Gravlax is a satisfying snack, a delicious breakfast, and an elegant appetizer. It’s different from lox which is cold smoked, and it’s made by curing fresh salmon in a mixture of salt, sugar, and seasonings. Traditionally, dill is the main seasoning but it’s not required. You can use any herb you like and/or add a wide variety of crushed spices to your cure, ranging from peppercorns to star anise to caraway or fennel seeds.
Preparing the fish only takes a few minutes, but curing takes several days so plan ahead. Salt cures the fish by drawing the moisture out. The sugar also helps the salmon cure, but is there mostly to balance the flavor and effects of the salt. Gravlax made without sugar can easily become too dry and tough, and taste overly salty.
The amount of salt and sugar used in gravlax recipes varies widely, due more to personal preference than food safety. As this recipe proves, large amounts of salt and sugar aren’t really necessary. Experiment and find your own favorite ratio of the two, keeping in mind that not enough salt will result in mushy, under-cured fish and too much (without any sugar to balance it out) will make the fish tough and super-salty.
The amount of curing time also varies, again due in large part to personal preference. You can start tasting the fish after twenty-four hours. However, it’s most likely the texture and flavor you’re looking for will emerge somewhere between forty-eight and seventy-two hours. Sliced very thinly, homemade gravlax should have a fresh but bold salmon flavor. The texture will be slightly firmer than raw salmon, but should never be tough or chewy.
Pair gravlax with thin slices of cucumber, tomato, or other raw veggies, and over salad greens, steamed asparagus, scrambled eggs and anything else you can think of. When in doubt, just eat gravlax alone, draping paper-thin slices over your tongue and savoring the flavor before it melts away.
Servings: Four to six
Time in the Kitchen: Fifteen minutes of prep time, plus twenty-four to seventy-two hours of curing
- 1 pound of very fresh, skin-on salmon fillet, ideally the same thickness (about one inch) all the way through (450 g)
- 1 tablespoon sugar (15 ml)
- 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher or fine sea salt (10 ml)
- 1/4 to 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh herbs (60 to 120 ml)
Use the freshest salmon you can find, ideally wild, both for health reasons for its fatty, rich flavor. Thinner fillets (1-inch thickness or less) will cure easier than thicker fillets, which may need more salt and sugar than this recipe specifies.
Examine the fish for small pin bones by pushing your finger down the middle of the fillet. Remove any bones with tweezers or needle-nosed pliers (or ask the store to remove them for you).
In a small bowl mix together the salt, sugar, and fresh herbs.
Drape a large piece of plastic wrap over a rimmed dish. Over the plastic wrap, thoroughly rub the entire filet of salmon with the cure mixture, rubbing most of it into the flesh side.
Set the salmon down on the plastic wrap, skin side down.
Fold the plastic wrap tightly around the salmon. Lift the salmon out of the dish and tightly wrap the salmon in another piece of plastic wrap (if wrapped tightly enough, you don’t need to place weights on top, like some recipes call for).
Refrigerate the wrapped salmon in the rimmed dish (it will leak some liquid that you won’t want all over your fridge) for roughly twelve hours then flip the filet over.
You can taste the salmon after twenty-four hours, but this recipe generally needs forty-eight to seventy-two hours to fully cure.
Unwrap the salmon. Scrape or brush off the herbs and any salt or sugar that might remain. Using a very sharp knife, slice off the skin then slice the gravlax very thinly to serve.
Eat as is, or with a squirt of lemon.
Keep the gravlax wrapped in clean plastic wrap or in an airtight container, refrigerated. For optimal freshness, eat within a few days.