I always think of November and December as smoked salmon season. The truth is that I eat it frequently—mostly for brunch—but during the holidays, I serve it as an appetizer.
I love the mild silky smoked salmon from Scotland that is just a little smoky and just salty enough to need a strong coffee or otherwise, depending on the time of day. Champagne is a classic pairing. And, a smoky peaty scotch whisky should be the new classic—especially one from Islay.
Islay is a small charming island off the southern coast of Scotland with a population less than 3500 people and nine whisky distilleries. The island is known for heavy peaty whisky, but the truth is that the whisky of Islay is varied and not all of them are heavily peated. If you drink scotch whisky, chances are you are familiar with one of them—Bowmore, Laphroaig, Ardbeg, Lagavulin, Bruichladdich, Caol Ola, Bunnahabhain, Ardnahoe and Kilchoman—and they are all worth exploring.
One of my favorite heavily peated whiskies is Bruichladdich’s Port Charlotte and it is lovely served with Scottish salmon or any smoked salmon, for that matter.
A few years ago I decided to see what would happen if I mashed my favorite bagel toppings together to make my own smoked salmon spread. I took a standard four-ounce package of smoked salmon, added cream cheese, a bit of unsalted butter, fresh chives and dill, fresh lemon juice, horseradish, shallots and Tabasco sauce. It was good, but it was missing something. I had a bottle of Islay whisky on my counter and so I added a healthy glug of it to the mix, and set the food processor on to whirr it all up. I tasted it again, and it hit the mark. You could taste the scotch if you knew it was there, but it mostly complimented the smoked salmon, seasonings and cream cheese. My friends started calling it “The Spread.”
It quickly became my go-to party food and I made it again this week. I love that you can make it in advance and set it out with crackers or bagel chips and people can help themselves like any other spread or dip. The fact that it’s easy to make, universally loved [almost] and low-maintenance [to serve] makes it the ideal choice for a DIY Thanksgiving and holiday ‘Nibbles and Bar’ station.
When I am feeling fancy, I make this dip and serve it alongside traditional canapes made from top-shelf smoked salmon. If you are a fan of Scottish salmon, try Kolikof. The e-commerce site sells caviar and gourmet foods and their smoked salmon is my favorite. My choice is the large package that is all center-cut long slices which is like getting the “chateaubriand” of the salmon.
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The Spread is very good with any smoked salmon, of course. But the good news is the saltier, rougher domestic smoked salmon easily found in the grocery store is tailor-made for it. That salmon is bolder in flavor and less nuanced than Scottish smoked salmon, and the standard 4-ounce package is all you need for 2 cups of the spread—or enough for 2 parties. It asserts its flavor, and is made better when mixed with the cream cheese, butter, whisky, herbs and seasonings. Save the more delicate Scottish smoked salmon for traditional apps.
The Smoked Salmon Spread
Makes about 2 cups
4 ounce package smoked salmon
8 ounce package cream cheese
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons or 1-ounce favorite Scotch Whisky such as Port Charlotte
4 tablespoons fresh chives and dill, chopped
1 small shallot, chopped
2 ¼ tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon white horseradish
5-10 drops Tabasco sauce
Place all ingredients in a food processor and ”chop” until smooth but still chunky. I don’t use the puree setting because I like it to have some texture. Taste and adjust seasonings to taste. You may need a few more herbs, lemon juice or Tabasco but I never find that I need any salt at all.
Using a rubber spatula, scoop into a mason jar and seal. Store in the refrigerator until ready to serve. I think it’s best made at least a day before serving to let the flavors marry.
Serve with crackers, bagel chips, homemade melba toast or toasted brioche or challah bread.