Smoked salmon is hardly a novelty in New York. But the gently tea-smoked salmon from Chef de Cuisine Kevin Chojnowski of Brad Farmerie’s Public isn’t your ordinary corner store lox. For Chojnowski, smoked salmon is a vessel through which to explore the flavors of Asia, New Zealand, and Australia—all in a New York context—while preserving the integrity of a premium side of fish. “For American chefs, Asian flavors are the one thing that’s a little different,” says Chojnowski. “The flavors are more complex.”
For his Tea-smoked Salmon, Smoked Coconut Laksa, Toasted Pistachios, and Watercress Salad, Chojnowski starts with a product true to Public’s Pacific leanings: New Zealand’s Ōra King Salmon—a sustainably farm-raised fish that’s available year round (unlike it’s wild cousins) and has better flavor than farmed Atlantic varietals, according to Chojnowski. Next he imbues the flesh with the complex flavors of smoke, Chinese black tea, and floral jasmine rice with a 10-minute, à la minute dip in a range-top smoker. The short smoke at a relatively low 120°F yields a glistening slab of rare meat, “with a mellow smoky flavor,” says Chojnowski.
Jasmine rice offsets the more astringent qualities of the tea, and the lightly smoked protein gives Chojnowski more room to layer smoke throughout the dish. He tea-smokes a chicken carcass as the base of a traditional laksa broth—a mélange of lemongrass, chillies, galangal, fish sauce, palm sugar, ginger, and coconut milk. “The floral, aromatic broth goes well with the tea-smoked flavor,” he says. He also infuses a smoked paprika oil for a final hit of smoke and heat. To finish the dish, he makes an earthy, bright pistachio vinaigrette and tops the fish with watercress salad—laced with Thai basil and frisée—for an herbal punch.
Chojnowski’s use of strong and gentle flavors, heat, and texture naturally enhances each element. He delicately balances foreign flavors with local ingredients, culture, and techniques, helping to further bridge the gap between Eastern and Western cuisines.
Tea-smoked Salmon Technique
- Cure salmon in a 1:1 brown sugar-salt mixture for 45 minutes.
- Brush off most of the cure.
- Combine jasmine rice and Chinese black tea in a heavy roasting pan over the stove.
- Set a rack 3 inches above the tea and rice mixture, and lay salmon on top, wrapping the pan tightly with foil.
- Turn burners on high until tea and rice begin to smoke, and lower heat to medium-high.
- Smoke salmon for 8 to 10 minutes, just until penetrated by smoke but still rare.