Remember when I said I was having a Nordic moment in the kitchen, back in the beginning of June? Well, I guess that moment has turned into a full on obsession that led me to making my own gravlax. In case you missed it, check out my step-by-step gravlax tutorial on Food52. Gravlax is a Scandinavian technique for preserving raw salmon with salt, sugar, and other ingredients for flavor. In its simplest form, the cure is salt, sugar, and dill, but you can get creative with spices like juniper, fennel seeds, and caraway seeds, or layer on grated beets for their earthy flavor and magenta color. A few drops of Aquavit or other clear spirit (gin, schnapps) infuses the salmon with a clean, spiced flavor.
There’s no better time to make gravlax at home than summer, since wild Alaskan salmon is in season from May to September. I used two wild Sockeye fillets because it was within my budget (King was out of my price range), and I like the leaner, clean-tasting flesh with its intense red color. After the pin bones are removed from the flesh and the cure is sprinkled over, the salmon goes in the fridge for a couple of days to do it’s thing (cure). Another great part of making gravlax in the heat of summer is you get to stay cool- no oven, no stove, no grill, no heat!
Once the salmon has finished curing, it’s time to remove the skin and thinly slice the gravlax for serving. Gravlax made at home from fresh wild salmon is a very special thing. Not only does it taste exceptionally good (succulent, clean, herbal, spiced), but there is the added gratification of having done it yourself. This sentiment from Kitchen of Light, by Andreas Viestad, captures the heart behind the Scandinavian tradition of homemade gravlax so well:
“There is an intrinsic generosity to making gravlaks. In order to obtain the perfect result, you have to make at least two pounds or more of it, the ideal being to use two 3-pound fillets. That is more than a normal family of four would eat in a week or two, so in Scandinavia it is customary to invite guests to share it, or to give away some of it to friends and neighbors.”
I suggest serving homemade gravlax as part of a brunch or lunch spread with the traditional Scandinavian accompaniments: good rye bread and mustard sauce. You’ll be proud of your newfound skills in curing fish, and celebrate the accomplishment by sharing a meal with friends and family.
Recipe for Homemade Gravlax
Adapted from techniques I learned from Kitchen of Light, The New Scandinavian Cooking, by Andreas Viestad. If you’re interested in authentic Scandinavian cooking, this book is essential.
- Two 1-pound salmon fillets, skin on
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 ½ tablespoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
- 2 tablespoons aquavit (optional)
Prepare the salmon fillets by using tweezers to remove the pin bones. These small, thin, spiky bones can be felt by running your fingers along the top of the fish. Pinch the end of a pin bone with the tweezers, push down gently on the flesh with your other hand, and pull the pin bone straight out. You may find as many as 20 pin bones in each fish fillet, but don’t be daunted by the task, it only takes a few minutes.
Place the salmon fillets skin side down in a non-reactive container (ceramic or a baking sheet lined in plastic wrap) with high sides to keep any juices released during curing from spilling from the container.
Apply the cure. Stir together the salt and sugar, then rub the mixture evenly over each salmon fillet. Sprinkle the chopped dill over the salmon, and pour 1 tablespoon aquavit over each fillet.
Place one of the salmon fillets skin side up on top of the other fillet. The salmon fillets will be touching flesh to flesh, each with the skin on the outside. Cover the stacked salmon fillets with plastic wrap and place a heavy weight atop the fish. A plate or baking tray weighed down with bags of flour works well. Put the salmon in the refrigerator to cure for 2 to 3 days, turning the fish every twelve hours. The gravlax is finished curing when it feels firm to the touch at the thickest part of the fillet.
Once the salmon has cured, gently wipe the cure off the top of the fillets. Use a long, narrow, flexible, sharp knife to remove the skin from each fillet. With the salmon skin side down, grab the tail end, pinching it with your thumb and fingers. If the skin is slippery, use a paper towel to grip it. Use the knife to slice between the skin and flesh. Keep the knife at an angle, pointed down towards the skin, and use a rocking motion to slice under the length of the fillet and remove the skin. Take your time and be patient, as removing skin from a fish fillet is delicate work, a skill that gets better with practice. Once the skin is removed, flip the fillet over and trim off any pieces of skin still left on the fish. After the skin is removed from both fillets, store them in the fridge, well wrapped, where they will keep for at least a week.
To serve, slice the salmon as thinly as possible by using a sharp knife to shave off pieces, cutting towards the tail end. Wrap any unused salmon and return it to the fridge.
Traditionally, gravlax is served with mustard-dill sauce and rye bread. It’s also delicious tossed in with boiled potatoes and dressed with a lemon vinaigrette, or atop a bagel with cream cheese and chives.
For my step-by-step photographs, click on the Food52 icon below.