One of my favorite things to do is to show people how simple it is to make things at home from scratch. Do not fear cooking (or in this case, curing). Love it and it will love you back. Gravlax is super easy to make at home, and yet at the same time, a delicious and impressive bit of culinary magic which will have your friends and family saying, “You made this?”
What is Gravlax? It’s is a salt and sugar cured salmon and is a wonderful addition to a brunch buffet, open faced sandwich or on canapes. There is often a bit of confusion surrounding gravlax, with many people assuming it is the same as smoked salmon or lox. In fact, gravlax is not smoked at all but instead cured by the process of covering it in salt and sugar which draws out the excess moisture (less moisture=slower spoilage). It is kept cold in the refrigerator and the addition of a weight helps to speed up the process.
Gravlax (Grav-lax, Gravad lax, Gravad Laks)
The origin of gravlax lies in Scandinavia where fishermen would bury salted salmon in the sand above the tide line. This would ferment the fish, preserving it for later use. In fact, “gravlax” is a blend of two Swedish words; “grav” meaning “buried” and “lax”, meaning salmon. The process has evolved to what we have today, a method which uses salt and sugar to cure the fish (but not ferment it) and adds pepper, dill, and sometimes alcohol to enhance the flavor.
Traditionally, fresh dill is added to the fish at the beginning of the curing process, and often an alcohol such as aquavit (a Scandinavian alcohol infused with caraway, lemon, fennel and aniseed), gin, or vodka are added to help with the cure and add flavor. But the possibilities for variation on the recipe are endless. Besides dill, juniper berries, caraway seeds and fennel seeds can be used. Other options include using brown sugar instead of white and different types of pepper (red, white, pink, etc.). If you’d like to experiment with different types of fish you can just make sure it’s a high fat fish like black cod or big eye tuna.
For issues of food safely, use sushi-grade salmon (which has been previously frozen) or freeze the salmon filets for several days prior to curing or after curing.
The Scandinavian way of serving gravlax once cured is to slice the fish paper thin, on an angle , and serve it as an appetizer or open faced sandwich with a sweet mustard sauce called (hovmästarsås or gravlaxsås) on pumpernickel or rye breads or on thin crackers. Other serving options included boiled potatoes, a cream sauce, and capers.