Homemade Gravlax

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

Ingredients:

  • 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)

Instructions:

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.


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76 thoughts on “Homemade Gravlax”

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  1. this is great! my dad used to make gravlax all the time and it was yum. he used to weight it with bricks though to get some of the water out.
    i just cured pork belly last week with salt/sugar/bay leaf (holy so good!) so this is next on my list!

    1. I’m with you on the weighing thing – I would guess it speeds up the curing process so you don’t need 3 days, but it should be ready in 1 or 2. Also, it’s more traditional, as gravlax was originally made by burying the salmon underground, weighed down with sand and gravel and stuff 🙂
      Either way, salmon *anything* is heavenly 🙂

      1. I was wondering about that! “Grablachs” sounded like it would be “buried salmon”, but I didn’t see a connection in the recipe.

        1. Metjush,
          I believe you’re right. The name comes from Scandinavia. In the old days the salmon was actually buried. In the northern countries the ground is always cold, now we have refridgerators.

      2. Will the gravlax be oily this was my first time making it I started on Sunday night and finished on Wednesday night

    2. How nice to hear! Does your dad have Scandinavian heritage? “Gravlax” is a Swedish word, lax being the Swedish word for salmon. It is often found as part of the Christmas dinner, or other dinners with your relatives. As kids we don’t like it at all, but as you get older your taste changes. It is absolutely a good addition to the primal diet.

    3. Yes, I also weigh down my gravlax (usually a heavy cast iron frying pan on top of a tray to weigh it evenly).

      I also “baste” the salmon in a couple of tablespoons of vodka, which helps to draw out the liquid. Turn and baste with the liquid once or twice a day. Usually go 3 says. Perfect this time of year for a quick snack or breakfast on the go, or an elegant something to serve guests who stop by unexpectedly.

  2. Anyone who’s made this have a specific herb they recommend besides dill. I hate dill. I knows mark said you can use anything but anyone have a favorite they’ve used in the past?

    Thanks

    1. depends on what flavours you like. if you prefer more subtle go for salt, pepper and parsley. rosemary can be strong but if you like it, go for it! or you can also just skip the herbs all together and go for salt/sugar/pepper.

    2. I agree with the rosemary suggestion but tarragon and/or thyme work very well.

    3. I like to use French pot herbs – chives, parsley, chervil, marjoram, thyme and bay leaves. Mine’s a dry mix that I blitz with the salt and sugar to a fine powder, I can then keep it in a shaker and throw together a fresh batch of gravlax anytime ^_^

    4. Fennel is great– use the lacy fronds from a bulb, or in a pinch just finely chop the bulb.

    1. lox are cold smoked, this is just cured (i.e. with the salt). i just made “bacon” the other day but it was only cured and not smoked. same kinda idea.

      1. Oh man. Smoking takes it to transcendence. Every time I pull home-made bacon or salmon out of the freezer and fry it up, the hickory smoke takes me back to my youth- specifically a few seasons in a mountain town, crisp cold air scented with hickory and pine, excitement of first snow, days skiing till exhaustion, nights out with wild ones…
        Those were the days.. Scents of real life.. Not this mental city pseudo-life. Get a smoker man!

        1. i know! i will borrow a friends next time…tons in this neck of the woods so no need to buy my own! 😉

        2. You cook lox? gravlax? I would think that would ruin it. I thought gravlax/lox was meant to be eaten “raw” – cured only, or perhaps cured and cold smoked, but never, from what I always heard, never cooked.

  3. Forgive me for my ignorance, but doesn’t eating the salmon raw like this put you at serious risk for salmonella? I’m assuming something prevents this considering that you’ve posted it…

    1. The salt cure ‘cooks’ it, as long as you don’t leave it out in warm weather for hours you should be sweet.

      1. Yep, that salt/sugar cure will kill just about anything with cell structure (like salmonella). A salt-based cure causes the cells of microbes to swell until the cell walls rupture.

    1. not sure about those but i was going to make tuna gravlax! basically anything you would like to eat sashimi style i would go for.

    2. Lots of salt can preserve almost anything.

      I sometimes buy salted cod (dry and tough like cardboard) that I have to soak, pitch the water, and soak some more. As a matter of fact, the salted cod is kept in a cardboard box on the floor at my butcher shop.

      I love salted cod to make casseroles and cod cakes. Cod has an amazing ability to rehydrate and be fresh. I am not as familiar with other types of fish but I do cure alot of meats.

      Regarding white fish, I highly recommended making a ceviche. The acid, citrus, “cooks” the fish. In Peruvian cuisine a vinegar brine is used to soak fried fish for an extra something something. Delicious.

      1. Ceviche is not fried fish, it is raw and cooked in lime juice. I used to eat ceviche in the street markets in Lima.

    3. You want a fish with a fairly firm texture – Cod might do, but pollock is too fine-grained. As well, the fattiness of salmon provides a great mouthfeel and balance against the remaining saltiness from the cure. Good cuts of halibut would be a prime choice if you want a whitefish.

  4. Being swedish, I rarely make my own, as I can buy excellent gravlax everywhere. Must try to do a sugar-free version of the gravlax-sauce, though…

  5. I’ve heard that salt does not kill tapeworm in raw fish. How is this dish safe to eat?

    1. There is also freezing for a while- I do this with bacon usually even though I never eat it raw. Freezing for 14 days kills most unsavories. Anything else, get some diatomaceous earth and knock it back in water regularly.

      1. I agree. But please keep in mind the difference between freezing at home and flash freezing. Flash freezing is preferred as it maintains cellular integrity. Freezing in a conventional freezer increases the chances of cellular rupturing during the freezing process and thus affects the quality of the product. Totally noticeable when thawing out!

    2. I de-wormed fresh fish the other day. The trick is to look for bruised/pink spots (it was a white fish) and then using a knife make a slit to get the bugger out. There are specific tools for this too. Cooking the fish will kill it too, but I do it anyways.

  6. Mark,
    As stated by Lily, there is potential tapeworm larva in the flesh of wild salmon. Curing salmon in this way does not provide the heat kill step to kill the potential larva. There are specific guidelines on parasite destruction in fresh salmon in FDA’s 2009 Food Code.

    As a health inspector I am happy to be a resource for you in providing the safety aspects of more unconventional food you recommend such as this.

    Please partner with me in providing safe recipes and information for our community.

    1. In Sweden we eat this all the time and nobody every gets tapeworm.

      That’s reality.

      1. Yes but here in Sweden is it illegal to sell gravlax or salmon, like in sushi, that haven’t been in the freezer for 48 hours. That take out the tapeworm in raw fish. One thing we serve gravlax with is Gravlaxsauce. It is dijonmustard with honey and dill.

  7. As a health inspector, you should know that freezing meat and fish for 24 hours or more will generally be enough of a preventative measure for avoiding tapeworms.

    Just freeze whatever you plan on eating raw, rare, or less-cooked for 24 hours, and you won’t get a tapeworm.

    1. No it wont.
      Read the food code … 7 days is required at -4 or colder. Please educate yourself!

        1. Nice, you totally snuck in a snarky big government jab when someone was trying to give you a health tip.
          Well we wouldn’t want to keep you from the eartly paradises of the private sector: Citibank, for-profit education et alia who really do have your best interests at heart.

    1. I like the use of “grok” as a blanket noun. (Grammar Nazis, have at me).

      I’m going to go out later and get totally grokked! And tomorrows breakfast, the hair of the grok with bacon.

  8. i live on the west coast of BC…lots o sushi/sashimi here and never ever had a problem. also most of the fish you find is flash frozen at sea so not an issue. it’s always a better idea to buy frozen at sea fish…it tastes and IS actually fresher than ‘fresh’ fish (cause it’s frozen right away as opposed to being chilled for several days while the fisher is at sea travelling back, en route to store etc)

  9. oh ha ha ha that made me laugh… where the grok IS Wayne? Wayne people dis you for being first, and then when you aren’t here we miss you. LOL

  10. Mark’s photos always look so professional, wonder if he takes those himself or if he “has a guy” (or gal) that does it for him?

  11. Hey, I actually have some fish in my refrigerator doing this right now! I found a recipe in Rachel Ray magazine that uses a bit of clementine juice and zest for flavor. That’s probably more like a ceviche, but I would totally try this with some orange zest or something. I’m making mine plain with just sugar and salt, and I have a plate on top to weigh it down. Can’t wait to eat it tomorrow!

    1. I’m going to throw orange zest into the recipe above and see what happens…

  12. Swedish chef Leila Lindholm spice the salmon with elderflower juice (concentrate)and vodka.

  13. I’m about to try this with wild salmon fillet that I can buy frozen (presumably flash frozen) – so hopefully that might be the best of both worlds, i.e wild and also safer to eat because its frozen at source? Does anyone know whether curing like this increases the nutritional value as opposed to smoked salmon, which I also love? Perhaps there’s not much in it, but it’s interesting to explore this type of raw/cured produce for its high nutrition

  14. I love gravlax, ceviche, sushi and all sorts of raw or cured seafood, and I’ve encountered cod worms before, so all this talk of parasites made me want to find some non-USDA authority. Google to the rescue: Helen Rennie of Helen’s Kitchen actually talked to two parasitology researchers to get the low-down. Check out her conclusions here: https://www.beyondsalmon.com/2006/09/parasites-in-fish-part-1-cod-worm.html
    You can follow the link to the page on tapeworm.
    My take-away: if you intend to eat it raw, acid-cured or salt-cured, buy it frozen or freeze for a week or so at home before proceeding.

    Salt-dried fish is fine without previous freezing. Lutefisk anyone?
    https://www.sofn.com/norwegian_culture/showRecipe.jsp?document=Lutefisk.html

  15. Surprised to see this recipe choice here.

    I think adding sugar to fish (or other savory food) is a little nuts, actually. And it doesn’t fit with my understanding of paleo or primal.

    Isn’t salmon delicious enough on its own, without adding sugar to it? Do we really need to try to make it even more awesome than it already is – with sugar, no less?

    If we’re going to have dessert, then let’s have some. But why sweeten our savory?

    This is just my take.. Thought I’d share it.

    Enjoy your gravlox, everyone 🙂

    1. Typically the sugar/salt cure is washed or scraped off and very little to none remains in the finished product. One could cut out the sugar altogether and simply salt-cure the fish, but you’ll end up with a drier, firmer product. I use a 2:1:1 ratio salt to sugar to herbs mix.

  16. All the recipes I’ve seen recommend freezing the salmon either before or after curing for three days; just to be safe and not have worms or eggs in the fish. Flavoring with vodka, Swedish snaps (akvavit) or like my Dad, cognac is also very common in the Nordic countries. Alcohol softens the fish and gives it a divine texture. Nothing beats my Dad’s or Gran’s gravlax, the recipe is essentially the same. The cognac does wonders!

  17. Well, that must be nice for you guys who eat fresh salmon that’s been flash frozen. I live close enough to the ocean that the fish is caught and on my counter in less than 24 hours. Never frozen. Freezing at home isn’t cold enough to kill the parasites. I’m still fearful of fish parasites, but will tear into a piece of raw beef, no problem. Haha

  18. I would experiment without sugar. I brine without sugar for my chickens, turkeys and some wild game. Adding sugar to a brine makes everything taste like ham and is unnecessary IMO. Salmon may be different, but I am curious to try without.

  19. Do you have to use sugar for this to cure properly or can you make it without?

  20. Gravlaks (Norwegian spelling) is wonderful, but I had rakfisk with my parents just last night. THAT’s cured for months… It has to be really fresh, and hygiene has to be extreme, because there is a chance of food poisoning, but people still make this at home.

    My folks ate it with potatoes and lefse, I just had the rest, swede mash, red onion and lots of sour cream… And a nice litte glass of Akevitt to wash is down.

  21. Love the stuff. My mother makes a very nice one without any sugar added, and her tip on keeping it moist and not too salty work every time. After curing the fish for 24 hours, she slices it up, puts it in a jar, adds some sliced up raw onions (optional) and covers it all up with oilve oil. She then lets it cure for another day or two. Makes for a super moist fish.

  22. My mother (we are from the north of sweden) does the best gravlax. She always freeze it first in minus 18 °C i 72 hours (as recomended by the swedish health authority) to kill all parasites. She use suger and salt, nothing more, and always leave it for 72 hours for the best texture/taste.

  23. …sugar?
    …sugar?
    … SUGAR???
    Why should we turn one of the most healthy to something BAD???

  24. Freezing will kill parasites, but listeria may still be there. The only way to kill listeria is to heat to 145 f. Just a tip. I’ve been researching this for the past few hours as I have a salmon fillet that I bought frozen curing in the fridge. I also read a recent Norwegian study that found that salt kills off some of the listeria bacteria, weakens some, and actually some emerge stronger having survived the stressor. Pretty interesting. Just fyi if anyone is wondering. Listeriosis is quite rare but can be really nasty. So, yes, they eat it all the time in Scandinavia, but they still study its connection with listeria, so it’s not completely safe. Definitely be careful if pregnant or immunocompromised. Everyone else weigh the risks and decide 🙂

  25. Is Gravlax a no no for diabetics because of the sugar used for curing?