by Karen on Monday, June 27, 2011

Post image for Gravlax

Much of the food we eat today is derived from recipes that were developed before modern food preservation conveniences were available to us.  Human innovation created clever and coincidently delicious techniques to preserve meat during pre-refrigeration days.  Gravlax is a classic Scandinavian example of this concept (grav meaning “grave” and lax meaning “salmon”).  During the Middle Ages, fishermen were likely faced with the dilemma of large catches but little salt to preserve their bounty with.  As a solution they buried lightly salted fish underground on the beach and allowed it to lightly ferment.  The enzymes from the fermentation likely produced a buttery texture and the fish smelled like, well– rotting fish.  Think Epoisses cheese.

By the 18th century, the fermentation process was taken out of the equation (and with it the stench) and gravlax recipes called for salting and pressing the flesh, producing silky and translucent fish.  Today, standard recipes for curing salmon include salt, sugar and dill, which is likely a modern replacement for pine needles.  The fillets are kept compacted in the refrigerator for anywhere from 1-4 days, and with each day the flavor intensifies.

In this recipe, I allowed my salmon to sit for 2 days in the refrigerator.  The process is extremely simple and just needs some planning ahead.  It's delicious paired with dark bread and mustard or just sliced paper thin on its own.

– 1 3-pound salmon fillet with skin, preferably center cut
– 1/2 cup of kosher or sea salt
– 1/2 cup of sugar
– 1 bundle of dill (plus extra for garnish)
– 2 tbsps of whole white peppercorns
– 1 tbsp of fennel seeds
– pumpernickel bread (optional)

In a mortar and pestle (I've said it before and I'll say it again, it's a kitchen essential), lightly crush the white peppercorns and fennel seeds.  If you don't have one, place the spices in a ziplock bag and lightly crush them with a rolling pin or something equally heavy.  In a separate bowl, combine the spices with the salt and sugar.

Place the fillet of salmon on a sheet pan or large dish and pile the bundle of dill over the fillet.

Sprinkle the salt mixture over the salmon evenly.

Cover with aluminum foil or plastic wrap and place a cutting board or large plate over the salmon.  Put a couple of canned foods on top as a weight.  Check on the salmon occasionally and baste the top of the salmon with the liquid that collects at the bottom.

After two days scrape off the dill and salt and then slice the salmon thinly.

Spread a little mustard sauce on some pumpernickel bread and place a slice of gravlax on top.  Garnish with some fresh dill and enjoy!

Mustard Sauce:

– 1/4 cup of dijon mustard
– 2 tbsps of sugar
– 1 tbsp of white wine vinegar
– 1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil

Combine the mustard, sugar and vinegar in a bowl.  Whisk in the extra-virgin olive oil until blended.

(Recipe adapted from Barefoot Contessa Back to Basics)



Belinda @zomppa June 27, 2011 at 6:14 am

Nicely done! Perfect for that summer evening dinner party.

Karen June 29, 2011 at 9:47 pm

Yes, always a good thing if you don’t have to touch your stove in summer!

deana@lostpastremembered June 27, 2011 at 7:03 am

Doesn’t it just look gorgeous all on its own? Lovely hunk of salmon. I haven’t made gravlax in years… it is simple, isn’t it? And look what you get for so little efffort. Lovely pictures.

Karen June 29, 2011 at 9:46 pm

Thanks Deana 🙂

Nadia June 27, 2011 at 8:12 am

I’ve always wanted to make gravlax, but always feared it wouldn’t come out right. I know it’s simple enough, silly qualms I guess. This post is really pushing me to actually give it a try.

I always love your photos. 🙂

Karen June 29, 2011 at 9:47 pm

O I hope you do– its so simple! Thanks Nadia

Lan June 27, 2011 at 10:32 am

i thought the recipe looked familiar, i remember seeing the ina episode when she did this.

you make it look so very easy!

Erica June 27, 2011 at 11:35 am

looks gorgeous!!!

Sylvie @ Gourmande in the Kitchen June 28, 2011 at 4:37 am

It looks gorgeous in it’s “before” state with the salt and herbs on top.

Karriann Graf June 29, 2011 at 6:14 am

This gravlax looks divine! Thanks for sharing!

Sasha (Global Table Adventure) June 29, 2011 at 6:38 am

I had no idea it only takes 2 days. Amazing. Beautiful. Yummy.

Karen June 29, 2011 at 9:48 pm

Me neither until I made it– I love how easy and fast it is

Kulsum at JourneyKitchen June 29, 2011 at 10:43 am

I love your blog specially coz each time I learn something new and interesting! I certainly haven’t tried it before!

Karen June 29, 2011 at 9:48 pm

Thanks Kulsum– I learn something every time I do a new post 🙂

Aaron August 21, 2011 at 9:03 am

Looks awesome and easy to do. How long does it stay good for once it’s cured?

Karen August 21, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Thanks! The finished gravlax wrapped will keep for a few days in the refrigerator and longer in the freezer but that may dry it out some so best to avoid.

Robin November 20, 2011 at 4:11 am

The classic swedish condiment with gravlax would be Hovmästarsås. It consists of grainy mustard, dill, mayo, sugar/honey, white pepper and salt.

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