Stayed up late yesterday to start the gravlax so now it’s tomorrow. Gravlax is cured salmon that you eat sort of like lox – but it is not smoked. It’s easy to make, but you need some basic equipment to allow it to cure safely, namely some sort of strainer contraption with a drip pan and a way for you to put a top on with a weight. Everything should be made of stainless steel. Hotel pans are good for this and you can buy them in a restaurant supply store or online. I use two 4″ half pans and one 2″ perforated half pan. The “half” refers to half of a full-size hotel pan – which are the pans you see on steam tables. The number indicates the height of the sides. The perforated pan needs to be shallower than the one you are using for the drippings, obviously. I suppose you can use a couple of sheet pans and a cooling rack in a pinch. Anyhow, once you have your pans and they are clean, clean, clean, you can go to town and get a boneless side (fillet) of salmon WITH the skin attached. Get the freshest fish you can muster. Locate cheesecloth, a lemon, an ounce of vodka or gin, a bunch of dill and a pastry brush. Mix a cure: 6 oz of kosher salt, 6 oz of sugar and a heaping tablespoon of ground black pepper. Wash and dry the salmon fillet and gently remove any pin bones with pliers or tweezers. If you run your finger down the middle of the fillet you will feel them with no problem. Place the perforated pan in one of the other pans and then drape some cheesecloth in there that overlaps the pan. You want enough to be able to wrap the fillet when you are done here. Place the salmon on top of the cheesecloth skin side down. Do not overlap or bend the salmon to make it fit – the fillet should lay perfectly flat. Squeeze the lemon over the flesh. With the pastry brush, brush all exposed flesh with the vodka or gin. Next, pack the entire cure over the fish. Use less cure for the thinner end and make sure you have the flesh completely covered. Now, cover the salmon with the dill, which you should chop roughly. Wrap the loose cheesecloth over the top of the salmon so it is bundled. Place the remaining pan on top of the fish, ensuring a snug fit. Put a couple of bricks or canned foods on top. Use anything stable that weighs a few pounds and is fine in the refrigerator. Refrigerate for 2 – 3 days. Remove cure (sounds like it will be a problem, but it won’t be, trust me – you can rinse and pat it dry quickly if it does not scrape off easily) and enjoy. Slice thinly! Gravlax keeps for 5 – 7 days, from what I understand, but it is usually gone in a day or two at my place.
Serve with dill honey mustard (make this by mixing equal parts honey and mustard and a little finely chopped dill) and hearty bread or crispbread, like Wasa.
Below are seven photos that I took when the gravlax was ready. I took one at each stage of the “taking apart” and slicing process so that you can reverse-engineer things and see what it all looks like. Note that I generally slice from the smaller end but you can slice from the larger end, if you want to access the less salty sections first. Be sure to slice as close to the skin as you are able, making large, thin slices.
1) Here is the way the gravlax contraption looks when it goes in/comes out of the fridge after the curing process.
2) Here the top hotel pan and weights have been removed.
3) The cheesecloth has been opened and the dill exposed.
4) Here the dill has been removed and you can see the remainder of the cure. Note that I used more pepper for this batch than is called for in the base recipe.
5) Now all the cure has been removed and it is ready to slice. Give it a good sniff; it should smell fresh and briny.
6) Start slicing – making long slices, holding firm the opposite end of the fillet to the direction you are slicing (you can use a hand towel for this) and keeping the side of the knife in the position shown (i.e., parallel to the fish). What you want to do is cut down slightly as you start, but only enough to start a thin slice, and then make that slice nice and long but no thicker as you go. This takes practice, but don’t despair. It is very difficult to describe what you need to do here; one trick is to use the opposite end of the fillet as leverage. You can start on either end, but know that if you start close to the end you will not have a long slice because you will be cutting from your starting point to the end. Note that this image is of the thin end of the side, not the main piece. Also, I use my serrated knife because it is extremely thin and razor-sharp and works better for me than my current slicer, which is normally a better choice here.
7) Here’s a shot of the main side being sliced. Normally I’d have less skin visible, but I wanted shorter slices for appetizers.