Lox - Gravlax: A Nordic Delicacy Made Right

Kjell Hedström 2018

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  Gravlax : cured salmon just ready in time for the Christmas   smörgåsbord .

Gravlax: cured salmon just ready in time for the Christmas smörgåsbord.

Gravlax

Lox here in the USA is often a brined and lightly cold-smoked salmon filet.  Lox however is a term used for many similar looking - quite different tasting - salmon delicacies. 

Although I like the cold smoked lox that I find at the grocery stores here in Colorado my favorite is gravlax. It is super easy to make yourself and taste much, much better than the cold smoked lox that is commercially available. If you are lucky your nearest IKEA might carry it in the grocery section but reading on you will find it is easy to make and an instant hit at the smörgåsbord.

In Sweden gravlax  is a simple, yet amazingly rich in flavor,  dish that is made of raw salmon cured in salt, sugar, white peppar and dill.

  Smörgåstårta  with shrimp, gravlax, Swedish Christmas ham, eggs, decorative tomatoes and skagenröra

Smörgåstårta with shrimp, gravlax, Swedish Christmas ham, eggs, decorative tomatoes and skagenröra

Gravlax is a festive dish and is used in a wide variety of ways. It is frequently served with a mild, sweet mustard-dill sauce: Gravlaxsås or Hovmästarsås (French: "maitre d'hôtel "sauce).

Common uses for gravlax are as the main dish with dill potatoes, by itself as a side, or part of another delicacy - like baked potatoes with shrimp and crawdad infused skagenröraA favorite of mine, which my American friends find  bizarre, is the smörgåstårta with gravlax (literally: sandwich cake). It is savory, not sweet and it is my birthday cake of choice. 

 Gravlax with Dill Potatoes and Gravlaxsås

Gravlax with Dill Potatoes and Gravlaxsås

Gravlax literally means "Buried Salmon" which comes from its roots in the Middle Ages. Originally  gravlax  was made by the local fishermen. Like other similar fish preservations dated from that time the fish was salted and fermented by burying it. The word gravlax comes from the Swedish word [gräva] (Eng: to dig "hole in the ground, ditch, grave").

Back in the Middle Ages the gravlax was only lightly fermented and was not given an overpowering fermentation flavor as in the infamous surströmming. Over time the fermentation part was ignored.  Nowadays the burying part of gravlax is done by adding salt, sugar, white peppar and dill and curing it within plastic wrap or a zip-lock bag. 

During the curing process there is wonderful osmosis magic that transforms the salmon. The drawn-out moisture transforms the dry rub cure into a concentrated dill infused brine. A very similar process is also used for curing wild game meats, which I should write about another time

The grav-curing process can be made with all types of fatty fish. In Scandinavia, salmon is the most common fish that is cured this way. 


Gravlax

  1. 2lbs  salmon in filets. Skin is not removed.
    The middle piece of the salmon is best for curing. 

    You should start from a frozen salmon. If you bought it fresh from the store and are not sure if it was previously frozen then it should be put in the freezer before curing it. I recommend a freezer with at least 0° F.  A smaller piece of salmon should be frozen for at least 3 days and a whole salmon for at least a week.
     
  2. 2tsp white pepper coarsely ground
    Optional: same amount but also add black pepper. 
     
  3. 1 big bouquet of dill. Chopped coarsely
    For gravlax there is no such thing as too much dill. Seriously, just pile it on. 
     
  4. 5 tbsp sugar. 
    There should always be a little bit more sugar than salt for successful Nordic style curing of salmon or wild game
     
  5. 4 tbsp salt (non iodine) 

 

Curing The Salmon

  • Remove all the bones from the salmon. I find that using a fish plier makes the job easy. 
     
  •  Mix pepper, salt, sugar.  Rub in the salt mixture on the flesh side of the salmon
     
  • Add the dill on top of the flesh side and pat it so it sticks to the cure mix.
     
  • Put the salmon in  a plastic bag and place it in the fridge.
    The skin side should be down.
    The dill packed flesh side should be facing up.
    After 24 hours,  turn the salmon so the skin side is UP.
     
  • Let it be for 2-3 days in the fridge
     
  • Gently brush away the spice and salt mix
     
  • Serve, in thin slices with gravlaxsås.  
    Gravlaxsås
     is a mustard based sauce that is made to complement perfectly the flavors of the gravlax. You can buy it at IKEA but it is easy to make at home, see recipe below.

 

Longevity

The gravlax will last 3-4 days in the fridge after it is cured. You can put it in the freezer. Frozen it keeps up to 2 months.

Gravlaxsås

If you can reach an IKEA then visit the food section and purchase their gravlaxsås or hovvmästarsås. If you are not close to an IKEA location then the recipe can be made easily. 
 

 Roughly 3 dl of sauce:

  • 3 tablespoons of Swedish mustard or any course, stone-ground mustard
    Stay away from the French's Classic Yellow Mustard as its flavor is not suitable for  gravlaxsås 
  • 1 tablespoon of dijon mustard 
  • 1.5 tablespoon of sugar
  • 0.5 teaspoon salt 
  • 1 pinch (krm) of black pepper 
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar 
  • 2 dl oil 
  • 1 teaspoon of cold water 
  • 1 dl chopped dill 
  1. Make sure the oil and the mustard have the same temperature before mixing.
    If the temperature is not the same the liquids might not mix evenly.
     
  2. Mix mustard, sugar, salt, pepper and vinegar. Add the oil dropwise while vigorously stirring until the sauce becomes thick.
     
  3. Add the water. Use an electrical whisk to blend it.
 Serve gravlax with fresh dill 

Serve gravlax with fresh dill 

 

 

 

   

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