Gravad Lax (Gravlax) Two Ways

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Gravad lax (or gravlax) is a Scandinavian dish made with fresh, raw salmon that’s been dry-cured in a blend of salt, sugar, and usually dill. The curing process gives the dish it’s distinct sweet and savoury flavour with a texture that practically melts in your mouth. It’s normally served as an appetiser, or party snack, cut in thin slices and accompanied by a mustard and dill sauce and perhaps a piece of rye bread and a handful of salad. You might’ve tried some at a restaurant, or at your local Swedish home furnishings company (at least in some countries), but you probably haven’t thought of making it at home. I mean, curing raw salmon does sound like an awful lot of work, doesn’t it? Luckily, it isn’t. Apart from the curing time, there really isn’t much to it, so it’s actually surprisingly easy to make your own fancy gravad lax appetiser at home. This post contains two different ways of flavouring your gravad lax: one recipe is for the traditional dill flavoured gravad lax with mustard and dill sauce, the other is for a more modern beetroot gravad lax.

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Gravad lax basically means cured salmon, or buried salmon, which refers back to the olden days when people would bury their fish in the ground to preserve it with some salt, or with the salt that was naturally present in the sand at the beach (or so I’ve read). Luckily, you don’t have to get out your shovel and start digging holes in your garden, or local park in order to make your own gravad lax. Nowadays, you simply ‘bury’ your fish in salt and sugar, weigh it down to mimic the weight of the earth and to press the salt into the fish, and hide it into the fridge for a couple of days.

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Ingredients needed for the traditional gravad lax
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Ingredients for the beetroot cured salmon

If you look around for gravad lax recipes, you’ll find that the ratios of salt to sugar to salmon vary immensely. There are cooks that claim that a traditional gravad lax should be slightly sweeter than salty, but I personally like to leave most of that touch of sweetness to the mustard and dill sauce it’s served with and choose to use more salt than sugar for my cure. In the end, the ratio of salt to sugar you use really depends on your personal taste. If you prefer a sweeter flavour with just a hint of saltiness, add a bit more sugar than salt to your cure; if you’re more into really savoury stuff with just a touch of sweetness, like I am, you’ll want to go quite heavy on the salt. Sounds logical, right?

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Traditional curing mixture
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Beetroot cure

Having said that, I do use a fair amount of salt for the amount of salmon I use – maybe a bit more than other cooks and far less than some – but an amount anywhere between 20g to 60g should cure the fish just as well (just make sure your amount of sugar stays relatively similar to whatever amount of salt you use). Like many, I use a coarse sea salt that is very easy to brush off after the curing process and really will not make the fish too salty. I would strongly advise against using a fine table salt, because you might end up with an inedible overly-salty piece of fish.

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Apart from the curing mixture, the curing time influences the flavour and texture of the fish as well: the longer you cure the salmon, the firmer and saltier (and dryer…) the meat will get. So, it all depends on how salty or firm you want your salmon to be in the end, but let me try to help you with some guidelines. 

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Wrap the fish tightly with some plastic wrap

Technically, you should cure the fish at leastfor 8 hours if you’re planning on doing a quick-cure and eating it on the same day as preparing it. If you’re short on time, 8 hours should be enough to give a nice flavour to your salmon, which will be a bit more sashimi-esque in texture, because it didn’t get to firm up quite as much. Even better would be leaving the salmon overnight, or for 24 hours for a nice light cure. Admittedly, most gravad lax-experts (just to be sure: one of these, I am not) will probably laugh at this crazy short curing time, as most people seem to cure the salmon for at least 48 hours up to a week. Honestly, though, who can really wait for a whole entire weekto eat that lovely piece of fish laying in the fridge? I don’t think that long of a wait is necessary – or possible, or wanted in my case. 

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Weigh down the fish to press curing mixture into the flesh

While I do like a good amount of salt I also like a soft texture on the fish. I’d say keeping the salmon in the fridge somewhere between 36 to 48 hours is just fine. This curing time results in a lovely medium-cured salmon that has just the right amount of firmness and saltiness, but that still retains most of its soft, sweet freshness as well – but that’s just my preference. You want a slight firmer texture and saltier flavour? Leave the fish in the cure for three to four days, or take it even further for an intense punch of salt (but you might risk over curing and dryness). Honestly, if you’ve got a good piece of fish, most curing times are just guidelines, really, so just go for something in the middle like I do.

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After 48 hours of curing
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The beetroot cured salmon after 48 hours

Now, gravad lax is only mildly cured and does not last forever – leaving it too long after removing the cure will make it go bad. How quickly this will happen really depends on how fresh the fish was when you bought it, though I would still recommend eating it within 3 days of taking off the cure…but I guess you could just sniff it to be sure if it’s still edible. When buying your fish, make sure to tell your fishmonger you are planning on eating the salmon raw and that it should be really fresh – you’re looking for a nice firm piece of fish that does not smell fishy and is not slimy to the touch. While you are at it, ask the fishmonger to cut you a thick centre-cut piece of fish that is more or less the same thickness all over (at least 2.5 – 3cm thickness) for the best results.

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All in all, you don’t have to be very precise with either the curing mixture, or the curing time, you can adjust the recipe to your liking, but one thing is certain: slicing the salmon into thin slices just a bit thicker than smoked salmon to serve to your guests is probably the hardest thing about making gravad lax, or maybe I am just clumsy and impatient.

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Tip #1: Don’t really trust your fishmonger into judging whether his produce is safe to eat raw? Freeze your piece of salmon for at least 24 hours to kill potential parasites before thawing and using it, or use an already frozen piece of fish. The freezing obviously cannot reverse the process of a fish going off – so really do use your eyes and nose when buying!

Tip #2: Mustard and dill sauce is a great condiment to eat with your gravad lax, but maybe you’d like to try something a little different, a little more refreshing? Try mixing some crème fraîche with some freshly chopped dill, some freshly crushed black pepper and mix in a little horseradish as well for a bit of a kick!

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Gravad Lax (Gravlax) Two Ways

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  • GF
  • DF
A Scandinavian dish made with fresh, raw salmon that’s been dry-cured in a blend of salt, sugar, and usually dill. The curing process gives the dish it’s distinct sweet and savoury flavour with a texture that practically melts in your mouth.
  • Difficulty:Easy
  • Prep Time:25 mins
  • Serves:4
  • Freezable:Yes

Nutrition per portion

Ingredients
  • For original gravad lax with dill:
  • 500g centre-cut salmon fillet, skin on
  • 40g coarse sea salt
  • 30g caster sugar
  • 40g fresh dill, including stalks (divided into two bunches of 30g and 10g)
  • 15g parsley
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, lightly crushed
  • 0,5 tablespoon peppercorns (black, or white), lightly crushed
  • Zest of one lemon
  • -
  • For beetroot gravad lax:
  • 500g centre-cut salmon fillet, skin on
  • 40g coarse sea salt
  • 20g caster sugar
  • 1 large, or 2 small beetroots, grated
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, lightly crushed
  • 0,5 tablespoon black peppercorns, lightly crushed
  • Zest of one orange
  • -
  • Gravad lax sauce (search for 'Mustard and Dill Sauce' on the website)
  • Some lettuce, or rye bread for serving (optional)
Method
500g of gravad lax serves about 4 - 5 people as an appetizer.
  1. If you are not sure about the freshness of the salmon freeze your piece of salmon for 24 hours before thawing and using it, or use already frozen fish.
  2. When defrosted, take the scales off of the salmon and remove small bones if there are any. Leave the skin on. If there are any very thin parts of meat along the edges, cut them off so that you have a piece of salmon of more or less equal thickness.
  3. With a sharp knife, cut some superficial cuts into the skin of the salmon about 4 - 5cm apart.
  4. For the gravad lax with dill: finely chop the parsley and finely chop 30g of the dill including stalks, reserving about 10g of fresh dill for after curing. For the gravad lax with beetroot: peel and then grate the beetroot, or chop in a food processor into a coarse paste.
  5. In a bowl, mix the salt, sugar, peppercorns, coriander seeds, lemon- or orange zest, and flavourings of choice (either the dill and parsley, or the grated beetroot.). Mix well and set aside.
  6. Place the salmon skin side down onto a tray covered with plastic wrap, or in a glass baking dish. Rub the curing mixture into the top of the salmon.
  7. Place a piece of plastic wrap over the fish and press down to tightly wrap the fish on all sides. Place a cutting board, or another tray, or dish on top of the plastic wrapped salmon. Place some heavy objects such as an iron-cast pan, or some cans on top of the cutting board, or tray to keep it weighed down. Refrigerate for 36 up to 48 hours, depending on your preference of texture and saltiness (read post for more info).
  8. When you feel like your salmon has cured enough, unwrap it and scrape off all the curing mixture. Slightly rinse the salmon with some cold water then pat dry with some paper towels.
  9. For the gravad lax with dill: take your remaining bunch of dill, remove the larger stalks and finely chop the fronds. Gently press the chopped dill onto the cured fish to create a thin green layer on top. For the gravad lax with beetroot: go immediately to step 10.
  10. To serve your fish, use a sharp slightly flexible knife to cut thin slices by holding the knife at a 45 degree angle against the salmon and by cutting each slice away from the skin (don’t eat the skin). Serve with mustard and dill sauce (recipe on the website), or condiment of your choice.
Uneaten gravad lax should be wrapped with cling film and refrigerated immediately. Use the cured salmon within 3 days, or freeze any unused pieces up to 2 months.  

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