Gravad Lax, Scandinavian dill cured salmon

Food & drink
Cured salmon – gravad lax

Gravad lax is very easy to make.

It’s embarrassingly simple, but the results are astounding.

The principle is very basic.  You cure a piece of fish in sugar and salt, using the process to introduce other flavours into the fish, in this case, dill and pepper.

One of my biggest problems with gravad lax is getting hold of enough fresh dill to flavour the fish.  The pots of living herbs on sale at the supermarket are next to useless because they’ve been forced too quickly and therefore taste of nothing.

A decent supply of properly grown, fresh dill is an absolute essential.

I managed to strike a bargain on Twitter with a potential dill supplier – some dill in exchange for some of the resulting gravad lax.  In retrospect, collecting a bunch of green foliage from one of the other parent’s in the school playground could have looked like a particularly inappropriate drug deal, but we got away with it without being busted.

Herb supply out of the way, I started with a bit of DIY…

Salmon ready for curing

As the fish cures, it will shed a lot of water, which needs somewhere to go.

There are a couple of schools of thought on this – to drain or not to drain.

If you don’t drain the water away, the fish cures in a makeshift brine, which is OK if there’s enough brine to cover the whole of the piece of fish, but in all likelihood, there won’t be.  It’s better to use a container with a couple of holes in the base to let the brine escape.

To do this, punch a few small holes in the bottom of a large plastic box to let the liquid escape, and catch it in an old baking tray underneath.

You’re also going to need to press your fish to help speed the cure and push out the water, so find a piece of wood – any old but clean offcut will do – that fits the box snugly.  Wrap the wood in clingfilm, just to keep everything clean and find something heavy to weigh it down.

So, to the cure.

Chop a good-sized handful of dill very finely, and mix it with 100g of caster sugar, 75g of sea salt and 15g of freshly ground pepper.

Cover the bottom of the plastic box with some of the cure, and rub more of it into the fleshy side of a 1kg fillet of salmon before putting it in the box, skin side up, and covering the top with the rest of the cure.

Place the wooden board on top and weigh it down with something heavy.   I used a 2.3kg barbell weight – too light to be any real use on a barbell, but heavy enough to weigh down a piece of salmon.

Fit the top on the box, or cover it with more clingfilm if the lid no longer fits.  Put the plastic box in the old baking tray and put the whole lot in the fridge.

After a couple of days, turn the fish over and redistribute the cure.

After five days, the fish should be ready.  It should feel firm to the touch in the centre.

Carefully wash the cure away with cold water, dry the fish and slice it as thinly as you can with a large knife.

There’s a definite knack to this, and it takes practise.

The gravad lax will be quite happy wrapped in clingfilm in the fridge for a couple of weeks.

Serve with a dressing made from 200g of sour cream, more chopped dill, a squeeze of lemon, a tablespoon of wholegrain mustard and some salt and pepper.

The rest of this sauce is excellent as a dressing for some cold new potatoes, too.