The Best, 5-Minute Smoked Salmon Appetizer

Every week on Food52, contributor Tom Hirschfeld features his stunning photography and Indiana farmhouse family meals.

Today: With good smoked salmon on hand, you can have an impressive appetizer ready in 5 minutes flat. Here's how.

Last summer, my mother asked me to make cupcakes for the June birthdays. We have several in June and, in order to make it easy, we celebrate them all at once. Nevertheless, I forgot to make the cupcakes and I was on my way to the party when I remembered. "Oops," or as Vivian, my daughter who never misses an opportunity to repeat a cuss word, noted from the back seat, "Oops" was more like a cuss word or three.

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While I live in the country, I don't live too far from civilization, and in truth the grocery is only a few minutes away. This would be fine if I didn't dislike their cupcakes; they are always coated in blue icing, a color blue that doesn't exist in nature. Lynnie goes bonkers when she eats them and this "crazy town" buzz last no less than two days. Not only won't I do that to her, but I also won't do that to myself. Fortunately, a call to my small town cupcake shop found it still open. They make fantastic cupcakes and the owner hooked me up in a big way, just as she was closing for the day. Crisis averted.

But this sinking feeling is the reason I always keep a loaf of bread in the freezer, a well-stocked pantry, and products like smoked salmon on hand. I know, I know, the smoked salmon came out of nowhere. But in truth I do keep a package or two of Cryovac-ed, hot-smoked salmon on hand to use in emergencies, in one of my favorite appetizers.

Let's talk salmon for a minute -- there are multiple products out there called smoked salmon but they aren't all the same. I am talking about hot-smoked Alaskan salmon: antiqued and tanned, the color of a leather Ralph Lauren couch housed somewhere in a hand-hewn log lodge in the wilds of Montana. Classic and full character, not like pink cured salmon or lox or cold-smoked cured salmon. All are good, but what I am looking for here is a side of fish that is dug into with a spoon, served on hearty whole grain crackers or rye, not slices laid on toasted bagels.

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When I have the time, I smoke the salmon myself. It isn't complicated, but this is you-got-home-late-from-work-and-have-to-get-to-the-party convenience. From now on you will hear your host ask, "Can you bring that wonderful salmon dish you you make?" And you will hear it for years to come.

Smoked Salmon with Horseradish and Caper Sauce

Serves 4 to 6

8 to 12 ounces hot-smoked salmon
2 tablespoons red onion, peeled and finely minced
2 tablespoons capers, drained and chopped
1 tablespoon prepared horseradish (optional, if you don't like horseradish, you are in luck because this is still good without it), squeezed dry in a towel
1/4 cup Duke's mayonnaise, or your favorite brand, just not Miracle Whip
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons water
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Parsley sprigs and chives for garnish
Assorted crackers or hearty toasted bread

1. Place the salmon on a platter on which it sits comfortably. Not too big and not too small but, as as baby bear would say, just right. Leave some room for the sauce runoff, just don't let the platter be so big the salmon looks like a life raft in the Pacific Ocean.

2. Combine the rest of the ingredients, sans garnishes, and whisk until combined. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

3. If you are transporting the appetizer, don't sauce or garnish it till you get to your destination.

4. Let the salmon come to room temperature. Sauce it, garnish it, and serve.

Save and print the full recipe on Food52.

Photos by Tom Hirschfeld

This article originally appeared on The Best, 5-Minute Smoked Salmon Appetizer