Tequila-Cured Salmon with Lime Cream

Updated February 23, 2016


The Southwestern Grill

Published by Harvard Common Press

In this recipe, the salmon undergoes the same curing process that produces the Scandinavian fish preparation known as gravlax. The salt and sugar change the texture of the raw fish into something silky and wonderful, while the tequila, lime, and cilantro infuse it with unique southwestern flavor. It makes an elegant first course or even a light main dish, especially during hot weather, and will feed a crowd with ease (although you will need a long, sharp knife to slice the salmon into properly thin slices).


Total Timea day or more

Make Ahead RecipeYes

OccasionBuffet, Casual Dinner Party

Recipe Courseappetizer, main course

Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, halal, kosher, lactose-free, peanut free, soy free, tree nut free

Mealbrunch, dinner


Taste and Texturecreamy, herby, light, savory


  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 whole side of salmon (2½ to 3½ pounds, with the skin on
  • 3 tablespoons tequila
  • Half a bunch of cilantro
  • 12 very thin lime slices
  • 1½ cups Lime Cream
  • Sprigs of cilantro (optional)


  1. In a small bowl, stir together the sugar, salt, and pepper. Set aside.

  2. With sterile tweezers or needle-nose pliers, pull out any bones remaining in the salmon. They are easy to locate by running your fingers along the side of fish. (There can be as many as 30.) Cut the side of salmon in half crosswise.

  3. Lay one piece of salmon skin side-down in a shallow, nonreactive dish. Drizzle with half the tequila. Sprinkle with half the sugar mixture, patting it firmly into the fish. Layer the cilantro over the salmon; arrange the lime slices over the cilantro. Drizzle the second piece of salmon with the remaining tequila and sprinkle it with the remaining sugar mixture, patting it firmly into the fish. Lay the second piece of salmon on top, skin-side up. Cover with plastic wrap. Set a small, flat-bottomed dish atop the stack of salmon and weight it with 2 heavy cans or a small saucepan. Refrigerate for 24 hours.

  4. Remove the weights, the dish, and the plastic wrap. With a spatula, flip the two pieces of salmon as one, so that the top piece is now on the bottom. With the spatula, lift the salmon piece now on top and baste the cilantro layer with the accumulated juices from the dish. Replace the salmon. Cover with plastic, top again with the dish and the weights, and refrigerate another 24 hours.

  5. Remove the dish, weights, and plastic. Scrape off the cilantro, limes, and the salt mixture and pat the salmon dry with paper towels. Transfer to a cutting board. Beginning with the tapered tail-end piece of the salmon, using a long, thin, sharp knife, cut the salmon, across the grain and at an angle almost parallel to the work surface, into thin slices, releasing the slices from the skin as you go. Cut out and discard the darker v-shaped portion of each slice if desired.

  6. Arrange the salmon on plates as you slice, overlapping slightly. About 2 ounces of salmon is a suitable portion (like all raw fish, it is rich). Drizzle decoratively with the lime cream, garnish with cilantro sprigs, and serve immediately.



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