Every Christmas season I make a batch of salmon gravlax. Cured but not smoked, the Nordic specialty is easy to make, but requires patience: rub a cure mix of salt, sugar and seasonings over the salmon, then wait three days for it to be ready. For years I’ve used a recipe that called for 2 parts salt to 1 part sugar but I discovered that using more sugar than salt in the cure gives the salmon an improved supple, silky texture without making it too sweet.
Make sure the salmon you use is super-fresh: it shouldn’t have a mushy texture or an overly strong smell. Most of the salmon we have on the East Coast is farmed and I’m leery of the environmental problems related to most Atlantic salmon, so I always look for wild King or Coho salmon from Alaska or responsibly farmed salmon. A website I like to help me make smart seafood choices is seafoodwatch.org. They also have a great free app that’s regularly updated with smart fish choices.
I usually eat my gravlax with mustard and Swedish crisp bread, but it’s equally delicious in a salad or on a bagel instead of lox.
Makes 6 to 8 appetizer servings
1-1/4 pounds salmon fillet, skin on, pin bones removed
4 tablespoons kosher salt
6 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon whole white peppercorns
2 tablespoons fennel tops or fresh dill, coarsely chopped
- 1. Take a sheet tray or large plate and line with a large sheet of plastic wrap. Place the salmon fillet skin-side down in the center of the tray. Make sure there is enough extra plastic to wrap over the salmon later.
- 2. Lightly crush the white peppercorns. This can be done with a mortar and pestle or by placing the peppercorns on a cutting board and firmly pressing on them with a heavy pot or sauté pan. Combine the crushed peppercorns, salt, sugar and fennel in a small bowl.
- Pour the cure mixture over the salmon. Spread the cure evenly, making sure the fish is completely covered.
- Pull the extra plastic wrap tightly over the salmon. Refrigerate overnight.
- After 24 hours unwrap the salmon. At this point there will be a lot of liquid. Flip the salmon over and spoon this liquid over the salmon. Rewrap the fish and return it to the refrigerator for 1-2 days. I usually like to let the fish sit for 3 days to insure that the cure has penetrated completely, but if your fillet is thin it may be ready after two.
- After 3 days, unwrap the salmon. Wipe off any excess cure with a paper towel or if you prefer to remove all excess bits of herbs and peppercorns, briefly rinse under cold water and pat dry. The salmon will keep in the refrigerator for 4-5 days. When ready to serve, cut thin slices at a 45° angle.