When I was making ceviche the other week it clearly marked the beginning of a new phase in my life: the raw fish period, as posterity will clearly call it. Fresh fish has such a wonderful texture that to cook it often comes close to a crime. The only way to keep it that way is by finding alternatives such as the curing of the fillets with salt.
Gravad Lax is one of Sweden’s most famous dishes, almost as internationally renowned as the ubiquitous Ikea meatballs, I suppose, but for all the right reasons. As with ceviche, you need very fresh fish, salmon to be precise, and not much else. The fillets are cured in salt, sugar, pepper and dill, giving it a wonderfully fresh aroma.
It makes sense to cure more than you need as it takes 2 to 3 days to cure and you can easily freeze the finished dish and keep it for a rainy day. Only the sauce isn’t really suitable for freezing, but it takes literally a few minutes to whip it up.
Gravad lax is healthy, delicious and beautiful, which makes it the perfect party food. And it’s so simple that you’ll have to ask yourself why you ever bothered buying that overpriced stuff in the supermarket …
Gravad Lax (serves 12 as a starter)
For the gravad lax:
- 1 fresh salmon fillet (ca. 1 kg or 2 lb)
- 80g salt
- 80g caster sugar
- 1 tbs coarsely ground black pepper
- ½ bunch (ca. 150g) fresh dill, coarsely chopped
For the mustard sauce:
- 3 tbs Dijon mustard, or similar
- 2 tbs caster sugar
- 1 tbs white wine vinegar
- 120 ml vegetable oil
- 50g freshly chopped dill
Wash and dry the fillet before placing it on a large piece of aluminium foil, skin down. Check for bones by running with your fingers along the length of the fillet; you might need tweezers to remove them! I ended up cutting the fillet into two pieces to make it more manageable, but as long as you have a dish large enough to hold it (a baking tray might work) and that fits in your fridge, you can keep it in one piece.
Sprinkle half the dill on the aluminium foil right next to the fillet before turning it onto the other side, on top of the dill. Then repeat the same process with the skinny side up: first the salt and sugar mix, then the remaining dill.
If you wanted to cure two pieces, place them on top of each other, with the skins outside, like a sandwich, before carefully wrapping up the lot.
Put your fish parcel into a dish that’s large enough to hold it all in and deep enough to collect the brine: as the fish cures, it will loose quite a bit of liquid and you don’t want that to run into your fridge. On top of the parcel you need to place a weight, such as a second dish and a few jam jars or water bottles.
Put the lot into the fridge for at least 48 hours, turning it over 3 or 4 times.
For the sauce, place all the ingredients apart from the oil and the chopped dill in a blender and mix for a few seconds. When it has come together, slowly add the oil, but keep blending as you do so. You can prepare the sauce a few hours in advance, but only add the chopped dill at the end, just before serving, to keep it nice and green looking.
Unwrap the salmon and drain off the liquid. Cut it into very fine slices at a very flat angle, scraping the flesh off the skin. Discard the skin and serve the sliced salmon with the sauce and some rye bread, or similar. And aquavit, obviously, or at least a couple of shots of vodka!
Any leftover gravad lax can be kept in the fridge for a few days (cover it with cling film or similar).