The last few months, I’ve been perfecting my recipe for gravlax, that tasty, cool, marinated salmon half that is buttery-rich on the tongue. Hub is Swedish, which means that over the years, I’ve consumed a lot of salmon (Sweden is a pristine land of fish, butter and aquavit). Until I knew better, I thought some of the product you can buy in the stores were fine, but once I got up the courage to start curing my own, I was shocked at how tasty it can be.
I’ve tried wild salmon and farmed salmon as a base and to my unsophisticated taste buds, can’t tell the difference. Skin on, skin off. No difference. So I buy a slab of salmon (farmed, I know, maybe not good for the ocean ecosystem, I know) from Costco, trim the thin pointy end (it’s good grilled for supper), rinse the fish, blot it on paper towels and leave to air-dry while I assemble the cure mixture.
Buy (or cut from your garden) a large bunch of fresh dill. Dill seeds won’t work – you need the fresh stuff, clipped with your kitchen shears into 1/4 to 1/2 inch lengths. The dill from our garden has already started to blossom, so I threw those in as well. Equal parts of kosher salt and white sugar – about 2/3 cup of each. Add a few tablespoons of brown sugar, for a more complex sweetness. Toast about a tablespoon each of white peppercorns and black peppercorns and a teaspoon of coriander seeds in a heavy frying pan until they start to pop. Turn off the heat and let them sit for a while fuming under a lid, then grind/pound into a mixture of fine and coarse bits. The fragrance is intoxicating! Toss into the bowl of mixed sugar and salt and blend well.
Spread two long sheets of clear wrap on the counter, overlapping the edges. If it looks like you’ve made too much cure, then you don’t have to use it all – it will keep in a lidded jar until the next time you need it. Make sure you label it so folks don’t mistakenly add it to their coffee.
Sprinkle a thick layer of the cure mixture over the wrap then scatter on lots of the chopped dill. Lay the salmon on the bed of cure/dill and sprinkle the rest of the cure/dill on top, making sure the edges will be coated. Wrap tightly and insert into a large zipper bag. Place on the bottom shelf of the fridge. You can put a weight on top or not – again, I don’t notice any difference either way. Flip the bag over once a day for 3-5 days. When the gravlax has cured sufficiently, the texture will be firm instead of raw-flabby. Peel off the messy wrappings and, if you like, remove some of the coating, if you like a less-green product. But remember, that’s where the intense flavour comes from! Then it’s ready to slice thinly on the diagonal and serve on a slice of fresh dark rye with a skim of butter. You can create pretty open-faced sandwiches with sliced boiled egg, red onions or whatever strikes your fancy. Layer the ingredients on Swedish crispbread. If you like the mustardy gravlax sauce (Ikea’s is not bad), add a dollop of that. It’s easy to make from scratch, too.
Gravlax can be frozen, unsliced, then thawed in the fridge overnight. There’ll be no change in texture. Use immediately. It’s okay to ooooh and ahhhh and smack your lips. It’s that good. And your guests will think you’re a genius. Which you are. It’s that simple – and that good.