Gravlax is a Scandinavian specialty. Just to clarify, it is not smoked salmon, and I will explain why. Gravlax is cold-cured in sugar, salt and plenty of dill. I like to add about two shots of vodka, for good measure you know! The name gravlax comes from two Scandinavian words gravad meaning “to bury” and lax meaning salmon. The name stems from the medieval practice of fishermen to bury their catch above the high tide line. This would accomplish two things: it would ferment the fish and thus preserve it. Although this practice is no longer employed, the name stuck. Although traditionally considered Swedish, gravlax is also enjoyed in Finland, Iceland and Norway. Smoked salmon is first cured and then cold or hot smoked.
Every Fall, my husband heads to the streams near our house to test his luck at one of his favorite past times: Fly fishing. Yes, the practice of artfully casting the fishing line into the stream over and over again. The grand prize if he is successful: a nice big steelhead ( a cousin of the salmon) which will eventually become gravlax. The cold-curing process takes 3 days and involves a brick. Yup, a brick!!! Why you might ask? No, we’re not throwing bricks at each other. The brick weighs down the fish and allows the moisture to be squeezed out. Moisture is the enemy! The proportions of salt to sugar is key for the curing process to be a success. Around my house we await the arrival of the steelhead with great anticipation. I think this is a good time to confess that as soon as the steelhead hits the counter-top I am out of that kitchen faster than you can say gravlax. Yup, I am squeamish and I am not afraid to admit it!
When we make gravlax at home we use the proportions of one part sugar to one part salt. We also add a little bit of pepper, cracked coriander seeds, and a full head of dill, stems removed. Oh yeah, and don’t forget the vodka, right? Some chefs like to add different spices (caraway seeds for example) to the salt and sugar cure to achieve a specific flavor. One thing that remains constant is: keep the working surface as clean as humanly possible to avoid contamination. The salmon should also be as fresh as possible. In our case, with an experienced fisherman in the family, the salmon comes from the stream to our table. It doesn’t get any fresher than that! BTW… if you don’t have a stream nearby or just don’t fish, don’t fear, most good grocery stores have fresh salmon. If you are making gravlax from store bought salmon, make sure the skin is on; it will make slicing a lot easier.
Gravlax is traditionally served with a mustard sauce and pumpernickel bread. Any other brown or whole grain bread will also work well. It is also common to find gravlax served with cream cheese, chopped red onions, and a squeeze of lemon. Feel free to add capers too.
*This recipe was adapted from Food Network.
- 1 large salmon or steelhead (7-9 lbs. whole)
- ¾ cup sugar
- ¾ cup Kosher salt
- 2 Tbsp. black peppercorns
- 2 Tbsp. coriander seeds
- 2 shots vodka
- one large bunch of fresh dill
- Chop off stems of dill bunch and discard. Rinse.
- Finely chop the dill.
- Once the salmon/steelhead is dressed, you will end up with about 4 lbs. (2 fillets)
- Grind the coriander seeds and black peppercorns in a spice mill or coffee grinder.
- Combine the sugar, salt, black pepper and coriander in a bowl.
- On plastic wrap lay the filets, skin side down, side by side and sprinkle with the vodka.
- Cover them in the salt/sugar/spice cure. Place the chopped dill in the middle and make a "sandwich". Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and place in a rectangular container. Weigh down with a small foil covered brick, or large cans.
- Turn every day for three days. On the third day unwrap and rinse off the dill and salt cure.
- Pat dry with paper towels. Remove pin bones carefully with a pair of needle nose pliers.
- When ready to serve slice thinly on a bias.
- Serve with pumpernickel bread, cream cheese, and chopped red onions.