Gravlax is a huge favorite of both mine and my husband. Honestly, I prefer to eat salmon like this or sashimi-style rather than cooked. The most common question I’ve heard about gravlax is how it is different from smoked salmon? Being a New Yorker (yes, even after living on the West coast all these years I still consider myself one), it’s important to keep track of your salmon options. Gravlax refers to the traditional Scandinavian preparation of cured salmon. Like the real lox that bagel eaters often enjoy, gravlax is unsmoked. It is typically cured with a mixture including sugar, salt, spices, and dill. (Lox is very similar, but with different spices.) Because gravlax and lox are never cooked or smoked, they have a silky texture and translucency. Smoked salmon is a generic term. It can be made from any part of the fish, and it starts with salt curing or brining. The salmon can be covered in spices or a dry rub after curing, then smoked in one of two ways: either (1) cold-smoked where the salmon does not get cooked and is very similar to lox, or (2) hot smoked where the salmon is smoked with heat the same way meat is.
During the Middle Ages, gravlax was made by fishermen who salted salmon and buried it in sand to cure. This explains the word “gravlax” itself, which is rooted in Scandinavian words “gräva” (which means “to dig“) and “lax” (which means “salmon“). A similar concept is employed today: to make gravlax, one buries the salmon in a dry rub of salt, sugar, and dill, and cures it for few days. During this time, the salmon cures by osmosis. The moisture is wicked out of the fish flesh and the dry rub turns into a concentrated brine.
Gravlax is typically served in Nordic countries thinly sliced as an appetizer. My family and I will be traveling to Sweden soon and I can not wait to try the delicious varieties that await us in Stockholm. In my family, we eat gravlax on a baguette or pumpernickel bread with a sweet-tangy honey mustard dill sauce that my husband grew up eating. Gravlax is not difficult to make, but it takes time and patience. I like to cure mine for 3 days to get the perfect sweet melt-in-your mouth flavor I love. This is a great appetizer to make for parties, especially because you do almost all of the work well in advance. Summer is the perfect time for tackling more involved cooking projects like this and if you are a big salmon fan like I am, you’ll be very glad you did.
- 1 (1 1/2-pound) skin-on piece of sushi-grade salmon filet, pin bones removed
- 1/2 tablespoon cracked black peppercorns
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup kosher salt
- 3 tablespoons vodka
- 2 bunches fresh dill
- Step 1 In a small bowl add the black peppercorns, sugar and salt, mix well. Set aside
- Step 2 Cut the salmon into two equal pieces. Place skin-side down in a shallow baking dish. Sprinkle the salmon with the vodka.
- Step 3 Rub a handful of the sugar-salt mixture onto each piece of salmon. Then lay the dill on top.
- Step 4 Carefully place one piece of salmon over the other piece so both flesh-sides are now touching.
- Step 5 Lay a large piece of plastic wrap down. Sprinkle a generous amount of the sugar-salt mixture in the middle of the plastic wrap. You want the mixture to be about the size of the salmon. Place the salmon bundle on top of the sugar-salt mixture. Place another generous handful of the sugar-salt mixture on top of the salmon skin. Tightly wrap the salmon bundle. Wrap again in a second plastic wrap layer.
- Step 6 Place the wrapped salmon bundle back in the baking dish. Place a second heavy baking dish (or some unopened cans) on top of the salmon to help compress it. Place in the refrigerator and allow to cure for 36 hours.
- Step 7 Check the salmon roughly every 12 hours (or twice during the curing process) and gently turn over for even curing.
- Step 8 After 36 hours, the gravlax can be thinly sliced on the bias and served as is or on bread with honey-mustard dill sauce.
Honey-Mustard Dill Sauce
- 3 tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons Extra Virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon fresh dill, finely chopped
- dash of black pepper
- Step 1 In a small bowl add the mustard, honey and vinegar. Slowly whisk in the olive oil.
- Step 2 Add the chopped dill and dash of black pepper. Mix well. Refrigerate until needed.