Sometimes, my palate is a live illustration of the law of unintended consequences. The combination of our sausage-making party and the constant talk about preserving food that comes with summer rattled around in my subconscious for weeks.
Then, on a Saturday morning as we did our shopping, we passed by Shogun Fish at the market. They were advertising the first local wild salmon of the season and a relay closed somewhere in my head. Suddenly, I wanted gravlax, and I wanted to make it myself.
On the hunt for a recipe, I turned to Tom Douglas’ Seattle Kitchen. Tom is my first stop when I need wisdom about salmon, and his advice mostly lined up with other recipes and random commentary that I found around the InterWebs. I guess. The big differences were the addition of ground juniper berries (possibly traditional) and the absence of dill (definitely untraditional), and the presence of some other spices.
Fennel? Cayenne? Okay, whatever.
In theory, I knew that the process wasn’t difficult: just a simple salt/sugar cure. But I had no idea how dead-freakin’-easy it would be. Just pack the dry cure over and around the fish, weight the whole pile down with cans or what-have you, refrigerate, wait a few days and POW! Instant gravlax. Seriously, the hardest thing about this whole project was picking the juniper berry flecks out of the finished product. Obsess much? No! Yesssss. (Who said that?)
I love this stuff. I eat it for breakfast — with soft scrambled eggs, yum — for lunch, for a snack, whenever. For my next batch I’m going to try vacuum-sealing and freezing some to see how it holds up.
1-1/4 pound salmon fillet, preferably skin on, pin bones removed
2/3 cup kosher salt
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon ground juniper berries
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, ground
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Combine the cure ingredients in a small bowl. Sprinkle the bottom of a non-reactive baking pan with about 1/2 inch of the cure and place the fish in the pan, skin side down. Blanket the fish with the remaining cure, creating a layer about 1-1/2 inches thick.
Cover the salmon with a piece of wax paper and top with another smaller pan, then weight the top pan down with a few cans. Store in the refrigerator for two to three days until the salmon is quite firm to the touch; the exact amount of time will depend on how thick your piece of salmon is. Remove the wax paper and the cans, and then use a rubber spatula to scape the cure from the salmon. Remove the salmon from the pan and briefly rinse it, then pat it dry with paper towels. To serve, slice the gravlax very thinly on the bias.
Cook’s note: I was not shy at all about rinsing the gravlax under cold running water until the cure was gone, daddy gone.