This past weekend I feasted with several of my friends, celebrating the spring, family, and those who have gone before us. It took me a few days of racking my brain to come up with a good food item to contribute aside from the bread I was bringing. I’m mostly off grain and sugar for the time being and this bread was heavy in both. But anyone who eats this bread will tell you it’s worth it. (For the record, it was another Swedish treat, cardamon bread. I didn’t bake it so I figure it’s not something to blog about.)
In any case, a few days of thought and I remembered one of my favorite foods: gravlax. Cured salmon. Popular throughout Scandinavia and another food with history. The name translates to “grave salmon,” because originally it was prepared by putting salt and seasonings on the flesh and burying it. When you live in a cold climate and do not have any sort of cold box, this becomes a convenient way to store and preserve food.
Salmon is an extremely nutritious fish. It is high in omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and protein. Omega-3s are good for improving blood circulation and lowering blood pressure and can potentially help with depression issues. Vitamin D is one vitamin sorely lacking in the current American diet. Vitamin D is needed for bone development (and a deficiency can lead to rickets), builds the immune system, and may help prevent different types of cancer. Curing also retains the enzymes present in the fish, which would be destroyed when exposed to high temperatures.
There are a few things to be on the lookout for when buying salmon. First, put out the extra money and buy wild-caught salmon. Farm-raised salmon do not eat the same things they would eat in nature, instead getting fish meal pellets, and cannot freely swim around. Since these fish do not have the same muscular development, they do not have the appealing color you see above and are often injected with dyes to make them look more like their wild cousins. Secondly, take note of where the salmon comes from. In some areas they are over-fished. The Monterrey Bay Aquarium’s seafood watch has a good guide for what type of salmon to purchase.
If you’re concerned about parasites you can also freeze the fish which will kill off any bugs or eggs which may be present. Since there is no heat involved in the curing process, there is a small chance of this being an issue. However, I’ve been eating gravlax (and sushi for that matter) for a very long time, and I have never had an instance of becoming sick from it. Buying your fish from a reputable fish market will also help. They know fish well, how to handle it and what to avoid when purchasing.
The recipe I used for making thee gravlax is from Marcus Samuelsson’s Aquavit cookbook. Originally, when my mom would make gravlax, she would get two fillets of similar size, put the seasonings between the two, sandwich them between two platters, put in the fridge and weigh the top down with cans. This is a quicker way to cure if you don’t have as much time. This recipe takes at least two days, but the majority of that time it’s just sitting.
Normally this is also served with a mustard sauce. I didn’t make it this past time. If you’re in a bind, I would highly recommend a brown, spicy mustard on the side or a horseradish sauce. The yellow stuff in a squeeze bottle will not cut it for this dish.
I know I said above that I was off sugar, and this recipe does include sugar in the cure. I’m planning to experiment both with using less sugar and no sugar. Yes, I promise to report back on my success.
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup kosher salt (you can also use sea salt, that’s all I keep in the house)
2.5-3 pounds salmon fillet, skin on, bones removed
2-3 large bunches of coarsely chopped fresh dill
2 T. cracked white peppercorns
1 large dish to hold the fillet, or two platters and cans for the weighed down method
1. Combine sugar, salt, and pepper in a small bowl and mix well.
2. Place the salmon in the dish and rub some of the salt mixture on both side of the fish, skin side down. Sprinkle the rest of the mixture over the fish, then cover with the dill.
When I say covered I mean it.
3. Cover the dish and let it sit in a cool spot for six hours. (Skip this step if you are using weights and put it straight in the refrigerator.)
4. Move the salmon to the refrigerator and let it sit for at least 36 hours.
5. When ready to serve, drain the liquid from the dish. Scrape the dill and salt mixture off as much as possible. Slice the fish thinly on a bias. You can serve it on bread if you like. I prefer it as is.
2 T. honey mustard
1 T. Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons sugar
1.5 teaspons white wine vinegar
1 T. cold strong coffee
pinch of salt
pinch of freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup oil (the recipe calls for grapeseed or canola, which I cannot recommend. Replace with a light flavor, cold pressed oil. Do NOT use a vegetable oil like corn, soy, or that ilk.)
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill.
1. Combine all ingredients except for oil and dill in a blender and blend.
2.While running, pour the oil in a slow, steady stream to incorporate until the sauce is thick and creamy.
3. Place sauce in a bowl and add the dill. Cover and chill for at least 4 hours.