Previous installments of the worldwide online cooking event have focused on soup, tartines, cake, and rice. For the previous "blog burnings," I've had a tendency to try my hand at creating something that I had never made before. True to form, I decided to make gravlax, the Scandinavian cured salmon, for the very first time.
Gravlax, also known as gravad lax or gravlaks (in Danish and Norwegian), means buried fish. The original method of preparation, as detailed in The Oxford Companion to Food, involved burying fish (most often salmon, as well as herring and shark) in the ground, covering it with birch bark and stones, and allowing it to ferment for as little as four days to as long as several months. The longer the burial, the longer it could be preserved, but also the smellier the final product.
Modern gravlax differs in two important ways. First, the process -- foreshortened to less than two days -- takes place entirely above ground. Second, the end result is not only odor-free, but has an exceedingly clean taste that connotes freshness.
To make the gravlax, I used a recipe from The Minimalist Cooks at Home by Mark Bittman of the New York Times. The recipe (printed at bottom) is a study in simplicity -- salt, sugar, herbs, and salmon. For a citrus-cured variation, add the zest of lemon, lime, orange, and grapefruit.
I went with the basic recipe. I began by taking a two and a half pound fillet of salmon and covering it in a mixture of salt, sugar, and dill. Once I had completely covered every inch of the fillet with the cure, I wrapped the salmon in several layers of plastic and stored it in the refrigerator for approximately 36 hours (a longer cure will produce a stronger flavor and a drier texture). As the cure works on the salmon, the salt causes water to be exuded from the fish. When I removed the gravlax from the refrigerator and unwrapped it, the pile of white salt and sugar had dissolved into the liquid released by the salmon, leaving behind a wet covering of chopped dill.
The final step in the process was to rinse off all of the dill and liquid under running water. The gravlax was done. The curing process caused the fish to stiffen up a bit. Its color also changed to a vibrant reddish hue. I cut off a thin slice and tasted the gravlax, which had an incredibly buttery, melt-in-your-mouth texture.
Gravlax is excellent served simply sliced thin with a squeeze of lemon. To embellish, however, I made blini (using this recipe) and served the cured salmon atop the warm little buckwheat pancakes with a dollop of cool creme fraiche -- a wonderful combination of textures, temperatures, and flavors.
by Mark Bittman
from The Minimalist Cooks at Home
1 cup salt
2 cups sugar
1 bunch dill, stems and all, chopped
One 2- to 3-pound fillet of salmon, pin bones removed
1. Mix together the salt, sugar, and dill. Place the salmon, skin side down, on a large sheet of plastic wrap. Cover the flesh side of the salmon with the salt mixture, making sure to coat it completely (there will be lots of salt mix; just pile it in there).
2. Wrap the fish well. If the air temperature is below 70 degrees and it is not too inconvenient, let it rest outside the refrigerator for about 6 hours, then refrigerate for 18 to 24 hours more. Otherwise, refrigerate immediately for about 36 hours.
3. Unwrap the salmon and rinse off the cure. Dry, then slice on the bias. Serve with lemon wedges, creme fraiche, sour cream or a light vinaigrette.
Recipe reprinted with permission from the author.