Pat’s Holiday Gravlax

I first received gravlax as a gift from my Mother-in-Law and was amazed that this could be accomplished in a home kitchen

I remember getting this gift of home-cured gravlax, a salt-preserved salmon, every year at Christmastime from my mother-in-law Pat, my husband’s father’s second wife. The first time she gave it to us, I was truly impressed. I had never had homemade gravlax before, and it was one of the best things I ever ate! My husband and I ate heartily for the next few days. Pat owned and  was chef at some high-end restaurants in our local ski area, and everything she taught me to make became one of my kitchen standards. I didn’t try making this myself until after she died, but her spirit was there in the kitchen with me.

It’s not as hard as you think. In fact, it’s easy!

A few years ago, I thought I’d give her recipe a try before my annual holiday party. I got the biggest salmon sides I could order, and when I took them out of their box, these giant pieces of fish looked daunting indeed.

I was a little worried; homemade gravlax seemed really technical. But I held my breath, followed the directions and tried to recall my memory of making it with Pat many years previous. A few days later it was the centerpiece of the party, and I couldn’t have been more delighted (or surprised). The next time I made it, I added my own twist by playing with the herbs (you still want a lot of dill here), and even added some crushed blackberries from the freezer to enhance the color, but it is totally unnecessary if you don’t have blackberries on hand.

An annual ritual

I make it every year, and have requests from not only my husband but several friends. It’s a keeper, fun to make, easy, too.

If you want it sweeter, you can add a little more sugar to salt in the ratio, or more salt if that is how you like it. It is forgiving and can be tailored to your own sweet or salty preference. Plan on this keeping, after its cure, for around 5 or 6 days. It is one of those magic recipes, and it always reminds me of this kind woman! 

Change up the herbs if you like, and you can also swap out the cognac for any favorite brandy, gin, etc. Make it your way!

Now, take a deep breath, it really is easy.

For a large amount to serve at a party and give away to friends, use the whole recipe. For a smaller gathering, just ask your fish monger for a 1 1/2 lb. filet of salmon, thick-end cut.

Pat Read’s Holiday Gravlax, (but you can make it any time!)

  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2,  1-1/2  to 2 lb. salmon sides, really fresh
  • 1 cup blackberries, crushed, optional
  • 1/3 cup cognac
  • 1/4 cup grated lime zest
  • 1 tsp. fresh pepper
  • 2 large bunches dill, or mix of herbs (parsley, tarragon, chives, chervil) you might need a little more.

First, ask your fish monger for the freshest salmon possible, tell her/him that this needs to be sushi fresh. Trim off the thin parts of the tail and belly of the salmon and cook it for supper; you want the thickness of the filets you cure to be uniform. Check each filet for bones, drape the filet over your hand and rub your fingers across the top, removing any you find with tweezers. 

If you are making one smaller piece of salmon, wrap it tightly in the plastic wrap and weight it down with something heavy.

Mix salt and sugar and about a cup of the herbs, chopped. Divide and rub the flesh side of both filets with this mixture. Sprinkle each liberally with the cognac; you may need a bit more. 

Line a large baking sheet or roasting pan with plastic wrap. Place the first filet in the pan, skin side down. If using blackberries, add them all now.

Place half the remaining dill or other herbs evenly over the entire surface, trying to cover it. Sprinkle over the lime zest evenly, then sprinkle on a bit more of the cognac. Use only the zest. You do not want to place actual pieces of lime on the fish, it will “cook” it like a ceviche leaving funny little circles; Ask me how I know this!

Prepare the second filet in the same way with the rest of the herbs and gently position, flesh side down, on top of the first. Double wrap these together as tight as possible, then place a second baking sheet on top. Weight it down with a couple of 28-ounce cans of tomatoes, bricks, or something else with some substance. Refrigerate.

24 hours later, remove the weights and turn the wrapped fish bundle over. Drain the pan; there will be a lot of moisture accumulated. Replace the tray and weights. On the third day, after 48 hours, it’s ready! Remove the salmon and rinse it to remove excess salt. Pat dry with a paper towel.

You are ready to enjoy!

Use a really sharp knife and slice at an angle, skim across the skin on the bottom, but don’t cut through it; this is easier than you think. It should cut like butter!

Serve with whatever accompaniments you desire. I love it with a horseradish and dill infused crème fraîche, capers, minced scallions, and lots of black pepper. You can also serve it with a mustard sauce, or just a little mayo and chopped onion.

Fear not! It really is easy.

A smaller portion: 

If you are not having a large party and want to make a smaller portion, just ask for fish monger for a 2 lb. center cut of salmon and just divide the ingredients roughly in half; you don’t need to be absolutely precise here.

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53 Comments Add yours

  1. I love Gravlax, and this recipe looks fantastic! I am going to try to run to Costco and try to make this for Christmas morning. Thanks!

    1. Have fun with it, and let me know how wonderful it turned out!

  2. Ally Bean says:

    I’m a wimp, but smoked salmon is as far as I’ll go when it comes to cured salmon. I know of Gravlax and your recipe has many ingredients in it that I like, however…

    1. Totally understand! My daughter is in your camp!

  3. Sheree says:

    Love making this at home

    1. I agree Sheree! It’s a great treat, and so satisfying to make!

  4. Elegant and delicious. You’ve motivated me to attempt your recipe!

    1. Give it a try! You’ll feel like a rock star!

  5. Chef Mimi says:

    I’ve made gravlax once, and loved it. I’ll have to compare recipes… this one looks wonderful!

    1. Thanks Mimi! Isn’t it fun to make!!! I always feel so accomplished, but it is a pretty basic and ancient technique, with just a few frills!

  6. No one in your family is ever going to go hungry. Matter of fact, they appreciate food like most people haven’t had an opportunity to do. 👏🏻

    1. At! Thanks Judy! At some point, when all this is over, you’ll have to come for a meal!

  7. Sherry M says:

    this looks like such a treat. i have never been brave enough to make it though. take care and merry festive season.

    1. Ah, it’s not hard at all if you take a deep breath!

  8. CarolCooks2 says:

    With this beautiful Gravlax on your table its sure to be a wonderful festive meal …Merry Christmas Dorothy 🙂 x

    1. And happiest of all holidays to you my friend!

  9. Your gravlax looks perfect! Homemade is definitely the best. I’ve made quite a few versions of it, but never used blackberries. I’ll keep it in mind for next time! 🙂

    1. Thanks Ronit! It is fun to mix it up with different accessories!

  10. Terrie Gura says:

    Oh my, this looks heavenly! And you really have broken it down into manageable steps. I love that you offer suggestions for a small gathering, because that’s all we ever have. I hope you have a sweet, joyful holiday!

    1. I’ll be making the small version this year myself, nine of us, but in these times, it will feel like a large crowd! Maybe next year…

  11. leggypeggy says:

    Many thanks. Years ago, a Norwegian friend taught me to make gravlax. My recipe is quite similar to this one.

    1. So close Peggy, Pat was Swedish! It’s a pretty basic technique, and the transformation was like magic.

  12. Gail says:

    Such a great holiday tradition. Sounds like you learned from the master. What a tribute to her you sing. Merry, Merry. 🎶

    1. She was a indeed the master, and she adored both singing and laughing!

      1. Gail says:

        Her spirit surrounds you! 💫

      2. So true. Especially this time of year. My husband just dug out this huge Christmas Goose, a paper mache creation she made for us years ago. It needs to be repainted, and I’ll do that sometime this week and think of the Christmases at her house, always amazing!

      3. Gail says:

        I was reading about all the treasures we keep from Christmas Past. 🌟✨💫

      4. Fresh coat of paint applied yesterday, and a bright new red and white bow round his (slightly wobbly) neck!

  13. Nancy says:

    I just shared this with my boys. They would enjoy making this… including me!
    Thank you for this! I will be trying it.
    Merry Christmas, Dorothy!

    1. Have fun with this Nancy! It is a most enjoyable and rewarding recipe!

  14. Carole says:

    You are amazing and a fountain of knowledge!

    1. Thank you so much! I happily drank from the fountain of Pat’s knowledge!

  15. Americaoncoffee says:

    Hi Dorothy! What an awesome share and tribute. This is the perfect season for remembering and making shared love grow. Delicious looking! I have never tasted! Placing on my must list. Festive hugs! 💞🔔🪵🔥🪵

  16. Paula says:

    I have never had gravlax, but I have seen it mentioned so much lately that I feel I must truly be missing out! You have made it sound totally doable though, so one market day in the new year I will invest in some good salmon and give it a go. Perfect for summer as I don’t have to turn the oven or stove on!

    1. It really is a perfect summer dish Paula! Yet, I only seem to think about it at the winter holidays!

  17. nancyc says:

    I’ve never had Gravlax, but it sounds like a special dish for the holidays! I like the idea of adding the herbs and blackberries!

  18. nancyc says:

    I haven’t ever had Gravlax, but it sounds like a great dish for the holidays! I like the idea of adding herbs and blackberries!

    1. Thank you Nancy! It’s always a treat this time of year.

  19. A wonderful tradition 😋 It looks so good 😋 I think the combination with fresh dill is absolutely a winner 😋

    1. It’s truly a winner in our book! We love it and the flavor of the memories!

  20. Julia says:

    Merry Christmas! This sounds like something Bruce would love!

    1. Thank you Julia! I hope you had a lovely day.

  21. nice recipe

    1. Thank you so much! It is one of our holiday favorites.

  22. Yummmm! Happy Holidays, Dorothy! 💕

    1. Hope you are having a wonderful holiday!

      1. I am! I just had my first OYSTER!

      2. I hope you loved them as much as we do!

  23. This makes me wish I liked fish! It looks delicious Dorothy!

    1. Another of our favorites, but not for everyone. There are a couple of members of the family that stay clear as well!

  24. I love homemade gravlax and so do all my friends and family when I make it for them. I completely agree with you: it is delicious and not at all difficult. It gets even better if you cold-smoke it afterwards. The herbs and spices don’t really penetrate into the salmon, so I sometimes wonder why I bother instead of using just salt and sugar. I should do a side by side experiment some time to confirm or deny my suspicion.

    1. You know, I wondered about how much of a difference the herbs make, I think the cognac does, but mostly I just taste the salmon. The cold smoking sounds great, and since I have a handy little smoker, I might give it a try!
      Let me know your results if you do the side-by-side!

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