… or if you don’t fancy the sound of that name then pick a Nordic one. Gravlax, gravad lax, gravad laks, gravlaks, or graflax – depending on which country you fancy.
Whichever language you pick, the meaning is clear and simple: Lax = Salmon & Grav = Grave.
Fishermen used to bury their salmon in the sand just above the high tideline, where it would cure and start to ferment slightly. Obviously if you bury something first you have to dig a hole or ‘grave’ first, hence the name.
Modern gravlax doesn’t involve finding a beach, but the principal is similar. Instead of digging a grave for your chunk of fish, you simply bury it in a mix of salt and sugar.
Why bury your fish?
Well, it cures it. The mixture of salt and sugar draws all of the moisture out of the salmon and what you end up with is a harder, slightly plasticiny bit of fish that has a more intense flavour than it started out with.
The taste is as good as, but distinctly different from smoked salmon, and it also comes with a few other fantastic bonuses:
It keeps a lot longer than smoked or fresh salmon.
The cost of making it is a LOT lower than smoked salmon for comparable quality fish.
You get to stand at your kitchen counter, basking in the praise of your friends, as you carve beautiful thin slices off of the block of salmon that you home cured.
and maybe best of all
Ingredients and variations
What follows is a very basic recipe, but as long as you keep the amounts of sugar and salt equal, you can play around a bit with other ingredients.
The size and thickness of the piece of salmon that you use really doesn’t matter. The only things that do matter are that it comes with the skin on, and that it is as even a thickness all the way through.
Dill and lemon zest works really well, and is probably the ‘classic’ recipe, but you might like to try adding different herbs or spices, or the zest of different citrus fruit.
Don’t think that you can only do this with salmon either, you can use exactly the same method to cure other fresh fish, like tuna or cod.
On to the entombing
You will need
- Fresh Salmon
- White sugar
- Fresh dill
- A lemon
- Black pepper
Give the salmon a quick rinse and dry it very thoroughly.
In a bowl mix together equal amounts of salt and sugar.
Finely chop some dill and zest the lemon, add these together with a little bit of black pepper to the salt/sugar, and give it a good mix.
Cut a piece of clingfilm about two and a half times wider than your salmon and lay it in the bottom of the dish you are planning to use for the curing, with the sides left hanging out of the dish.
Pour half of your salt/sugar mixture into the dish.
Put the salmon on top of the salt/sugar and then cover it with the rest of the mix.
Wrap the remaining edges of the clingfilm over the top to form a parcel, and then put some weight on the top of it. A small plate with a couple of tins of beans works very nicely.
Leave it in the fridge for 24-72 hours. The longer you leave it, the deeper the cure will be, and the more plasticised the salmon will become.
Unwrap the salmon, and brush or rinse off the salt mix.
You can now keep it in the fridge for a few weeks with no problems, and it should be served in very thin pretty slices. Especially good with some little crostini and a glass or two of cava.