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:
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?
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.
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
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.