Thursday, May 10, 2007


After yesterday's post, I thought I should post something appetizing for a change. Here is the recipe for gravlax that I made for our little Boston food bloggers' potluck last weekend. The theme for this dinner was "spring," and for some reason that meant gravlax to me. Could it be because the cured salmon goes beautifully with radish spread?

Serves 8-12 as an appetizer

2 identical center cut salmon fillets with the skin (2 Lb total)
1 Tbsp black pepper corns
1/4 cup kosher salt or finely ground sea salt
2 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp cognac, whiskey, or some other booze (optional)
1/4 cup coarsely chopped dill
  1. Remove any pin bones from salmon with needle nose pliers or tweezers.
  2. Put pepper corns into a small ziploc bag and crush by rolling them with a wine bottle or pressing on them with a heavy skillet.
  3. In a small bowl, combine salt, sugar, and crushed pepper corns.
  4. Rub both sides of salmon fillets heavily with about half of the salt and sugar mixture. Sprinkle the remaining salt and sugar onto the flesh side of fillets. Sprinkle with cognac. Spread dill evenly over one fillet. Place the second fillet on top of the first one so that the flesh side of fillets is together, and the skin is outside. You should end up with a salmon dill sandwich. Place it in a large freezer ziploc bag. Get as much air out as possible, and lock the bag.
  5. Put the bag with salmon in a pyrex or other shallow baking dish, place a cutting board, and then a heavy weight (5-8 Lb) on top of salmon. I use an old brick wrapped in foil or a cast iron pan.
  6. Refrigerate for 2 days turning the bag with salmon over onto the other side every 12 hours.
  7. After 2 days, get the salmon out of the bag, scrape off some of the dill and pepper corns, and dry fillets with paper towels. Once cured, the salmon will stay in the fridge for a week tightly wrapped in plastic. Can also be frozen for a few months. Defrost in the fridge for 24 hours before serving. To serve, slice very thinly at a 45 degree angle scraping each slice off the skin.
Serving suggestions:
  • Breads: baguette, pumpernickel, or bagels
  • Spreads: unsalted butter or radish spread
  • Toppings: Cucumbers and/or avocado
  • Herbs: dill, tarragon, and/or chives
  • Fun thing to do with leftovers: Gravlax mango spring rolls
  • Fun things to do with the skin: Fishy bacon


SB said...

Hello Helen,

What a coincidence! I started my Gravlax Thursday evening and can’t wait to see how it comes out.

It’s interesting to note that you use twice as much salt as you do sugar. I used equal parts after reading somewhere that otherwise it comes out too salty. This being my first time, I didn’t want to take any chances. I did goof-up though. I drained the liquid that had steeped out from the plastic wrap. I suspect I should have just left it in there. Oh well!

Also, to weight the salmon down equally on all ends, I layered two produce bags – one inside the other and filled it with water. This, I set on top of the Salmon.

Can you suggest any particular type of Salmon? I ended up using Sockeye because it was on sale at Whole Foods. I suspect a fattier Salmon would yield a more buttery texture.

You have a great recipe collection here. I have tried a few and they have come out lovely!


Helen said...

Hi SB,

How did your gravlax turn out? Here are the answers to the issues you bring up.

I used to use traditional half salt, half sugar proportions, but I find that the taste is too sugary for me. You can try it and adjust to your own taste. You do need a certain amount of salt per pound of fish or it just won't cure, but the sugar is something you can play with.

In the future, don't pour out any liquid until the salmon is cured (2 days). That's the brine that does the magic of curing.

As far as the weighing down goes -- you can use pretty much anything. As long as it's heavy enough to flattens out the salmon.

My favorite type of salmon to use for this is farm-raised Atlantic. It's fatty enough to make it taste good, affordable and always available. I am not a fan of Coho or Sockeye. They are too lean for my taste, but I've never tried making gravlax with them -- it might be a better use of them than traditional cooking methods.

Happy cooking!


sb said...

Hi Helen,

Thanks for the information.

I think it came out O.K. It has a dense, stick to your teeth – al dente texture to it. The texture reminds me of a dried cured Mango snack that I used to have. I don’t think it stands well by itself but would go well with something acidic like a tart wine, dash of lemon juice or capers to open-up the flavors a bit.

It also had a long after-taste and a bit too salty for my tastes.

I had used:
2 Tbsp of kosher salt
2 Tbsp of sugar
Healthy layer of crushed black pepper corns
Buch of dill
For a 1 Lbs of Salmon.

I think all this might have been because I left it to cure for four days. I should have stopped the curing Saturday evening but didn’t get around to it till Monday evening.


y.salem said...

Personally, I do not understand all this hullabaloo about using kosher salt. I never see or taste even a slight difference, much less a significant one, and it costs a lot more. I think that it is a major marketing scheme that lures us into paying much more for a salt that from my experience does absolutely nothing more or better that good ol' sea salt. In fact, I always buy bulk sea salt at Whole Foods or other stores and it is far less expensive and always does a great job for me and for everyone else that I recommended it to.
Y. Salem

Helen said...

Hi y.salem,

I am not sure what kosher salt you use, but Diamond Crystal Kosher salt that I use costs something like a dollar a pound. It's the standard salt in the restaurant industry in US and it works great for any application (including gravlax). I doubt that any salt (bulk or not) at Whole Foods costs less.


Julia said...

why do you have to weigh down the salmon?

Helen said...

I am not sure if weighing it down is really necessary, but that's how this dish is traditionally done. I don't cure enough things to mess with tradition :) Potentially, the weighing down is necessary to help keep salmon submerged in the brine?


fernie said...

I bought salmon sides and discovered the skin had been removed when I got home. Every recipe for gravlax specifically calls for skin on salmon. Is skin crucial to the curing process?

Helen said...

i don't think skin is crucial to the curing proses, but it protects salmon on one side from the brine a little. Without it, I am afraid it will be super salty. I would cook the salmon you've got and get a different one with skin for gravlax.

fernie said...

is it okay to make gravlax with skinless salmon fillet.

Helen said...

"ok" is a relative term :)

I've never tried it with a skinless fillet. You won't make anyone sick (if that's what you are asking). If anything, you salmon will be more cured since the brine will have more surface area for easy penetration. But I wouldn't be surprised if the results would be too salty. there is no harm in trying though.

dan said...

Hi Helen,

The big question thats stoped me ever trying this is do i need to use sashimi grade fish to do this? Or is normal "fresh" or even frozen fillets fine. Im just conserned about food poisoning and the chances of botulism

Helen said...

Hi Dan,

The salmon needs to be fresh, but it doesn't need the "sushi grade" designation (which doesn't mean much in US anyway). Smell it -- it should smell like absolutely nothing and should be glistening in appearance. I wouldn't use salmon from a regular supermarket. But salmon from a reputable fish monger or Whole Foods should be fine. When in doubt, talk to your fish monger and see what they say.


Anonymous said...

1) Ratios and amounts of salt and sugar vary enormously with different recipes. Common ratios are sugar:salt 2:1 and 1:1.
2) Any frozen salmon is okay, cause the freezing kills the potential parasites. With fresh or never-frozen, you take a risk.

Anna Kuzminsky said...

I am Swedish and a traditionalist when it comes to gravlax
Do: use 3 tbs sugar, 6 tbs kosher coarse salt, (equal parts is too sweet) 2 tbs crunched white pepper corn and lots of dill (including the stems).
Norwegian/Atlantic salmon, with the tail 1/3 end cut off (save for grilling) about 1 kg (2 1/4 lb)
Leave in fridge about 24 for sushi style and 30-36 for "not so sushi style" and turn 5-6 times.
Do Not: add any alcohol nor put weights on the salmon - it makes the gravlax dense and chewy.
And remember - the fresher and higher quality lax, the better and simpler the gravlax!