Gravlax or cured salmon is one of the easiest things to make in the kitchen (or galley). All it requires is salmon, sugar and salt for the base cure and whatever aromatics or seasoning you want to use. The traditional Scandinavian gravlax uses salt, sugar, dill and perhaps a dash of white pepper. That’s it! Short on ingredients, it’s large on flavor.
For a different take on regular gravlax or cured salmon, I often use beets in the curing mix to add a vibrant hue and a sweet subtle flavor to the cured fish. I’ll serve it on bagels or crackers with crème fraîche or in mini phyllo shells with lemon ricotta cheese, a touch of lemon zest and chives (see photo above).
I should also mention that curing your own salmon is much less expensive then buying gravlax at a store which costs anywhere from $25/lb to $60/lb! When you add total prep time of perhaps 30 minutes, you’ll wonder why you didn’t make cured salmon or gravlax earlier! And, the steps are very simple: remove pin bones (if any), pat dry, pack in the curing mix and let sit in the fridge for 2-3 days, draining occasionally.
It goes without saying, but start with the freshest salmon possible. I pack the salmon in plastic wrap but parchment paper would work just as well. Once it is tightly wrapped and placed in a glass dish or another deep tray, use another tray to place on top that can hold some type of weight. This helps to press moisture out of the salmon as it cures, which is integral to the curing process. Just remember to drain the liquids out of the pan every 12 hours or so.
As far as the base cure is concerned, there is some latitude in the proper ratio of salt to sugar which you can adjust to suit your own tastes. A 1 to 1.5 salt to sugar ratio will provide a sweeter tasting salmon while a 1.5 to 1 mix will be saltier. For a traditional Scandinavian gravlax I lean towards more salt, while with the beet-cured version I detail below, I use more sugar.
Finally – and this cannot be over-stressed – use a very sharp knife to cut the salmon on a diagonal. If the knife is not sharp, you will end up just tearing the salmon apart rather than creating nice thin slices.
Beetroot cured Salmon
Makes 12 oz
- 12-14 oz fresh salmon with skin on
- 4.5 oz sugar (about 1/2 cup)
- 3 oz coarse sea salt (about 1/2 cup)
- 2 medium beets (8 oz), peeled and grated
- 1 tsp coriander seeds, coarsely ground
- 1 tsp toasted fennel seeds, coarsely ground
- 2 Tbsp vodka
- Zest of one small orange
- Toast the fennel seeds, let cool then along with the coriander seeds coarsely grind with a mortar and pestle, set aside.
- In a large bowl, grate the beets, add sugar and salt, stirring in coriander, fennel, vodka and orange zest. Mix well.
- Place plastic wrap (enough to wrap the salmon) or parchment paper on a baking tray or in a glass dish. Using a spatula add a layer of the beet mix to the plastic wrap, then place salmon on top skin side down. Cover the top and sides of the salmon with more of the beet mix making sure the salmon is completely covered. Wrap tightly with the plastic wrap.
- Set a weighted tray on top of the wrapped salmon and place in the refrigerator for two to three days. Drain any liquid every 12 hours or so.
- Once the salmon is cured, remove from the refrigerator and gently scrape off curing mix with a spoon and discard. Rinse the salmon in cold water then lightly pat dry. Thinly slice the salmon and serve.