Chef John Childers: Chef de Cuisine, Herons, Cary

Favorite holiday tradition: My holiday dinners are usually potluck with the family. My mother and grandmother usually prepare the meal that we’ll eat for dinner, but in the meantime we have a buffet line of snacks. My mom likes to make cocktail weenies. I’ll always do something lighter like a cured fish or composed salad. You know you’re going to be eating a lot of rich things like mashed potatoes and mac and cheese.

We do an advent calendar every year. I still buy one for myself and my wife.

Kitchen tool you can’t live without: You have to have a knife. Whenever people ask me what kind of knife to buy, I tell them to research Japanese knives.

Typical holiday spread: A lot of food, for not a lot of people. Christmas would be ham with all the trimmings — dressing, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole. Anything that’s traditional we have it, down to jellied cranberry sauce in a can.

Dish: Vodka Cured Salmon, Horseradish Cream and Pickled Baby Beets

“I like to serve this dish like many of the dishes served during the holidays, family style. I usually garnish the fish with mixed greens and sliced lemons. Serve the horseradish cream chilled in a bowl with a large spoon. Trust me, once your family and friends try this, no spoon will be big enough. The best thing about this dish is that is good to serve all year long at any family get together or party.”

– Chef Childers

Vodka Cured Salmon

2-pound Scottish salmon filet, skin removed
1 cup kosher salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon black pepper, freshly ground
1 bunch dill, roughly chopped
1 large red beet, peeled, grated
1/4 cup vodka

In a large mixing bowl, mix the sugar, salt and black pepper together.
With your hands (I recommend wearing gloves as the beets will stain your hands) add the dill and grated beet to the salt mixture. Combine thoroughly.

Place half of the curing mixture on a baking sheet in a single layer. Make sure that there is enough surface area to cover the entire fish. Place the salmon on top of the mixture. Rub the top of the salmon with the vodka and cover the fish with the remaining half of the cure.

Let the fish cure for 2 1/2 hours in the refrigerator. Rinse the fish under running water. Place the filet on a new pan. Store it in the refrigerator to air dry and remain cold.

Horseradish Cream

1/4 cup prepared horseradish
1/4 cup heavy cream, whipped to stiff peaks
1/4 cup crème fraiche or sour cream
1/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Whisk the horseradish, crème fraiche, mustard and salt together in a mixing bowl.

Gently fold the whipped heavy cream into the mixture just before serving.

Serve this as a condiment for the cured salmon.

Pickled Baby Beets

12 baby beets, washed
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 cup kosher salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups champagne vinegar
1 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the beets on a baking sheet and cover them with the olive oil and 1 teaspoon of salt. Roast the beets in the oven until they are tender, about 40 minutes. Remove the beets from the oven to cool.

In a large sauce pot, combine the remaining ingredients. Bring the pickling liquid to a boil. Once the sugar and salt are dissolved, turn off the heat and allow the liquid to cool to room temperature.

Once the beets are cooled, peel them and slice into quarters.

Place the beets into a container with a lid and completely cover them with the pickling liquid. Allow the beets to pickle for at least 2 hours before serving. They can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

*Serve the dish family style or on a large platter. Slice half of the salmon and place the pieces next to the remaining unsliced filet. This makes for easy eating and an elegant presentation. Crackers or toasted baguette can be used as an accompaniment. Serve each piece with a slice of salmon, a dab of cream and a pickled beet.

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