On Curing Salmon (Recipe: Gravlax)
Living in a foreign country allows you to really dig into their cuisine. Because the cost of living is high in Denmark, eating out is pretty much out of the question if you are here longer term. Up side? You learn to cook. Denmark also has a very strong sense of what is correct, when it comes to food pairings. Smoked salmon slices are sold in packets plain, with full slices flavored with peppercorns. But cured salmon slices are always seasoned with dill. I like dill but if I want to use it for other dishes, I want it plain. Again, if it’s not offered, you learn how to make it yourself. Here’s what I did.
- Take 500 g or 1 lb of fresh/sushi-grade salmon from a whole filet with pin bones removed (very easy to do with tweezers yourself), and place it in a plate with a little lip or a container where it can lie flat.
- Rinse the filet in 50 to 100 mL of vodka (depending on the container you use: it doesn’t have to cover the entire thickness), and let it soak for 10 min (say, 3 min. on the skin side, 7 min. on the other side).
- Take 1 teaspoon of caraway seeds and roast it in a dry pan for a minute or two (just until you start to smell the fragrance, then immediately remove from heat). Grind the seeds.
- Add onto the ground seeds, 1 tsp of ground coriander (if you prefer to use coriander seeds, you can roast it with caraway seeds, too), 3.5 tablespoons of kosher salt (if using regular/finer salt, make sure you reduce the tablespoon amount to half, depending on the brand/grain), 1 tablespoon sugar (you can experiment with brown or white, and pick your favorite), and 1/2 teaspoon of ground white pepper.
- Place a long plastic cling wrap and lay out the filet. Use half the mixture to salt one side, and press in the spices. Flip and salt the other.
- Wrap it tightly with the plastic, and wrap it again with another sheet of plastic wrap, then place on a plate or container, and place it in the refrigerator (some recipes recommend weighing it down with another plate, etc. but I didn’t bother and it turned out fine).
- After 24 hrs, flip the filet package. Wait another 24 in the refrigerator.
- Rinse the filet under water and rub off any residual spices and salt on the surface. Pat dry.
- Slice on the bias to get more surface area, and serve with crème fraîche/dollop of Greek yogurt with a touch of Dijon mustard. Or, use it to make sushi (more flavorful then using fresh plain salmon). See the photo for my favorite way to eat the gravlax: on a bed of steaming hot rice, ikura (salmon roe) or trout roe straight out of a jar, roasted sesame seeds, and broiled/pan-fried salmon skin.
- Gravlax is cured so it will last longer than uncooked salmon but it won’t last as long as smoked salmon since no heat was used. Keep it wrapped tight in the refrigerator.
Photo: Yuka’s Gravlax-don or saké (salmon) donburi (cured salmon rice bowl)