Whilst shopping for my New Year’s Day Open House, I found salmon on sale at the Uptown Lunds. They had sides of both Coho and, I think, King. Both were richly colored and dark, but the Coho was much, much, much cheaper. Back in the meat department, I asked if they had a good sized side, and I ended up with about a two-pound piece. I also purchased some coriander, just to ensure I already had some, and another hunk of dill.
2 teaspoon whole white peppercorns
2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
2 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon allspice berries
4 tablespoons sea salt
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 2-pound salmon fillet, skin on
1 cup chopped fresh dill
Gravlax is essentially salt and sugar cured salmon. Dill is the standard herb, and pepper, that other essential Scandinavian spice, is the second. The outline of the recipe I used, DILLED GRAVLAX WITH MUSTARD SAUCE also added coriander, which is why I bought some. I’m going to guess that any of the bitter herbs and spices would work: fennel, caraway, tarragon, licorice, anise, etc. As usual, I opened up several online recipes and kinda winged it. I did not make the mustard sauce. Why ruin good salmon?
The main recipe said to toast the spice. I toasted two teaspoons black and white peppercorns, coriander, and some allspice berries. I put them in the mortar and had at them with the pestle. When they started getting toward crushed, I threw some of the salt on it and pounded away a bit longer.
I ended up using a wire nippers to pull the bones out of the salmon, and I gave up about a third of the way to the tail. (You want to leave the skin on the fish for cutting.)
I washed and coarsely chopped a mess o’ dill. The dill is traditional, and it’s good, but it can be used in almost any amount.
I mixed the salt and spice mixture with brown sugar (about equal to the salt). I’m sure there’s a level of salt and sugar that you don’t want to go below, but as long as you’re above that, the salt and the sugar amounts, kind, and type are up to you.
The recipe says to prick the skin of the salmon, which I did since the fish is firmly dead anyway, although I don’t think I have before. You simply rub the spice, sugar, and salt cure all over the salmon, and the dill on top. Most recipes will ask you to weigh down the salmon in a non-reactionary pan, but I find a good old plastic zip-lock bag is a lot simpler. After I got the fish in the bag, I tossed in a good glug of absinthe. If the salmon is too long for the bag, just fold the tail over. When the fish goes into the fridge, it’s dry, but the salt and sugar rapidly draw fluid from the fish, and turn to liquid. You’ll want to keep the salmon submerged in the liquid. You can submerge it in water to get the air out, or just fold it. The goal is to cure the salmon by keeping it in the liquid, and you can perform any ritual you want to ensure this.
After a couple of days, the color of the fish will have turned darker, and you’ll want to slice it against the skin. You can clean the salmon before slicing if you want, but we did not. The absinthe, which was quite strong if you sniffed the bag, was merged with the peppers, coriander, and allspice. It was a lot more peppery than the gravlax I’ve made before, but I really liked the flavor of the fish, and it was gone by the end of the night.