Monday, June 09, 2008



Homemade gravlax. Yum.

Yessiree, while you may find Truth in that glass of wine, gravlax - Scandinavian salt-cured salmon - is Serious.

Gravlax is a member of the Pantheon o’ Cured Fish, a select group that includes Nova Scotia smoked salmon, belly lox, smoked sable, et cetera. And since Saveur Magazine was gracious enough to include a recipe in their most recent issue, I could not resist trying it out.

It’s easy, but you have to allow a few days before the finished product is ready. There’s no smoking necessary; the fish is cured in a mixture of spices, sugar, and salt.

You get a two-pound chunk of skin-on salmon fillet. Any kind will work, but fattier varieties, such as Atlantic salmon, will have more flavor after curing.

Grind up two tablespoons of white peppercorns and one tablespoon each of caraway and fennel seeds in a spice grinder or food processor. Combine this chopped spice mixture with 1/3 cup of granulated sugar and 2/3 cup kosher salt; mix well.

Cover a dinner plate with a sheet of plastic wrap. Sprinkle half of the salt mixture on the plate, then lay the fish down on it, skin side down. Cover with the remaining salt mixture, then with a cup of loose dill sprigs.

You can stop here, or you can have some real fun by adding 1/4 cup of akvavit. Since I had no akvavit in the house (a situation I’ll want to remedy soon), I added 1/4 cup of gin, figuring that the juniper flavor would marry well with the dill and spices. As it happens, I was right.

Now, fold the plastic wrap over the fish and wrap tightly, using more plastic wrap as needed.

Stick the whole mess in the fridge. If you want, you can weight it down with a heavy flat object.

After a while, the fish will start to ooze brine: this is normal. Every 12 hours, turn the fish over and massage it a bit to help the brine penetrate. Your refrigerator will fill with the unmistakable pong of curing gravlax, but stay the course - it’s worth it.

After 48-72 hours, the fish should be nicely cured. Take it out of the plastic, rinse off the brine, spices, and dill, and pat dry with a paper towel.

Chop some fresh dill - a few tablespoons will do - and scatter it on a plate. Press the fish, flesh side down, into the dill to coat it.

Now lay that salmon, skin side down, on a cutting board. Using a razor-sharp knife, cut thin slices, stopping at the skin. Serve it forth, garnished with capers if you like. The Swedes serve gravlax with a mustard-based sauce, but I think that’s gilding the lily. Decorate the platter, if you’re so inclined, with a few capers and maybe some chopped red onion. Add a few Kavli crackers or a piece or two of Swedish crispbread; a shot of ice-cold akvavit, and you’re good to go.

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