Gravlaks has become my staple go-to dish for special occasions because it basically makes itself, and the fact that it can be made in advance and served at room temperature makes it super convenient. When I entertain family and friends for Shabbat, holidays, or a mid-summer dîner al fresco, I often make this Scandinavian staple the central attraction, serve it with a mixed green salad or roasted asparagus, and a potato dish of some sort, which works well to temper the salt of the fish and spice of the accompanying mustard-dill sauce.
For the gravlaks
- 4-6lbs fresh salmon, divided into two equal fillets with skin, to be sandwiched for curing period
- 2tablespoons sugar per pound of salmon
- 2tablespoons kosher salt per pound of salmon
- 1tablespoon peppercorns per pound of salmon, slightly cracked with a mortar and pestle (or in a bag with a hammer)
- 1large or several small bunches of fresh dill
For the sauce
- 2tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1tablespoon sugar
- 2tablespoons white vinegar
- Salt and white pepper to taste
- Fresh dill
To make the gravlax
- Step 1
Mix salt, sugar, and pepper in a bowl.
- Step 2
Put one of the fillets on a large sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil, about three times the length of the fillet.
- Step 3
Evenly spread plenty of torn up dill onto the flesh-side of the fillet. Pour the salt-pepper-sugar mixture on top of the dill, mix it loosely with the dill, and put second fillet on top, flesh side down. You should have what looks like an overstuffed salmon sandwich.
- Step 4
Wrap the salmon sandwich tightly in the foil, place package in a pan, cookie sheet, or platter with a lip (to contain liquid that will seep out during curing) and use something heavy to put on top of package. (I use my special brick but anything creative works, like cans of food or a box of wine.) Place in fridge and set a reminder to flip and drain every 12 hours.
- Step 5
Each time you turn the package over, drain off the salty, gooey brine that has seeped out into the pan. I also hold the package over the sink to let it drain as much as possible (you can open the foil a little on one end, but do not uncover fish), before returning it to the fridge, flipped over, with the weight back on top.
- Step 6
Draining the brine is important, otherwise the gravlaks can easily become too salty. Folks who are used to lox are always pleasantly surprised by the light and not too salty flavor of the freshly made gravlaks.
- Step 7
After 48 hours, when you unwrap and remove all the spice and dill mix from the fillets, you can wipe them clean with a wet paper towel. Sometimes I even rinse the fillets under running cold water, if the salt-sugar-pepper mixture has caked on during the curing. Dab fillets dry.
- Step 8
My recipe has a decadent but oh-so-wonderful last step involving whiskey, bourbon, or brandy, a finishing touch I learned from my late father, an amateur chef who liked to experiment; the result is subtle but great: Pour some of your favorite whiskey, bourbon, or brandy in the palm of your hand and rub it over the fillets. This cuts some of the salty taste, and adds an understated and round finish to the fish. For looks, sprinkle finely chopped dill on the fillets, before slicing thinly on an angle and arranging on a platter.
- Step 9
The gravlaks is best served with plenty of lemon wedges and a traditional mustard-dill sauce. I usually make my own (recipe below), but if you’re in a rush, the Ducktrap River of Maine Mustard Dill Sauce, found at vendors such as Whole Foods, is a great alternative.
To make the sauce
- Step 1
Mix mustard, sugar, and vinegar in a small bowl.
- Step 2
While whisking, add just shy of 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil in a fine and constant stream. Season with salt and white pepper. Stir in 2-4 tablespoons of finely chopped fresh dill.
- Step 3
For an authentic gravlaks course, serve with Aquavit and cold beer for a chaser. The Danes and Swedes also make Aquavit, but I recommend the Norwegian Linie Aquavit, because having crossed the Equator twice in oak barrels onboard ships, it not only offers a superior flavor but a great story, too (printed on the backside of the label and visible through the glass bottle).
Note: While best used soon after the curing period ends, gravlaks stays fresh in fridge for up to 10 days if wrapped tight. It also freezes great. Wrap the unsliced fillet in foil and then a freezer bag for best results. Keeps up to three months.