The gravadlax I ate in Sweden as a child, prepared by my mother and grandmother always tasted so fresh, with vibrant flavours, accompanied with dill flecked mustard sauce, undoubtedly had a given place on the smörgåsbord served at Midsummer parties and the Christmas celebration Julbord. Infact Swedes enjoy it at any celebration, served finely sliced, along with other dishes or as a starter.
Consisting of raw salmon, cured in salt, sugar and dill, gravad lax takes its name from the Middle Ages, when it was prepared by fishermen who salted the salmon and lightly fermented it by burying it in the sand. The word gravalax comes from the Swedish word gräva “to dig” Today fermentation is no longer used but instead the salmon is “buried” in the dry marinade. And the English Speaking world have simply adopted the short version of its name, gravlax, along with the dill-fragrant, sugar and salt marinated fish itself.
I’ve tried dozens of recipes over the years. The classic recipes call for two fillets of fish – preferably from opposite sides of the same fish – generously cured with salt, sugar, dill and spices sandwiched skin-side out . It’s then tightly wrapped with cling film and popped into the fridge with a weighted object on top to help expel moisture.
Curing your own salmon is much easier than you think. You will need to plan ahead though as the cure takes about two days to marinate the salmon properly, but it’s worth the wait. However, you will need only 20 minutes to prepare the actual cure. Buy the best quality fish you can afford, if you spend a bit more, the quality of salmon will be higher and taste better. Ask your fishmonger for salmon for curing (sushi grade) if this is not available purchase fresh salmon and freeze for 24 hours, defrost then cure as this will kill any parasites.
My recipe has the addition of beetroot and horseradish with a kick of aquavit.
Beetroot & Horseradish Cured Gravlax
- 1 Kg piece of Salmon boned
- 100 g Demerara sugar
- 100 g Coarse Sea Salt
- 1 tsp Black Peppercorns
- Zest of 2 Lemons
- 3 Tbls Aquavit or Vodka
- A Generous bunch of Dill
- 5 cm piece Fresh Horseradish root peeled & grated
- 200 g Fresh Beetroot peeled & grated
- 2 tsp Dijon Mustard
- 1-11/2 tsp Honey
- 1 tsp White Wine Vinegar
- 1 tsp Lemon Juice
- 1 Egg Yolk
- 150 ml Sunflower Oil
- 2 Tbls Finely Chopped Dill
- Salt & Pepper
- Check the salmon for any bones, keeping an eye open for the tiny, almost invisible pin bones. These can be removed with tweezers. Lay the salmon skin-side down on a stainless steel enamel tin or glass dish.
- Put the demerara sugar and salt in a mixing bowl. Roughly grind the peppercorns and add the sugar and the vodka of aquavit. Roughly chop the dill and stems, and add to the marinade. Add to the sugar mixture along with the grated beetroot, horseradish and lemon zest, then stir into the other ingredients.
- Spread the mixture over the fish and rub in well with your hands. Wrap a piece of clingfilm over the fish and place a heavy weight on top. (A small chopping board with a few cans on top will work.) Refrigerate for between 24-48 hours.
- For the mustard sauce place the mustard, sugar, vinegar, lemon juice and egg yolk in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Add the oil drop by drop to begin with; continue adding in a steady stream, until the sauce becomes thick and smooth, whisking constantly. Stir in the dill and season to taste.
- Pour off and discard any liquid that has seeped from the marinade. Remove the cling film and scrape away the marinade. Lightly rinse with water if necessary..Slice the fish thinly, as you would smoked salmon, and serve with the mustard sauce.