Traditional gravlax is made from 2 whole salmon fillets and flavored with salt, sugar, dill and pepper. If the fish is good, there is nothing better. The gravlax found in American markets is normally very mild, sometimes slightly scented, often with dried dill. Fresh dill has a taste that is discreet and subtle; it flavors the salmon nicely without competing with the fish's own flavors.
Because gravlax should be made from 2 whole fillets, why not give one of them away?
Some cookbooks suggest freezing the salmon before you prepare it, to get rid of harmful microorganisms; with modern hygienic treatment of fish, this should not be a big issue. If you do freeze it, do it after it has been cured. The texture of the flesh will be less damaged after the curing process.
Serve with a sweet mustard sauce and scrambled eggs and dark rye bread for open-faced sandwiches, or with pickles and capers.
Make Ahead: The gravlax needs to cure in the refrigerator for 3 or 4 days. It can be covered and refrigerated for up to 1 week.
- 2 3-pound skin-on salmon fillets, pin bones removed
- 1/3 cup salt
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper
- 4 or 5 fronds dill, finely chopped (3 tablespoons)
- 1 teaspoon dill seeds
- 3 or 4 tablespoons cognac
Rinse the fillets in cold water; use paper towels to pat them dry.
Combine the salt and sugar in a small bowl, then rub the mixture into the flesh side of the fish.
Place one fillet skin side down in a deep dish just large enough to hold the fillets, stacked on top of each other. Scatter the pepper, fresh dill and dill seeds over it, and pour over the cognac (to taste).
Use the remaining fillet to create a top layer in the dish, placing it skin-side up. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and place a heavy weight, such as 2 heavy dishes or a saucepan, on top of the fish. Refrigerate for 3 or 4 days, turning the fish every 12 hours and basting it with any brine that accumulates in the dish.
To serve, discard the brining liquid and brush off the dill. Use a sharp, thin knife to cut the fish on the diagonal into very thin slices, discarding the skin. (The flesh from the tail will be leaner than the flesh from the belly.) Serve with the accompaniments suggested in the headnote, or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week.
Adapted from Andreas Viestad's "Kitchen of Light" (Artisan, 2007).
Tested by Dean Felten.
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