Food Network Magazine (April 2014)
Bittens, would you like a little foreign-language lesson? Let's learn a new word together, shall we?
The word is katastrof. It's Swedish for "disaster" or (obviously) "catastrophe."
And it's important for this little story about making gravlax.
Because the first time we tried this, we ended up with a sizable katastrof on our hands.
Gravlax, if you're not familiar, is a traditional Nordic method of curing salmon using salt, sugar and dill.
We like it a lot. We love the salty-sweet cure, and the bracing dill flavor. But we'd never made gravlax ourselves. So when we spied this recipe from restaurateur and Iron Chef Marc Forgione, in the April issue of Food Network Magazine, we decided to give it a shot.
We shopped for the ingredients and prepared the recipe (Food Network has a great step-by-step photo tutorial online). And then we waited.
In fact, it seems we waited too long. The recipe instructs you to let the salmon cure for 24-36 hours. Due to some scheduling conflicts, we ended up letting ours sit for more like about 60 hours. By the time we unwrapped the salmon, it was almost too tough to cut. Like, shoe-leather tough. And it tasted like a salt lick. It was terrible.
So we threw out that batch, bought more salmon, and tried the whole thing again. This time we were very careful to stick to a 24-hour curing period. But we may have ended up undershooting the second time around: The salmon was only barely cured, and therefore extremely tricky to slice thinly. And yet, despite the under-curing, it was still remarkably salty.
What gives? We checked out a host of other gravlax recipes, from Mark Bittman to Martha Stewart to America's Test Kitchen. None of them call for lime juice, and none of them use a salt to salmon ratio anywhere near this aggressive (2 cups salt to 1 pound of salmon). They all use a heckuva lot more dill. And almost all of the other recipes we looked at call for a longer curing time, typically 48-72 hours.
Reading between the lines, we think this Food Network recipe is more like an fast-track version, like Gravlax Express. The lime juice acts as an accelerator, almost like in a ceviche. And the ample salt pack also helps speed things along.
There's totally nothing wrong with that. In fact, if that's what this recipe is going for, we think it's rather clever. But it does seem to make the curing time a little more temperamental.
And all that salt -- seriously, it's 16 times the amount of salt in, say, this gravlax recipe from Bon Appétit -- yields a gravlax that, for our tastes, misses the boat. We wanted a sugar/salt blend, but mostly we wanted that signature dill flavor. The 2 tablespoons of dill in this version don't stand a chance against the 2 cups of salt and 1 cup of sugar.
We wanted something more like the traditional gravlax we've had in the past. Good news: we knew just where to turn, and just who to ask.
And that's the subject of our next post...
Total time: 24 hours, 25 mins | Active time: 25 mins
Check out Food Network Magazine's step-by-step tutorial.
1 pound center-cut wild king salmon fillet, skin removed
2 cups kosher salt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon cracked white peppercorns
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 medium red onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup fresh lime juice (from about 8 limes)
Remove the bones. Run the back of a chef's knife along the surface of the salmon to help reveal any bones. Use tweezers to pull out the bones, dipping the tweezers in water so the bones slip off. Pat the salmon dry with paper towels and set aside.
Make the cure. Mix the salt, dill, fennel seeds, coriander, peppercorns and brown sugar in a bowl.
Prepare the onions. Toss the onions and lime juice in a medium nonreactive bowl.
Cure the salmon. Spread half of the salt mixture on a large sheet of plastic wrap, then top with half of the onions. Place the salmon on top. Spread the remaining onions and salt mixture on the salmon, making sure to put a little extra around the sides so the fish is completely covered. Wrap the salmon tightly in the plastic wrap. Place in a baking dish to catch any liquid that might leak. Refrigerate 24 to 36 hours.
Rinse and dry. Carefully remove the plastic wrap and discard it (there will be a lot of liquid). Reserve the onions to serve with the salmon. Rinse the salmon under cold water and pat dry.
Slice the gravlax. Use a carving knife to cut the salmon in half lengthwise.
Trim off any remaining dark flesh from the skin side of each piece. Slice on the bias as thinly as possible, wiping your knife with a cold damp towel between slices. To store, wrap the gravlax in plastic wrap and refrigerate up to 5 days.