragon, pickled red onion and cucumber Special to The Star

With the passing of Independence Day, summer is in full bloom and the air is filled with smoke. Luckily, the sulfurous haze of fireworks and bottle rockets has given way to that other signature smoke of summer – the smoldering fires of grills and smokers. Now is the time when the season really turns up the heat, in the sun and on the table.

From beets and corn to every meat imaginable, summer meals are made to be kissed by fire. Cooking outdoors brings with it the added benefit of cool houses, pleasantly free of the heat emanating from normal dinner workhorses like the oven and stove. But not every ingredients needs to be served piping hot off the grill, rather some others are sublimely smoky dishes best served cold – behold, the smoked salmon salad sandwich.

Smoke, as we’ve discussed before, is an intangible ingredient, one that cannot be measured in tablespoons or ounces. Smoked salmon is a perfect example of the wide swath smoke covers in cooking, coming in many forms from the cured and cold-smoked lox adorning your bagel to the hot smoked variety sitting atop a toasty cedar plank on the grill. Think of smoke as salmon’s muse, inspiring it’s fat laden flesh in myriad ways to harmoniously delicious results. Of course, with Kansas City being a bastion of true BBQ, I don’t need to tell you about the magic that occurs when fat and smoke come together.

Just as summer is a season perfumed with fire, it is also the time of bountiful vegetables and herbs bursting from the soil. Tarragon is just such a summer herb, found in classic French and European cuisines and featuring the pleasantly grassy flavor notes of anise. Like smoke, tarragon is also an old friend to salmon, lending its fresh fragrance to the rich, fatty flesh of the fish.

The salmon in this dish is hot smoked rather than cold smoked – save the lox for the bagel - either in a smoker or on a grill with soaked wood chips and the salmon over indirect heat. This is fairly simply done, smoking the salmon filets about 20 minutes or so, until it is just cooked through – but not overcooked, please - with perfectly flaky flesh. If you were so inclined, this would also be a fine place to use that cedar plank grilling technique to add even more tasty layers to the proceedings. I suppose you could use store bought smoked salmon filets in a pinch, but that’s not what you come to Chow Town for.

This smoked salmon salad sandwich is a meal that can work around your schedule, too. You’re busy and don’t want to hassle with firing up coals during a weeknight? Smoke the salmon on the weekend when you are barbecuing, make the salmon salad and have it at the ready in the refrigerator for a delicious dinner in 10 minutes.

The trio of smoke, salmon and tarragon are natural matches for the season, marrying together to form a refreshingly cool confluence of flavors, perfect for these hot summer nights.

Smoked Salmon Salad Sandwich with Tarragon

This smoked salmon salad is a supremely versatile recipe as it can be made into large sandwiches in addition to working well as a small appetizer sandwich or crostini topping for parties. If you like it spicier, add a dash of Sriracha or your favorite hot sauce.

Makes 4 Sandwiches

For the Smoked Salmon Salad:

2 4 ounce Smoked Salmon filets, skin removed

2 Scallions, thinly sliced

2 1/2 Tablespoons homemade Aioli or Mayonnaise

1 Tablespoon Capers, coarsely chopped

4 sprigs fresh Tarragon, picked and chopped

2 Tablespoons fresh Parsley, coarsely chopped

2 teaspoons fresh Thyme leaves

½ Lemon, juiced and zested

½ teaspoon Sea Salt

Black Pepper, freshly ground (optional)

For the sandwich:

4 Buns or Rolls, lightly toasted

Pickled Cucumbers, for garnish

Pickled Red Onion, for garnish

1 sprig fresh Tarragon

In a medium mixing bowl, flake smoked salmon into decent sized chunks. Add the aioli, capers, scallions, lemon juice and zest, then gently mix into the smoked salmon. Stir in the fresh parsley thyme and tarragon leaves into the salmon mixture. Finish with sea salt and black pepper, if using. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Assemble the sandwiches by toasting and lightly buttering buns or rolls, adding a quarter of the smoked salmon salad mixture to each bun. Finish with 2 or 3 pickled cucumbers, a few slivers of pickled onion and a frond of fresh tarragon.