I know.. I know.. I said I didn’t like fish. What I wasn’t really clear on is that I didn’t like cooked fish. I actually learned to enjoy lox while I worked at (the now closed) Bagel Bite. And I do still enjoy lox once in a while but have never made it at home.
Although the terms “lox” and “gravlax” are used pretty much interchangeably, gravlax is not smoked, but instead is cured in salt. Since my second hand smoker is still convalescing until I can give it a little TLC, gravlax seemed like the better route to go.
The history of gravlax is actually kind of interesting since it was a way to preserve fish during the Middle Ages. Fisherman would salt and bury the fish where it would cure and slightly ferment. According to Wikipedia : “The word gravlax comes from the Scandinavian word grav, which literally means “grave” (in Swedish, Norwegian, Danish), and lax (or laks), which means “salmon”, thus gravlax means “buried salmon”.”
I can’t really bury anything in the backyard, but I could certainly shove some salmon in the back of the fridge for a few days.
After a bit of research, I learned that everyone has a different take on gravlax, so after consulting Ruhlman’s Charcuterie and this amazing article by Mark Bittman I combined their methods, used their salt to sugar ratios and took the plunge.
I decided I definitely wanted some kind of alcohol, and it seemed that aquavit was “traditional”. I’ve never had aquavit but I knew it was flavored with caraway and I had caraway seeds in my pantry. So I made my own. I have no idea if it tastes like aquavit, so let’s go ahead and call it mock-quavit, okay? Good.
RECIPE: HOMEMADE GRAVLAX
Step One: Make your Mock-Quavit
- 1 cup of plain vodka
- 1 tablespoon caraway seeds, slightly cracked with the flat of your knife
- zest of one lemon
- a few fennel fronds (optional. I just happened to have fennel in the fridge)
Combine and let steep in a non-reactive container for 3-4 days.
Strain and resist the urge to make cocktails. Well.. go ahead but save at least 2 Tablespoons for your gravlax.
Step Two: Bury your fish
- 2 -3 lbs salmon fillet,skin on, pin bones removed
- 1 cup kosher salt
- 2 cups white sugar
- 1 large bunch of dill, stems torn off
- 2 tablespoons Mock-quavit
NOTES: Keep your fish as cold as possible by waiting until the last minute to remove it from the fridge. Make sure you hands and your surfaces are very clean. You are working with raw fish here and although you are curing it, you don’t want to take any chances.
Mix your salt and sugar together.
If you are using a large fillet of salmon, you may want to cut it into two pieces. The thinner edge will need less time in the cure.
Prepare your work surface by laying out a sheet of plastic wrap to work on and place your fish, skin side down on the plastic.
Drizzle the mock-quavit over the fish.
Sprinkle about half of the salt and sugar mix over the fish. Layer on the fresh dill and sprinkle on the rest of the salt and sugar. Be sure to cover all the fish.
Enclose the fish in the plastic wrap. Wrap another layer of plastic wrap around it, being careful not to fold or curl up your fish, then tuck it away in a ziplock bag. Actually, double bag that sucker because things are gonna get gooshy as the salt pulls the moisture out of the fish.
Pop the bag in the back of your fridge.
Step Three: Unearth the Gravlax
Every day, flip the bag over and give the fish a poke. Does it feel firmer? After about 3 days, it should be ready to come out. Of course, that will depend on how thick your fillet is. I should have taken the thinner end out of the cure after two days because it was almost too hard after three. When you feel it’s ready, take it out, give it a rinse in cool water and pat dry.
I cannot describe the flavor… sweet, salty, dilly, caraway..uh.. ish? It really was fantastic. So different from lox with it’s smokey flavor, this gravlax had a layering of flavors that were such a surprise.
I need to apologize to you all for not having a fancy pretty picture of the gravlax on, say a bagel, with some cream cheese. Or perhaps on a blini with a dollop of sour cream.
I ate it all.
I just kept slicing and slicing and eating and eating and… before I knew it, all I had left was the skin.