A Fun and Easy Snack for Parties and Picnics
New Year’s Eve is almost here. And in a few weeks there will be that big Super Bowl bash. So the quest for party food is on. Snacks, spreads, and dips rule this time of year. And one of the best I know is Smoky Salmon and Cream Cheese Dip.
Salmon and cream cheese make a classic combo. Think lox and bagels with a schmear. Take the salmon and cream cheese, add some smoky notes and a bit of onion or scallion, and you’ve got the makings of a delicious dip. It’s great with your chip of choice — I tend to prefer ridged potato chips (which stand up better to dipping) or tortilla chips. You can also spread it on crackers, or on pieces of that little party rye that supermarkets feature so prominently this time of the year (they always have it in stock, but you see more of it during the holidays).
Once your guests taste this dip, it will disappear quickly. But if by chance you have some left over? Spread it on your morning bagel.
This recipe probably dates back to the 1950s. We first encountered it 30 or more years ago, when Mrs. Kitchen Riffs was working at her first post-law school job (yes, Mrs K R confesses to being a lawyer). She was clerking for a federal judge, who graciously invited his staff to a party at his home. This dip was one of the appetizers — and it went fast! We begged for the recipe, and have been making it ever since.
We particularly like to whip up a batch on New Year’s Eve. (We also make California Clam Dip every NYE without fail.) There’s something about New Year’s Eve that brings out the “dip diva” in all of us. But the fact that we’ve been making this one seemingly forever tells you something about how tasty it is.
The recipe calls for canned salmon, which usually isn’t smoked. So add some liquid smoke (which is a natural product; see Notes) to get the great smoky flavor that blends so well with cream cheese. Or if you want to splurge, you can substitute smoked salmon from your fish monger’s.
This recipe takes about 10 minutes to prepare, and makes about two cups. Leftovers (packed in an airtight container) keep well in the refrigerator for several days. Serve with your favorite chips, crackers, or party bread.
- ~1 tablespoon finely chopped onion or ~2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions (scallions have a milder flavor, so use more)
- 1 ~15-ounce can salmon (better quality salmon makes a better dip)
- 1 8-ounce package of cream cheese (we always use the Philadelphia brand for this, but the store brands often are quite good)
- 1 teaspoon liquid smoke (see Notes)
- salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste (optional; we generally don’t use)
- chopped scallion for garnish (optional)
- Peel the onion, or wash scallions and remove root ends. Finely mince about 1 tablespoon of onion or 2 tablespoons of scallions.
- Open the canned salmon, drain, and put into a smallish container. Remove the larger bones and cartilage.
- Add the canned salmon and cream cheese to a medium-sized bowl (we always use our stand mixer). Add the minced onion or scallions and the liquid smoke.
- Beat until well blended — a couple of minutes using a stand mixer, 5 or more if beating by hand.
- Taste, and add more onion or liquid smoke if needed. Season with optional salt and/or black pepper. Mix again until blended (maybe a minute).
- This dip can be served right away, although it tastes a bit better if you allow the flavors to comingle in the refrigerator for an hour or so. You can sprinkle some chopped scallion on top for garnish, if you wish.
- You don’t actually need to remove the visible bones and cartilage from canned salmon — they’re soft and generally will turn to mush in the mixer. We take out the larger ones just to ensure a smoother dip mixture.
- Liquid smoke is made from the condensed smoke of smoldering hardwood (when the hot smoke is chilled, it condenses). The smoke itself is a natural product; there’s nothing artificial about it. The better brands of liquid smoke contain nothing except water and natural smoke concentrate. The cheaper brands? Do read the label; you may be buying things you don’t want. If you’re concerned about the safety of liquid smoke, the Wikipedia Liquid Smoke article has some useful information.
- Liquid smoke was first sold commercially in the US in 1895 by Ernest H. Wright. His brand of liquid smoke is still sold today.
- This recipe invites add-ins. You might want to consider adding lemon juice (maybe a tablespoon). Or maybe fresh dill or another herb (again, probably a tablespoon), chopped dill pickle (ditto), horseradish (a teaspoon for me), or some cayenne or Tabasco sauce (to taste). Basically anything you think would taste good probably will. I would suggest making the recipe as written the first time, and then experimenting if you want.
- Smoky Salmon and Cream Cheese makes a terrific dip or spread. But you might also like to use it as a stuffing for pasta (ravioli or cannelloni) or as a filling in crepes. Or you could pipe it into hollowed out hard-boiled egg halves (to make salmon “deviled eggs”), or bake it in pastry shells and serve it as a hot hors d’oeuvre. You can probably find a lot of uses for this basic recipe.
So, are you feverishly making preparations for New Year’s Eve? Or at least feverishly thinking about making preparations? Well, we have some ideas for you.
In addition to Smoky Salmon and Cream Cheese Dip, you might want to make California Clam Dip; it’s a classic, and always well received. Or how about Pimento Cheese, a luscious southern specialty? Other appropriate party fare might include Velveeta Tex-Mex Dip, Salsa and Picante Sauce, Cheese Straws, Homemade Chex Mix, or Microwave Popcorn. If you’re living in a part of the world where fresh peaches are in season, you could try some Peach Salsa.
What about drinks? If you have any Beaujolais Nouveau left, now is the time to drink it. The name means “new Beaujolais,” and that’s exactly what it is: A very young wine, released just weeks after the harvest. Tradition says you should always consume this wine before the end of the year in which it is bottled (though it should still retain its fresh quality a bit longer if you miss that deadline). Another New Year’s Eve favorite is Eggnog. And you can never go wrong with the Classic Champagne Cocktail.
If you’re looking for something a bit stronger, you might try a classic “hard liquor” cocktail, like the Manhattan or the Martini. I’m also partial to the Sidecar.
For those in the Southern Hemisphere who are luxuriating in warm weather? A tall Pimm's Cup or Bermuda Rum Swizzle would be mighty refreshing. Or maybe a Gin and Tonic or a Classic Daiquiri.
All that eating and guzzling can make you feel, ahem, indisposed the next day. If you’re looking for a classic hair-of-the-dog remedy, you could try the Corpse Reviver Cocktail (in fact, this little-known drink is worth serving on New Year’s Eve itself). Or if you’re in the market for a more contemporary (and “healthier”) morning drink, you might consider the Bloody Mary — which will be the subject of our first post for 2013.
Happy New Year!
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California Clam Dip
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