Gravlax Recipe

Gravlax, easier than you think. This amazing snack is healthy, flavorful and takes very few steps to make.

Most people love to entertain. For those that do, there are few things better than watching friends and loved ones enjoy our food. Of course, a party that offers things people don’t normally eat on a regular basis is even more enjoyable. During the warmer months, we enjoy hosting parties. Any excuse to eat good food with others is worth doing well. Brunch, for example, is a great way to offer something for everyone. From soup to French toast to omelets to raw bars and cured meats. Let us not forget the bloody Marys and mimosas!

The one thing that stands out for me during these events is the cured salmon platter. Gravlax, with its accompaniments of finely diced red onion and hard-boiled egg, capers and maybe even a little dollop of creme fraiche all smeared with cream cheese on a warmed bagel. There are few things like it. But making gravlax from scratch seems impossible, right? It would seem to be necessary to hit the specialty store and grab a side of this stuff. Luckily, this is not so. You can make your own very easily and have the added bonus of really impressing your guests.

Gravlax, which the literal Swedish translation is “Graved” which means “buried” and “Lax” or which means “Salmon. Back in the days before refrigeration, the salmon was buried in the ground wrapped in cedar bark or pine needles and allowed to ferment. This helped get them through the long winter months and preserve their abundant catch until they needed it.

Of course, today it is not necessary for us to bury our salmon in the ground. Instead, we “bury” the salmon in a mixture of salt, sugar and seasonings. In a couple days we will have the perfect accompaniment for our bagel and a prideful smile.

This recipe is a result of loads of testing, tweaking and, of course, tasting. A couple things that make this gravlax recipe stand out from other recipes out there are two things; a soak in salty buttermilk and a nice splash of cognac before the curing process begins. The buttermilk soak offers a buttery finished product and removes any fishy taste that most people don’t care for. The cognac splash adds a nice accent on the palate. It’s a nice level of acid that leaves a lasting taste on the tongue.

Gravlax Recipe

Course Main Course
Cuisine Swiss
Prep Time 1 hour
Cook Time 20 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 20 minutes
Servings 4

Ingredients

For the brine

  • 2 lb center-cut salmon fillet Atlantic Wild Caught preferred
  • 2 C buttermilk
  • 2 T kosher salt

For the dry cure:

  • 2 C fennel fronds roughly chopped
  • 1 T dried dill
  • 1 T dried tarragon
  • 1 t ground white pepper
  • 1 t crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • ¾ cup light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup cognac more or less to taste

Instructions

  1. Combine the buttermilk and salt in a non-reactive bowl. Be sure the fish is covered in the liquid. Soak it for 20-30 minutes.

  2. Remove the salmon from the buttermilk brine, carefully rinse in cold water and gently pat it dry with some paper towels. 

  3. Mix together the salt, sugar, dried herbs, spices and freshly chopped fennel fronds. Set aside.

  4. Place a piece of cheesecloth large enough to wrap the salmon in the bottom of a glass baking pan (Any non-reactive pan will do). Pour half of the curing mix onto the middle of the cheesecloth and spread it evenly. You should have about half an inch of cure or so.

  5. Place the salmon on top of the cure mix, sprinkle the remaining cure mix on top of the fillet ensuring that it is covered completely. 

  6. Carefully wrap the salmon with the cheesecloth creating a sort of pouch; flesh side up.

  7. Splash on the cognac over the flesh side of the salmon. 

  8. Place a piece of plastic cling film on top of the moistened cheesecloth and place a plate or shallow dish on top with a can inside for weight. 

  9. Place the salmon in the refrigerator, flipping it over every 12 hours, replacing the plastic cling film back on the top, replacing the weighted plate. Do this for at least two days.

  10. Unwrap the now cured salmon from the cheesecloth. Carefully brush away the cure mix with a paper towel.

  11. Slice thinly against the grain on a bias and serve. Suggestions are in your favorite warmed bagel smeared with cream cheese, sprinkled with capers, red onion and fresh dill. 

Step 1 – Soaking the Salmon

Combine the buttermilk and salt in a non-reactive bowl. Be sure the fish is covered in the liquid. Soak it for 20-30 minutes. Much longer than that and the salmon will become tough and dry. The brine will take away the fishiness that most people do not like. It will also give the gravlax a nice, buttery finish and mouthfeel. You can use regular milk, but the buttermilk offers a nice umami flavor.

Step 2 – Gently rinse and pat dry

Remove the salmon from the buttermilk brine, carefully rinse in cold water and gently pat it dry with some paper towels. Be gentle as we do not want to damage the fish.

Step 3 – Make the dry seasoned cure

Mix together the salt, sugar, dried herbs, spices and freshly chopped fennel fronds. Set aside.

Step 4 – Line up the cheesecloth

Place a piece of cheesecloth large enough to wrap the salmon in the bottom of a glass baking pan (Any non-reactive pan will do). Pour half of the curing mix onto the middle of the cheesecloth and spread it evenly. You should have about half an inch of cure or so.

Step 5 – Place the salmon on the dry cure mix and add the remaining cure

Place the salmon on top of the cure mix, sprinkle the remaining cure mix on top of the fillet ensuring that the it is covered completely.

Step 6 – Wrap the cure mix and salmon filet in the cheesecloth

Now that you have the salmon completely covered in the cure mix, carefully wrap the salmon with the cheesecloth. The easiest way to do that is to overlap the bottom and top of the cloth over the fish then tuck the ends under each end. Be sure you keep the flesh side up. You should have a little package that looks like this:

Step 7 – Splash on a little cognac

Carefully splash on the cognac over the flesh side of the salmon. You only need enough to moisten the salt. You can use more or less based on your liking. We don’t want the fish to taste like booze but the cognac definitely adds a nice finish. Feel free to omit this step altogether if you wish.

Step 8 – Top with plastic film and add some weight

Place a piece of plastic cling film on top of the moistened cheesecloth and place a plate or shallow dish on top with a can inside. This will place a little weight on it so that the cure will do its job a little more evenly and efficiently. This step also makes the finish product a little easier to slice.

Step 9 – Refrigerate, wait, flip, wait

Find a shelf in your refrigerator where the salmon will not be disturbed too much. Flip it over every 12 hours, replacing the plastic cling film back on the top, replacing the weighted plate. Do this for at least two days. If the fillet is really thick (like more than 2 inches), this may take up to three days.

Step 10 – Wipe off the brine, but do not rinse!

Unwrap the now cured salmon from the cheesecloth. Carefully brush away the cure mix with a paper towel. You do not want to rinse this off as it will remove some great flavor. Wipe off as much as you can.

Step 11 – Slice and serve

 

With the sharpest knife possible, slice the salmon against the grain on a bias. This will ensure a nice, tender eating experience. Also, when slicing at an angle, it is easier to cut it away from the skin. Serve on a warm bagel with a smear of cream cheese, minced red onions or shallot, capers and fresh dill.

This recipe can be changed up a bit to fit your tastes and culinary expertise. For example, you could change the dried herbs to fresh herbs for a brighter flavor. Instead of white sugar, you could use brown sugar. You could use different alcohol or no alcohol at all. As long as you keep the salt/ sugar ratio to about 50/50, you can change up the seasoning to whatever you’d like.

This recipe is great for brunch on Sundays with friends or as a breakfast accompaniment to eggs. Of course, as was mentioned, this gravlax is amazing on bagels but try it on brioche crostini that have been lightly toasted and brushed with butter. There are so many great uses for this recipe that you may never get bored of it. This is also a great for special occasions like holidays and bar/ bat mitzvahs.

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