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21 Mar 2007

Gravlax—Dry Curing Fish

Gravlax (pronounced “grov-lox”) is taken from the Swedish name for this dish. Norwegians also call it Gravlax and the Danish refer to it as Gravad laks. It literally means “buried salmon” and the name refers to the traditional method of preparation for this food: fresh salmon was heavly salted and buried in dry sand to ferment and cure.

To make: For every pound of salmon filet cuts, prepare 2 tablespoons of kosher salt, 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 teaspoons ground black pepper, and a big handful of dill. Parasites, such as roundworms, can naturally reside in salmon regardless of if it was frozen or fresh.

For safety, use salmon that has been commercially frozen or freeze the salmon yourself to at least -10°F for at least 7 days. Alternatively, you can freeze the salmon after you have cured the fish, but make sure you reach those minimum conditions. Thaw the salmon completely before proceeding. Examine the salmon for bones by touch and remove. Place the salmon on a large piece of plastic wrap (about three to four times the length of the filet) with the skin side down. Put the salt, sugar, and black pepper into a bowl and mix until evenly distributed. Spoon the mixture onto the exposed salmon flesh, making sure to cover as much of the exposed areas as possible.

Place the dill on top of the salmon. If the dill is too long to fit on top of the filet, then snap off the stems or fold the dill over. It’s best not to chop up the dill. We’ll be removing the dill later, so having large pieces makes it easier to work with. How much dill should you layer on? They say the more dill the better.

Wrap the salmon tightly in the plastic wrap. Take a second sheet of plastic wrap and wrap again. Place the package in a baking dish or container. You won’t be baking this—the container is there to catch the juices that will inevitable flow from the package during the curing. Place in the refrigerator. Refrigerate the salmon for at least two to three days, but longer will intensify flavors. Remove the container from the refrigerator, open the package, remove the dill, and rinse in water. In short, just wash the Gravlax. If any pieces of salt or pepper are stuck to the flesh, just wipe it gently off. Dry with a paper towel.

Use a sharp knife to cut the Gravlax. (Filet knives, boning knives, and Japanese sashimi knives work well for this role.) Position the Gravlax so you will be cutting from the tail end (the small end) first. The Gravlax should be sliced thinly on the bias (at an angle). Each slice should be detached from the skin. The Gravlax can be served by itself, on top of toasted bread, crackers, or any other way you would serve a smoked salmon appetizer. A squeeze of lemon juice or a slice of lemon (especially Meyer lemon) can also be a welcome touch.

Appendix to the article “Kitchen Medicine & Magic” by Teresa Luedke in the Spring 2007 Issue of HEX magazine.

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