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Gravlax. It’s not the name of a medicine for intestinal health. Or a superhero. It is something fishy… but incredibly delicious. A cured salmon delicately infused with dill, it’s a traditional Nordic dish also called gravad lax, that was already a staple of the fishermen’s diet in the Middle Ages.
This cured salmon recipe is very simple, requires just five ingredients, and a little patience. Two to three days of patience.
The salmon curing process
The curing mix is a simple mixture of salt, sugar and pepper that is placed all around the fish, both skin and flesh side. A sprinkle of fresh dill goes on top, and everything gets wrapped in plastic. With a weight on top to lightly compress the fish, the salmon gets to rest in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days. You can flip the fish once or twice a day if you’d like to ensure it’s curing evenly, but you can also forget it and it’s fine too…
What’s the chemistry behind this magic process?
As the salt and sugar dissolve, they draw water out of microbial cells that cause food to spoil, killing them or slowing their growth. The fish loses moisture, and the resulting brine gets flavored with the herbs (dill). The plastic keeps the juices contained, so they can continue to cure the fish and infuse it with flavor for as long as you let it marinate. The loss of moisture and the flavor infusion result in a concentrated and enhanced “umami” taste.
How to eat gravlax
Once the fish feels firm to the touch, it’s ready. Depending on the thickness of your fish, 2 days is usually good enough, but I generally leave mine alone for 3 days.
In order to minimize the sodium in the final product, I recommend to rinse it under cold water then pat dry thoroughly.
To serve, place on a board skin side down. Cut into thin slices at an angle, turning the knife slightly to cut away from the skin as you go and leaving the skin. Only slice what you want to eat in a sitting, and wrap any remaining fish up to enjoy at a later date.
Traditionally, gravlax is served as an appetizer, as part of a smorgasbord. Accompaniments are typically a tangy mustard dill sauce (see our recipe) and rye bread or crackers. You can also use it anywhere you would use smoked salmon, on a bagel, blinis, or as the protein of your main course with a green salad or a potato salad.
How to store
Once rinsed and pat dried, cured salmon should keep about one week in your refrigerator, wrapped well in plastic.
It can keep in your freezer for 2 to 3 months. Just thaw it in your refrigerator 24 hours before eating.
Is it safe to eat cured salmon
Yes, it safe. However, it should be prepared from frozen. Salt curing is insufficient for killing pathogens, unless cured for weeks. The FDA recommends freezing at -20˚C / -4˚F for 7 days, as well as being very careful to prevent cross-contamination during preparation. It’s worth noting that freezing does not kill all pathogens either, but it does greatly reduce risk.
At-risk persons should not eat cured salmon (pregnant women, young children, or persons with weakened immune systems).
But if you are not at risk, you will enjoy this cured salmon recipe!
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Gravlax (cured salmon)
- Mix salt, sugar and pepper together in a bowl.
- Place 2 sheets of plastic wrap in a cross on a board. Sprinkle about 1/3 of the salt mix in the center. Add the fish on top and sprinkle the rest of the mix.
- Top with the dill, and wrap carefully with several layers of plastic to make the package as tight as possible.
- Place in a shallow dish to collect any leaking juices (it will leak no matter how tight you wrapped it, not to worry, it's normal!), and top with a board or a smaller dish weighted down by a heavy can.
- Refrigerate the salmon for 3 days, turning it every 12 hours.
- When ready to eat, remove the dill and rinse the salmon under cold water to remove any pieces of salt mix. Pat dry thoroughly.
- Lay salmon flat on a cutting board, skin side down. With a long thin slicing knife, slice the salmon at about a 30 degree angle (or lower if you can) into thin slices, leaving the skin.
- Serve with some fresh chopped dill, and a honey mustard dill sauce