Today, we are traveling to Scandinavia, with one of the most emblematic recipe of the region: gravlax. Gravlax has an incomparable taste, reminiscent of smoked salmon.
What is the origin of gravlax?
They also used a fermentation process that had since been abandoned. Gravlax is a Scandinavian word derived from Swedish gräva (grave) which means “dig”, and lax (laks) which means salmon.
How to make salmon gravlax
The salmon is “buried” in a crust of salt, sugar and herbs. The chemical reaction involved in the preparation of gravlax is the osmosis reaction: the product in high concentration, here the salt solution (Nacl) + sugar at the top of the flesh, migrates from where it is most concentrated towards where it is least concentrated (salmon skin). The chemical process is more complicated to describe, including the presence of membranes, but we will try to make it simple here.
Gravlax is a raw salmon fillet marinated in a crust of coarse salt, sugar, herbs (traditionally dill and parsley) and vodka. In Denmark and Norway, it is sometimes marinated with other spices, beet puree, aquavit, vodka or cognac, and pink berries.
Instead of cooking the salmon in the oven, it is left to marinate in the fridge for 24 to 48 hours. Salmon “cooks” under with the help of the salt. The osmosis reaction is at the origin of this particular cooking of salmon. In the first 12 hours of the process, a liquid that is highly concentrated in flavors and salt is released by the fish. Generally, Swedes recover this liquid and use it as a base in some sauces.
For this recipe, we will filter this liquid by draining the salmon during the process. This operation allows uniform salting. Other fatty fish, including herring, can be used for this type of preparaton. However, salmon remains the most suitable for this type of salt-based storage.
Gravlax is simple in its preparation because there is no cooking involved. However, it requires special attention. After a first catastrophic failed attempt (the fish was really too salty!), I seriously studied the recipe and set out to conquer the perfect gravlax. Also, by gleaning on the internet, in Scandinavian cookbooks and by asking in online forums, I finally found the equation of the perfect recipe of gravlax for you:
Secret for a perfect gravlax
Salmon weight with skin without bones = 1 to 2 x (amount of salt + amount of sugar)
The more you marinate your salmon, the more salty it will be. In addition, since table salt penetrates fish flesh more easily, the waiting time will need to be reduced to 24 hours. For this recipe, I used coarse salt and the wait time was 36 hours for a salmon with pink flesh and shiny and fluffy on the inside. If you prefer a firmer consistency, extend the waiting time to 48 hours. You will get a salmon with firm, shiny flesh.
Gravlax is often served with rye bread, typical of northern regions. It is served as an accompaniment or as an appetizer.
- 1 lb salmon (sashimi-grade), bones removed and skin on
- 2 tablespoons mixed peppercorns (whole), crushed with a mallet
- 1 cup fresh dill , roughly chopped
- 3 tablespoons vodka
- 4 oz. rock salt (coarse and flakes work too)
- 4 oz. brown sugar
In a small bowl, combine brown sugar and salt together and set aside.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Place salmon, flesh side up, on a grate on the prepared pan. Scatter fresh chopped dill over the top of the flesh. Sprinkle with crushed peppercorns and vodka.
Layer salt and sugar mix, over the top of the fish.
Refrigerate in a container in the refrigerator for 24 to 36 hours.
Drain the liquid on the pan. Scrape off sugar, salt and dill. Rinse the fish and pat dry.
The fish is now ready to be thinly sliced on a bias, leaving the skin behind.