Gravlaks (dill-cured salmon)

Gravlaks (salmon cured with dill, spices, sea salt and sugar) on Peter's Yard sourdough crispbread

While there always seems to be a frenzied rush this time of year to come up with the most ghoulish recipe for Hallowe’en I’ve been musing on the joys of that other orange-hued foodstuff: salmon.

Nothing makes me happier than a really good piece of oily fish. Seriously. Chock-full of omega fatty acids to keep your brain sprightly, your heart ticking (not to mention your hair, skin, nails growing & glowing), salmon is the best mood-enhancer as we head into the dark days of winter. Beats prozac any day.

So in between the pumpkin-stuffing and many baking experiments this autumn I’ve been curing away in my dinky kitchen. A Var salmon was delivered recently from the kind folks at Severn Wye, and although I had in my mind expected a couple of samples of smoked fish – lo and behold the entire fish arrived:

Var Salmon from Severn Wye

Quite the bruiser, eh?

Out came the fish filleting knife and I proceeded to elegantly (well, ish) fillet the salmon and made the most delicious gravlaks out of it. That’s gravadlax to those of you more familiar with the Swedish spelling. Us ‘Weegies call it gravlaks. This quintessential Scandinavian dish of salmon cured in dill, sea salt, sugar is so popular, every time I’ve made it during cookery classes or demos over the summer it’s  been the biggest crowd-pleaser. And you can see why – gravadlax from the supermarket just doesn’t have a patch on the homemade stuff so if you’re bored of stuffing pumpkins and other lurid Hallowe’en nonsense then give this a go.

The recipe I’ve shared with you here is from my book Scandilicious: Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking (Saltyard Books) and it’s super-duper easy to make. Works a treat for lazy brunches on the weekend just spread on Peter’s Yard sourdough crispbread, or keep in the freezer for midweek suppers. And although I loathe mentioning Christmas so early, if you are entertaining a large group of people then this might prove a lot more economical than buying in your dill-cured fish. Did I mention it tastes delicious too?

Gravlaks on Peter's Yard crispbread

What’s your take on curing fish? Do you like gravlaks/gravadlax? There are myriad ways of making it, adding some booze to the cure is always a winner – a snifter of whisky, brandy or gin will give your salmon a little extra depth of flavour. And of course you can vary the spices. Keep the salt/sugar ratio as specified here though, too much salt and that’s all you end up tasting. The sugar calibrates the flavour so you get the best of the dill, spices and the salted salmon.

From Scandilicious: Secrets of Scandinavian Cooking (a bargainous £10 on Amazon right now)

Gravlaks with dill mustard sauce*

 (* Ahem. I actually prefer this naked, or with a little freshly grated horseradish on top and some pickled beetroot)

The key to this classic Scandinavian dish is an exceptionally fresh fillet of salmon. If in doubt, freeze the fillet for 24 hours to kill any bacteria, then defrost it. This traditional gravlaks cure is slightly more sweet than salty, but you can always use equal quantities of sugar and salt if you prefer. If you’re feeling adventurous, try adding beetroot, alcohol (aquavit, gin or vodka) or juniper berries to the cure.

 Makes enough for 12-14 starters or 6-8 smörgåsbord brunchers

  • 1½kg salmon fillet, cut in half
  • 1 tbsp white peppercorns
  • 2 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 100g granulated sugar
  • 75g sea salt
  • 3 x 15g pack dill, chopped (for the cure)
  • 1 x 15g pack dill, chopped (to serve)

Dill mustard sauce

  • 1 x 15g pack dill
  • 3 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 3 tbsp white wine or cider vinegar
  • 3 tbsp demerara sugar
  • 3 tbsp mustard
  • ½ tsp salt

Method:

Dry the salmon, check for pinbones and then place both fillet pieces side by side, skin down. Crush the white pepper and coriander with a pestle and mortar and then mix in a small bowl with the sugar and salt. Spread the dill over the skinless side of the fillet halves, then spread the spiced sugar and salt in a layer on top. Sandwich both fillets together so that the the dill spice mixture is in the middle and the skin is outermost. Cover any exposed surface of salmon with any dill and spice mixture that tumbles out. Wrap very tightly in two layers of clingfilm and place in a small roasting tin to catch the brine that escapes the fish as it cures. Refrigerate for a minimum of 24 hours and up to 48 hours.

The dill mustard sauce is very easy to make. You just whizz up all the ingredients in a blender. You can then either use it straight away or keep it in an airtight glass jar in the fridge for a week or so.

When the gravlaks has had time to cure, simply take it out of the fridge, remove the clingfilm, wipe the fillet halves clean of the herby spiced salt with a paper towel, pat dry and put on a board, skin down. Put a layer of chopped dill on the skinless side of each fillet and press down as much as you can without squashing the fish. Slice on the diagonal from the tail towards the middle of the fillet and serve with hot new potatoes, rye or sourdough bread and dill mustard sauce.

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12 Responses to Gravlaks (dill-cured salmon)

  1. Susan says:

    I used to make this often when I lived in the Pacific Northwest and could get gorgeous Alaskan king salmon *sigh* (although we Jews spell it gravlax). I was taught to weigh the salmon down during the curing and turn it twice a day. (I have no idea if this actually makes a difference — do you?) I like that your recipe is simple and omits aquavit to let the lovely dilly salmony flavour shine through. Nice post.

    • Signe says:

      Hi Susan, thanks for dropping by – I envy you having that delicious Alaskan king salmon when you were living in the Pacific Northwest. You can get good Scottish and Norwegian salmon here in the UK thought so hopefully you’ll give this recipe a go. I find that that the salmon really firms up after 48 hours curing and doesn’t need to be fussed over with weighing down and turning – what a faff! Much easier just to wrap two fillets and squish them together before wrapping tightly with clingfilm. You can turn over the fillets after 24 hours if you remember (I never do) but really it doesn’t make a huge difference :-) All the best, Signe

  2. I love Gravlaks so much, my favourite is with vodka and juniper berries served on rye bread with the dill mustard sauce.
    It is so versatile an ingredient, it makes a great change to smoked salmon.
    Lovely post, and will hopefully get people giving it a go for the festive season.
    Cheers
    Marcus

    • Signe says:

      Thanks for your comment Marcus, agree juniper berries make a fab addition to the dill cure. You could add some gin instead of vodka too. I love gravlaks on rye bread, anything earthy and wholesome really – none of that white bread nonsense! Signe

  3. 3.3 lbs of salmon, ~1/2 cup of sugar, 1/4 cup of salt, 3 oz of dill. *ahem*

  4. Deb says:

    This sounds wonderful! But you simply must try some Himalayan pink salt. I get mine from Sustainable Sourcing https://secure.sustainablesourcing.com. The flavor is so much better than regular salt! Thanks for sharing this recipe—I can’t wait to try it!

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  6. syd bolton says:

    Hi, do try my range of gravlaks. happy to drop some round. see my website. I am still working with Ole at Hansen and Lydersen. I think we met at the Norwegian Day party in May. My latest cures are orange jaipur tea and pastis and a coriander and green cardamon infusion

    best wishes
    Syd

  7. kate says:

    Hi!
    I tried Gravalax for the first time about 3months ago, and ever since then I’ve been hooked! I then randomly came across your on my “recommendations” on amazon and i bought it straight away! I’m currently living in the US so i ordered from the UK site.
    Today I decided to make my own gravadlax and my first thought was to check out your book and then your blog and that’s what brought me here! So glad to see it’s one of the first recipes on the new blog site!
    I like that this recipe seems very easy! The others I had read were telling me to turn it over etc…
    So glad you have a blog as well as an amazing book! :)

    Kate

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