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.
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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