Gravlax, otherwise known as gravlaks, is a popular Nordic or Scandinavian dish that is served as an appetiser. It is made from thinly sliced salmon that has been cured with salt, sugar, and dill. Gravlax is typically served with a dill and mustard sauce called hovmästarsås, gravlaxsås, rævesovs. Other accompaniments to gravlax include boiled potatoes, dark rye bread, or crunchy toast crackers. In Scandinavia, gravlax is an extremely popular dish to eat in midsummer and for Christmas lunch or dinner.
How is gravlax cured?
The name gravlax literally translates to mean ‘buried’. It originates in the Middle Ages, when Nordic fishermen would heavily salt caught salmon and bury it in the sand. Water from the ocean would then wash over it and ferment the salmon slightly, lending the term ‘buried salmon’.
Today, gravlax is not made with fermentation but rather is a cured meat. Salmon is instead ‘buried’ inside a dry marinade made from salt, sugar, and dill, and left to cure for anywhere between overnight and a few days. As the salmon cures, the dry marinade is converted into a highly concentrated brine which can be used to make sauces. The curing process leaves the salmon with a soft texture that melts in your mouth, a clean taste reminiscent of saltwater. The dish is all about simplicity and the freshness and quality ingredients that shine above all else.
How to make gravlax
You can easily make your own gravlax by leaving salmon to cure in a refrigerator for a few days. Gravlax is best made using a fresh fish with strong consistency. The meat of the salmon must not be too mushy – the best to use is Atlantic fish like Loch Duart. First you want to keep the skin of the salmon but remove the bones. Check the lobes for any leftover bones and pull them out with tweezers if necessary.
Preparing gravlax marinade
Prepare your dry marinade by grinding a tablespoon of fresh peppercorns in a mortar and pestle. Mix this powder in a bowl with around 300 grams of sea salt, 1 cup of sugar, and 1/2 cup of raw sugar. Next, rub this mixture all over your salmon to marinate it. If you want to get serious about it, you can slice your salmon in half and smear the filling on the inside. This way you can end up with gravlax that is stuffed with spices.
Prepare your baking dish with plastic wrap and spread out 1/2 cup of fresh chopped dill sprigs on the base of the dish. Place your salmon skin-side down over the dill, and sprinkle about 1/4 cup of vodka or brandy over the top before adding another 1/2 cup of dill over the top. Be generous with the dill – you want it coating every inch of the salmon.
Seal the fish with another layer of plastic wrap or foil and weigh it down with a heavy pan or tray. You can top the pan with extra weight from bottles and jars to further the compression. Keep the fish refrigerated for 3 days. Every 12 hours, turn the salmon over to the other side.
Afterwards, remove the plastic wrap from the fish, pour out the juice which has accumulated, and wipe off any excess brine from the fish. There are two schools of thought when it comes to this brine. One suggests that this liquid be used to create a sauce for the salmon, while another school is adamant about not consuming it. The choice is up to you! Finally, slice the salmon diagonally from one corner to the centre of the fillet and serve on toasted bread. Top your gravlax sandwich with fresh dill, lemon juice, and a smear of honey dill mustard.