Having just returned from an epic exploration of the frozen North – specifically the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen near the North Pole – I remember with great fondness the unique food of the region.
Most people are familiar with cured salmon, usually cold-smoked to a delicious silken perfection, perhaps accented with a squirt of fresh lemon juice.
That is not this. 🙂
The Scandinavians are the originators of Gravlax – raw salmon cured simply with salt and sugar and flavored with dill and occasionally the caraway-flavored national drink of the Nordic nations, called Aquavit. All this plus time, cold, and nary a whiff of smoke to be seen are what makes the dish complete.
Gravlax is actually very easy to make and is usually served as an appetizer, sliced thinly and accompanied by hovmästarsås (literally steward sauce, also known as gravlaxsås), a dill and mustard sauce. Gravlax is typically served on bread of some type – I for one love it as a change from smoked salmon on my bagel. 🙂
My gravlax recipe includes not just salt and sugar, but also white and black peppercorns as well as coriander seed for more of a pastrami effect – it is delicious and the addition of aquavit in my recipe and the sauce really completes the dish.
FYI – gravlax actually means “Grave Salmon” – so named because during the Middle Ages, gravlax was made by fishermen who salted the salmon and lightly fermented it by burying it in the sand above the high-tide line. The osmotic action of the small amounts of salt water in the sand and the cold helped cure and preserve the fish for later eating. Today, the “grave” is made by covering the fish with salt and there is no fermentation involved in modern gravlax.
One very important note – **DO NOT** make this recipe with salmon you’ve caught yourself! Since there is no cooking involved in this recipe, any parasites in the fish will not be killed by the heat found in the oven or hot smoking. Commercial salmon has typically been flash frozen for long enough that the extreme cold kills anything that might be there that shouldn’t be. If in doubt, ask your fishmonger for salmon fillets suitable for sushi – these have been flash-frozen long enough to be safe. I am horrified how most recipes for this dish neglect to mention this crucial bit of information!
Enjoy this delicious taste of the North, Citizens!
Battle on – The Generalissimo