No Swedish Christmas dinner is complete without gravlax. Chances are you might have come across it, at least if you’re in Europe, because it’s actually quite popular in other countries too. It’s basically cured salmon – traditionally just sugar, salt and dill – and for you English people out there it’s similar in texture to the Scottish smoked salmon you can buy in M&S etc.
It comes from the times when we had to cure our food in order for it to keep beyond a few days and originally it was made by placing it in a hole in the ground – so it was really more fermented than cured.
Gravlax (or gravad lax) is one of those foods that is really easy to prepare, but very time-consuming (not the preparations but the curing). To make proper gravlax you need to buy the salmon at least three days in advance – six if you want to be on the safe side (three for freezing and three for curing). When I told my brother I had made my own gravlax for our Christmas dinner and that it took three days he told me I was mad. But like I told him; once you’ve put it in the fridge 90% of the job is done, if not 95%.
As for the freezing thing, the Swedish National Food Agency used to recommend that all fish that was to be consumed raw should be frozen for at least 48 hours before consumption to kill any parasites. And since you need to defrost the salmon before you can cure it that would add three days to the “cooking” process. Nowadays, however, they only say that you need to freeze wild caught fish (i.e. not farmed) and apparently 98% of the salmon sold in Swedish supermarkets is farmed, so if you’re in Sweden you should be fine. I still froze mine though – better safe than sorry.
1 kg salmon
100 ml sugar
50 or 100 ml fine sea salt
2 pcs beetroot
3 tbsp gin or vodka
To get the most out of your salmon, the best bit to get is the middle bit. If you get a tail bit, the thinner part will cure faster and may not be very nice to eat. Unfortunately I had rather slim pickings, so I ended up with a tail bit anyway.Take your piece of salmon and place it skin down on a plate or in a dish. Pour over the salt and sugar.
Now there are two schools to the curing – the one that does half salt to sugar and the one that does the same amount. The recipe I followed used the half-method, but I wish I had used the equals-method instead. It depends on your tastes I guess – the half-method is obviously a bit sweeter.
Pour the gin or vodka over the salt and sugar mix and try to spread it out evenly. I used gin because we had an open bottle at home (I didn’t want to open the vodka just to take 3 tbsp for cooking) but the original version is beetroot and vodka.
Grate your beetroot and spread evenly over the sugar and salt mix.
Again you can choose how you want to do it here. Either keep the salmon on the dish and cover with cling-film or a plastic bag, or move the salmon into a plastic bag. I kept my salmon in the dish overnight and then transferred it to a bag. The reason I did it that way is that if you have it in a bag it feels like the juices that come from the curing cover it better.
Either way, place the salmon (still skin side down) in the fridge and leave it there to cure for 2-4 days, turning it a few times during that time (at least once per 24h). I cured mine for three days and turned it three times I think.
To keep the salmon as nice as possible, keep it in one large piece and only slice as much as you’re using at the time. It’s better to have to go back and slice up more than to slice up too much and try and keep the remaining pieces.
If you want to make the more traditional version, remove the beetroot, replace the gin/vodka with a splash of water, and cover with fresh dill.
See, I told you it was easy!