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, “Youmadethis?”
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.
How to make Gravlax (Grav-lax, Gravad lax, Gravad Laks) at home.
2 ½ -3poundswild salmon filetskin on*
2tablespoonscracked black pepper
1ounceginor aquavit, vodka or pernod, optional
Sweet Mustard Sauce
1 ½tablespoonsred wine vinegar
½teaspoonground white pepper
1loaf of pumpernickel or rye breadsliced
Yields about 2 pounds of gravlax
*Choose two salmon filets of equal size totaling up to 3 pounds or one large filet which can be cut in half. For issues of food safety, it’s recommended to use sushi-grade salmon (which has been previously frozen) or freeze the salmon filets for at least 72 hours prior to curing.
Pat the salmon dry with a paper towel.
Combine the salt, sugar and black pepper in a bowl.
Lay the two pieces of salmon skin side down and sprinkle the skinless sides with the alcohol. Divide the salt mixture equally between the two sides and rub into the flesh sides of each.
Cover one filet with the fresh dill and then place the other fillet on top, skin side out. Wrap the salmon tightly in plastic wrap. Place the salmon in a baking dish. Place something flat on top of the salmon and then weigh it down with a brick or heavy cans (a couple of pounds should be enough).
Put the wrapped and weighted salmon in the refrigerator for at least 48 hours. Flip the salmon over every 12 hours and pour off any excess liquid from the pan. When the fish is done, it will have become denser and firmer to the touch.
To make the sweet mustard sauce, whisk all ingredients together in a medium sized bowl.
To serve the salmon, remove it from the pan and wipe off any remaining salt mixture and dill. You can rinse lightly under cold water if desired. Place the grav-lax skin-side down on a cutting board and slice thinly, at an angle, off the skin (do not include the skin with the slice of fish). You can also remove the skin prior to slicing.
Serve with sweet mustard dill sauce and pumpernickel or rye bread.