So I can say…
Usually I cook something for a reason. Because I have the ingredients, or it looks filling, or delicious, or fills a gap in my dinner plan. Sometimes though I’ll see something and decide to make it for no other reason than I can (probably. Provided it’s not too complex.) Homemade anything tastes better, even if it looks horrible. And if I want to cure my own salmon, well dammit, I will.
Needless to say there is no definitive volume on making gravadlax (or gravlax as it’s spelled/pronounced in the UK). There is debate on the type of fish, quantity of salt, whether to add sugar or other flavourings, how long to cure the fish for and whether it should be weighted. After spending far too long learning more than I ever wanted to know about curing fish, I settled on the following key facts.
1. Salmon, even wild salmon, contain parasites. Fact. These can only be killed, according to the USFDA, who tend to be far more arsey about these types of things than the UK health authorities, by freezing the fish to about -35 C for 24 hours, or a much warmer -10 C for seven days. As a result I chose to use wild Alaskan salmon fillets, since these had been frozen commercially for transport, and then defrosted, and thus any parasites in them would have been killed.
2. Atlantic salmon makes better gravadlax than Pacific salmon. Unfortunately, having already chosen Pacific salmon for reason 1, there wasn’t too much leeway in this. Apparently Pacific salmon gravadlax is generally a little saltier than Atlantic salmon, and not quite as silky in texture. I’m guessing this is because the Atlantic is, on the whole, a mite chillier than the Pacific so the Atlantic salmon have more fat. Either way, I need to use a smaller quantity of salt, to prevent the fish becoming overly salted.
3. While salting fish used to be a great way to preserve it, in the age of refrigeration this is no longer necessary. The curing therefore is only necessary to alter the taste and texture of the salmon, so excessive salting really isn’t required. Which is good on account of point 2.
4. Finally, there are a myriad variations on flavouring gravadlax. The only constant seems to be salt and dill. Nigella uses gin, to give a Nordic juniper berry taste with a hint of a kick. Some chefs use citrus zest to give it a tangy kick. And others use sugar to help along the cure without adding extra salt. I took a rough mean of all these ideas, using Mark Bittman’s recipe as a base, and came up with the below.
A final note on weighting; it is generally agreed that today weighting the fish is not necessary – another technique for preserving the fish for longer, weighting it helps remove even more liquid. I chose to use some light weight (a 200g block of cheddar if you must know) to help remove some excess water, since I didn’t use that much salt. I found the texture to be delightful, silky soft and a similar density to smoked salmon. However, weighting is not necessary for the cure to work, and can be omitted.
120g salmon fillet (3×8 inches surface area)
1 tablespoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon white sugar
6 juniper berries, crushed
100g dill, roughly chopped
To serve: freshly squeezed lemon juice, ground black pepper, finely chopped dill.
1. Lay the fish out on a board and gently probe it with your fingers to check for pinbones, especially down the centre of the fillet. If you find any, remove them with tweezers.
2. Mix together the salt, sugar and crushed juniper berries. Spread this all over the surface of the salmon (not the skin side you div, the pink side). Press it onto the edges as well.
3. Then top the salmon with the dill. There will be plenty so just pack it on. Put the salmon seasoned face down in a ziplock bag, seal it, and place the salmon face down in the fridge to cure for 24-36 hours. If you lay weights (eg a block of cheese) on top of the salmon make sure the weight is distributed evenly.
4. When you’re ready to eat the salmon, take off the dill and rinse it thoroughly under cold water for a couple of minutes. Slice very thinly diagonally and serve with lemon juice, cracked black pepper, and chopped dill.
The cured salmon will keep for a few days in the fridge; treat it like any other fresh meat.