Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Gravlax Is Easy To Make, and Will Impress Your Guests

Salt, sugar, white peppercorns, and dill are all that’s needed to make the divine Scandinavian cured salmon dish known as gravlax.

When I was in my twenties, I lived with a woman named Erika Worm (it’s pronounced vorm) who showed me the way around a professional kitchen. We lived in her family’s big house on a lake, and Erika cooked as if she were made for the task. As a result of her mom’s catering spell, not only was she blessed with the skills to rival a Top Chef, we had the run of a two-Viking-range kitchen with all the bells and whistles. I would watch her make dish after dish, probing her with questions about temperature, taste, and plating. Later in life, when I was the master of my own kitchen (read nonprofessional), I would try to replicate her dishes. One dish that stood out — one that did not even involve any cooking — was her recipe for gravlax.

Gravlax, slices of salt and sugar–cured salmon that have lightly soaked up the essence of fresh dill, is actually quite easy to make, and I remembered this distinctly. I think Erika called it a no-brainer that looks really impressive on the buffet table. All one needs to do is obtain a fresh piece of salmon, preferably one with the skin still on, and with a close-to-uniform thickness (the center cut works best), rub it with the cure, cover it with fresh dill, and let it sit for a day. How’s that for a no-brainer? I can already hear the wheels spinning in your head. You’re asking yourself where you can buy the freshest piece of salmon because you want to make this for your New Year’s Day brunch.

After you blanket the salmon with the salt and sugar cure, cover it with bunches of fresh dill.

Slicing the gravlax once it’s cured is really the only tricky part. Just make sure you have a thin-bladed and extremely sharp knife at the ready. Have some chilled champagne ready, as you will want to serve your beautiful creation with some bubbly. We recently enjoyed some gravalax with a passion fruit bellini made with thawed passion fruit (maracuja in Portuguese or lilikoi in Hawaiian) puree we always get from a Brazilian shop on 46th Street in Manhattan called Buzios. It also comes in a bottle. You can probably get it at a specialty market that stocks ethnic foods, but if not, you may have to ask your grocer to stock it.

Gravlax with Mustard Dill Sauce
(inspired by recipes by Erika Worm, Marcus Samuelsson, and Ina Garten)



1 1/2 – 2 pounds salmon fillet (skin on, thick center cut)
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups salt
2 tablespoons white peppercorns, coarsely ground (use less if you only have black peppercorns)
2 bunches fresh dill (reserve a handful for the sauce)
optional ground spices (such as cumin, caraway, coriander, aniseed, dill seed, juniper berries), in any combination and amount (this is not necessary, and is only suggested if you like to experiment)

In a bowl, mix the sugar, salt, and peppercorns (and any other spices if you are using them). Place the salmon in a glass dish and remove any pin bones. You can locate them by running your fingers over the flesh where the natural separation occurs. Remove with your fingers or a pair of clean bottlenose pliers. Scoop up some of the mixture with your hand and rub all over the salmon, skin included. Place the salmon in a glass dish, and cover with the remainder of the mixture. Then, cover the salmon with the dill so that you don’s see any of the salmon. Press down gently. Let stand at room temperature for 5 hours, 6 maximum. Cover, and refrigerate for about 24–48 hours, the thicker the salmon, the longer the curing time.

Remove the gravlax from the dish (it will be swimming in all the liquid the salt cure has leached from it, and it should smell slightly metallic and briny underneath the dill). Discard the dill, and quickly rinse the gravlax under cold water until the mixture has been washed away. Do not saturate the gravlax. Place the gravlax on a cutting board and with a sharp knife cut thin slices across the grain.

Serve with mustard dill sauce and slices of bagel, or brown bread, or crisp rye bread. Sides of capers, sliced red onion, and lettuce leaves will be appreciated as well. Best eaten within 4 days.

Mustard Dill Sauce (aka hovmästarsås or gravlaxsås)


1 tablespoon honey mustard
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons sugar
3/4 cup oil, such as grapeseed or other neutral-tasting oil
salt and white pepper, to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill

In a bowl, or preferably a standing mixer, add all the ingredients except the oil. While mixing vigorously or with the mixer on high, slowly drizzle the oil in steadily. Mix until it thickens.

Passion Fruit Bellini

1/2 tablespoon passion fruit puree
1/2 teaspoon simple syrup*
3–4 ounces champagne, prosecco, or any sparkling wine

In a champagne flute, add the passion fruit puree and the simple syrup. Top with chilled champagne.

* In a sauce pan over low heat, dissolve 1 cup sugar in 1 cup water, stirring occasionally until all crystals have dissolved. Let cool and transfer to a clean, airtight container. May be kept in refrigerator for up to a month.

Text by Paul Zablocki
Photos by Steve Schul and Paul Zablocki

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