Make holiday entertaining easy with this fuss-free, 10-minute, no-cook smoked salmon appetizer. This Nova salmon roll is filled with caper, dill and lemon-flavored whipped cream cheese along with your favorite fresh veggies, like avocado and radishes. Served alone or atop cucumber rounds and crackers, my Salmon Pinwheels are the perfect 2-bite appetizer for your next party!
About this recipe for smoked salmon appetizer
When it comes to the holidays, food is always the star of the show. Make sure you have something to greet your guests with as soon as they walk through your door by whipping up a batch of these beautiful, impressive-looking, and secretly simple-to-make salmon hors d’oeuvres.
Why you’ll love this salmon pinwheel recipe
Aside from having the perfect balance of salty, creamy, and bright flavors, this salmon pinwheel recipe is also:
- Made With Only 6 Basic Ingredients – You’re welcome to zhuzh them up further with your choice of add-ins, but they’re perfectly elegant and delicious as written.
- Quick & Easy – There’s only 10 minutes worth of prep work to get these smoked salmon snacks ready.
- Allergy-Friendly – Naturally gluten-free, nut-free, soy-free, and easy to make dairy-free, these low-carb salmon wheels are fit for nearly any diet!
What is the difference between smoked salmon and lox?
Although the terms are often used interchangeably, lox and smoked salmon are not one and the same. Lox is a particular kind of cured fish that is “cooked” by adding salt (sort of like ceviche gets “cooked” by adding citrus juice).
Gravlax is an iteration of this curing process, but typically adds some dill, lemon, and vodka or gin to the mix for added flavor. Also, since the “grav” part of gravlax comes from letting it cure underground, weight is often added to gravlax during the curing process to help the flavors absorb.
Smoked salmon, on the other hand, comes in hot-smoked or cold-smoked varieties. Either way you choose, these smoked fish varieties are coated in a salt and sugar brine, then smoked at either a low (cold) or high (hot) temperature.
Hot smoked salmon has a deliciously smoky flavor, but the consistency is more like that of tinned fish (e.g. flaky, hard).
Cold smoked salmon, on the other hand, is what is typically confused with lox and is what we’d prefer for this recipe. Compared side-by-side, lox and smoked salmon will look the same, but lox is decidedly saltier.
Ingredients for salmon pinwheels
As promised, this smoked salmon roll with cream cheese takes just 6 easy-to-find ingredients to make. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Block-Style Cream Cheese – Full-fat dairy is inherently tastier than any of the “lite” versions that are loaded with fillers.
- Substitution: If you have to opt for something lighter, Neufchatel cheese is your best bet. You’re also welcome to use vegan cream cheese if dairy is a no-no in your house.
- Lemon – Fresh lemon juice has no substitute in this recipe since you’ll want both the juice and the zest. (Plus some lemon wedges for serving.)
- Dill – Herby fresh dill is a natural pairing for the richness of smoked salmon.
- Substitution: In a pinch feel free to use ⅓ as much dried dill, sub in the frilly fronds of fresh fennel, or swap in your favorite fresh herbs, such as parsley.
- Chives – For a touch of color and a mild hint of allium flavor.
- Substitution: In a pinch, use finely minced shallots instead.
- Capers – For a bracing, briny contrast to the rich, oily fish and creamy cheese.
- Substitution: While the flavor isn’t quite the same, you’re welcome to swap in finely diced green olives instead.
- Smoked Salmon – Make sure you use cold smoked salmon for this recipe. Hot smoked salmon is much drier and flakier in texture and will not roll properly. I recommend Nova smoked salmon, which refers to the species and style of smoking. It’s also sometimes sold as Nova Scotian cold-smoked salmon.
- Substitution: You can use gravlax or lox, which is cured salmon. Just know that cured salmon is much saltier than smoked salmon, so you’ll definitely want to cut back on any added seasoning.
- Flaky Salt & Freshly Cracked Black Pepper – For seasoning.
Feel free to garnish and add extra pizzazz to your smoked salmon pinwheel roll-up with any of these tasty additions:
- Julienned Red Bell Pepper, Sweet Mini Pepper, Carrot, Red Onion, and/or Cucumber – For color, sweetness, and crunch.
- Julienned Radish – For a peppery bite and touch of crunch.
- Sliced Avocado – For extra butteriness and color.
- Crackers, Toast Points, and/or Little Cucumber Slices – For serving this recipe salmon crostini style. However, you’re also welcome to serve the pieces on their own, like a smoked salmon sushi roll!
Variations: salmon roll
While I love these pinwheel salmon bites just the way they are, you’re welcome to put your own spin on things. Here are a few variations to consider:
- Salmon Tortilla Pinwheels – Use a tortilla or wrap shell as your pinwheel base to keep the salmon neatly contained and the appetizer finger- and lunchbox-friendly. Simply smear the cream cheese mixture on one side of the tortilla, top with a layer of salmon, then roll into a burrito. Chill and slice as written, then serve.
- Salmon & Spinach Pinwheels – Add a bright pop of color and a leafy green bite to these stuffed salmon pinwheels by adding a layer of baby spinach on top of the cream cheese before rolling.
How to make smoked salmon roll
This recipe for smoked salmon appetizers comes together without needing to break a sweat. Here’s how:
- Make cream cheese filling: Add the cream cheese, lemon juice, and lemon zest to the bowl of a food processor. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper; process to combine. Use a spatula to scrape the bowl. Then process again for 30 seconds. Add herbs and capers to the bowl with the cream cheese. Pulse to combine. Set aside in the refrigerator.
- Prepare smoked salmon: Place a piece of plastic wrap down on a clean work surface. Lay the slices of smoked salmon on the plastic wrap, overlapping the pieces and arranging the salmon to form a long rectangle, about 12-inches-long and 6 inches wide. Gently press down on the salmon to adhere the pieces together.
- Add filling: Remove the cream cheese mixture from the fridge and dollop it all down the center of the salmon. Use a rubber spatula to gently spread the mixture all over the salmon, leaving a small boarder around one edge bare. If using julienne vegetables in your salmon roll, evenly lay the slices of veggies on top of the cream cheese, along the long edge of the salmon.
- Wrap and refrigerate or freeze. Tightly wrap the log of smoked salmon and cream cheese in the plastic wrap. Transfer to the fridge and chill for at least 1 ½ hours to firm, or overnight. Alternatively, place the salmon roll in the freezer for 25-45 minutes. (Note: Chilling the roll is essential as it firms it up, making it MUCH easier to slice.)
- Slice: Transfer the salmon roll to a clean cutting board. Remove and discard the plastic wrap. Then, using a sharp slicing knife, cut the smoked salmon roll into thick ¾ to 1-inch-wide pinwheels.
- Serve: Arrange the crackers on a serving tray and top with a slice of cucumber. Place an individual smoked salmon pinwheel on top of each cucumber. Garnish each smoked salmon appetizer with a sprig of fresh dill and enjoy!
Tips for the best salmon pinwheel appetizer
Making this appetizer with smoked salmon is a snap, but there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Julienne vegetables: If you want to add vegetables to your smoked salmon roll, I recommend thinly slicing (julienne) or finely mincing, so the salmon doesn’t get punctured as you roll it up.
- Leave one edge bare: When spreading the cream cheese onto the rectangle of salmon, make sure you leave one of the long edges bare. The “naked” edge will act as a seal – holding the salmon pinwheel bites together.
- Don’t rush the chilling process. Giving the log-shaped smoke salmon roll time to firm up (either in the fridge or freezer) makes slicing it much easier. Because this roll of salmon and cream cheese contains a lot of fat, it firms up in the cold, making it easy to slice as thin as you like. Whereas a room temperature roll will be soft, wiggly and super hard to cut. The more you know!
Serving this appetizer with smoked salmon
While it is often served as a breakfast meat, I find that serving cold smoked salmon as an appetizer almost always gets me rave reviews! These delightful fish and cream cheese roll-ups evoke the flavors of your favorite Jewish deli, but are perfect for nibbling on as you sip a fancy gin or vodka martini.
I personally plan on making a few batches of these salmon bites to serve at our annual New Year’s Eve party this year, but they’re perfect for any celebration that could use a touch of class and elegance. Aside from serving them as a passed hors d’oeuvre, or smoked salmon appetizer platter, these smoked salmon pinwheels are excellent:
- Served atop crackers or rounds of cucumbers on a buffet.
- As easy nibbles to serve at ladies’ nights, book club meetings, cocktail hours, or even weekend brunches.
- When wrapped with a tortilla (see Variations) and served as part of a packed lunch or picnic spread.
- If you’re looking to create a delicious spread centered on seafood, try serving your pinwheels with Seafood Bisque, Spicy Tuna Recipe, and the BEST Fish Ceviche Recipe.
Storing smoked salmon roll
- Make ahead: After rolling the salmon appetizer into a log, you can store it in the fridge for up to 5 days or in the freezer for up to 3 months. Thaw slightly before slicing.
- Smoked salmon pinwheel leftovers will keep covered in an airtight container in the fridge for a total of 7 days (including storage before slicing and serving).
Alright, dear readers. I hope you love this so-fish-ticated pinwheel appetizer as much as we do! And remember, if you’re hosting the holidays this year, don’t try to do everything solo. If you’re offering drinks and apps, let salmon else bring the dessert. Until next time, I wish you full bellies and happy hearts!
More salmon appetizers!
If you love this recipe for smoked salmon pinwheel, try these easy appetizer recipes using fresh fish next:
How to make smoked salmon roll with cream cheese👇
Smoked Salmon Pinwheels Appetizer
- 1 Food Processor (for cream cheese filling)
- 1 Plastic Wrap (for rolling smoked salmon)
- 1 Sharp Knife (for slicing roll into pinwheels)
Optional filling ingredients:
- ¼ small Red Bell Pepper – stem and seeds removed: cut into long thin slices (julienne)
- 1 whole Sweet Mini Pepper – stem and seeds removed: cut into long thin slices(julienne)
- 1 small Radish – cut into long thin slices (julienne)
- ¼ whole Seedless Cucumber – cut into long thin slices (julienne)
- ¼ Ripe Avocado – cut into long thin slices (julienne)
- 1 small Carrot – peeled & cut into long thin slices (julienne)
Optional for serving:
- 1/2 whole Seedless Cucumber – sliced into thick rounds the same size as crackers
- 14 Crackers or Toast Points (rye or pumpernickel)
- Make cream cheese filling: To the bowl of a food processor, add the cream cheese, 2 teaspoons lemon juice and a heaping ½ teaspoon lemon zest. Season with a pinch of sea salt and pepper. Process until whipped and fully combined. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the bottom and the sides of the bowl. Process again for 30 seconds. Add the chives, dill, and capers to the bowl. Pulse until the herbs are finely chopped and the cream cheese filling is well blended. Set aside in the refrigerator. (Make ahead: Cover and store in fridge up to 3 days.) (Optional: Set aside a few tablespoons of the cream cheese filling if you plan on serving the pinwheels on crackers.)
- Start smoked salmon roll: Place a piece of plastic wrap down on a clean work surface, making sure it’s at least 16 inches long. Lay the slices of smoked salmon on the plastic wrap, overlapping the pieces and arranging the salmon to form a long rectangle about 12-inches-long and 6 inches wide. Gently press down on the salmon to adhere the pieces together.
- Add filling: Remove the cream cheese mixture from the fridge. Dollop it all over the center of the salmon. Use a rubber spatula to gently spread the mixture all over the salmon, leaving a small boarder around one long edge bare. If using vegetables in your filling, evenly lay the julienne slices of veggies on top of the cream cheese, along the long edge of the salmon closest to you. (Tip: The bare edge will act as your seal. Keep the bare long edge AWAY from you.)
- Roll the appetizer: Starting at the long end with the avocado, start tightly rolling the salmon into a log, jellyroll style up and over the filling. Use the plastic wrap to help get the roll started, peeling the plastic away from the salmon as you roll - so the plastic wrap is always on the OUTSIDE of the roll. (Tip: Take your time and roll the salmon as tightly as you can, using your fingers and the plastic wrap to tuck the filling in while rolling the salmon up and over the cream cheese. The pinwheel must be tightly rolled to hold together.)
- Wrap and refrigerate or freeze: Tightly wrap the log of smoked salmon and cream cheese in the plastic wrap. Transfer to the fridge and chill for at least 1 ½ hours to firm, or overnight. Alternatively, place the salmon roll in the freezer for 25-45 minutes. (Note: Chilling the roll is essential as it firms it up, making it MUCH easier to slice. I prefer the freezer method.)
- Slice into pinwheels: Transfer the salmon roll to a clean cutting board. Remove and discard the plastic wrap. Use a sharp slicing knife to cut the smoked salmon roll into thick ¾ to 1-inch-wide pinwheels.
- Serve: Arrange the crackers on a serving tray and top with cucumber rounds. Place an individual smoked salmon pinwheel on top of each cucumber. Garnish each smoked salmon appetizer with a sprig of fresh dill and enjoy!
- Salmon: Make sure you use cold smoked salmon for this recipe. Hot smoked salmon is much dried in texture and will not roll properly. I recommend Nova Smoked Salmon, which refers to the species and style of smoking – Nova Scotian cold-smoked salmon.
- Substitution: You can use gravlax or lox, which is cured salmon; however cured salmon is much saltier than smoked salmon.
- Storage: After rolling the salmon appetizer, you can store it in the freezer for up to 3 months. Thaw slightly before slicing.
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