Sunday, November 28, 2010


Well I hope all had a terrific Thanksgiving. It was one of my best. This year the family all gathered at my house. It was quite traditional with an abundance of food followed by couch time and plenty of football. We ate, drank, laughed, talked, played cards and just savored the moment. As my kids get older, I am painfully aware that days like this are very finite. The oldest 3 are all at an age that they’ll be starting their own families soon and pulled in other directions. With that in mind, this holiday was special.

Although most of the menu was a cornucopia of tradition, I also prepared one of my favorite snacks to nibble on as I worked that’s as far from any traditional Thanksgiving menu item that I’m aware of. If you like Salmon, you’ll love Gravlax. It’s not something I’d even heard of until a few years ago but once I prepared it, I was hooked. Traditional Gravlax is Salmon cured in salt, sugar and dill for at least 24 hours. It comes to us from our tall, blond and beautiful friends in the Norse countries. Back in the Middle Ages, not only was the Salmon packed in this salt mix, it was also buried in the sand just below the high tide line at the ocean’s edge to allow it to ferment. Gravlax literally translated means “buried Salmon”. Somewhere along the way, the fermentation idea was discarded and we have the Gravlax that is served today. The salt draws the moisture from the outer edges of the fish leaving just a slight leathery texture followed by a creamy finish from the inside. The Salmon-y flavor is enhanced by perfect saltiness with hints of lemon (which is added in most modern preparations) and dill. Gravlax can be served in many different ways. Here you see that I’ve simply put it on a piece of Pumpernickel bread with dill and capers. A thin slice of lemon and some red onion would also be delicious. I sometimes add it to scrambled eggs as a takeoff from one of my favorite breakfasts in Scotland –scrambled eggs with smoked Salmon.

Of course I Googled Gravlax to see all of the different ways folks make it. There are plenty but salt, sugar and dill seem pretty consistent. A chef I met in Canada uses thinly sliced beets to impart a beautiful red hue as well a unique and delicious twist. As I mentioned, lemon is common but I imagine other citrus would add a tasty acidity as well. You be the judge but the basic texture and creaminess will be the same.

The best reason to talk about Gravlax during the holiday season is that it’s absolutely the easiest thing I know how to make. Unless you plan on serving your guests chips when they arrive, you won’t find a simpler or more elegant starter. Obviously this has to cure for a day or two (I think two is best) so you’ll prepare it well in advance and not have to think about it again. The magic will happen in your refrigerator (unless you choose to bury it at the beach).

I think it’s time to start a new tradition.


1 3½-4 lb Salmon fillet (pin bones and skin removed)
2 cups salt
1 cup sugar
1 lemon thinly sliced
1 cup fresh dill, very coarsely chopped

Combine the salt, sugar and dill. On a long baking sheet, cut a piece of cellophane that is big enough to wrap the entire piece of fish and lay that out as a base (you may need 2 pieces). Place enough mixture on the bottom so that all of the fish touching the bottom will be covered. Lay the Salmon down on the mixture. Pour the rest of the cure over the top and add the lemon slices across the top. Laying the lemon on the fish will give it more lemon flavor but will discolor the parts of the fish it touches. Wrap tightly in the cellophane. Lay a second baking sheet on the top and weigh down. I use a heavy cast iron skillet but 1 or 2 foil wrapped bricks would be fine too. Place in the refrigerator for 24-48 hours.

When ready to slice, remove Salmon from the cure and wash thoroughly. Pat dry. Using a sharp knife, make very thin slices at a 45 degree angle.

Serve in any of the ways described above or create your own wonderful idea.

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