I was at Monuts in Durham recently, where I had a delicious sandwich featuring house cured gravlax, creamy cucumbers, and pickled radishes (I think). I really wasn’t sure what gravlax was, but I knew it was something akin to smoked salmon — we always called it lox in my house.
Something in the back of my mind said, maybe I could do this. So I gave it a try. After analyzing dozens of gravlax and smoked salmon recipes on the internet, I ended up using this 1998 version from The New York Times. The title of the article said it all, “Gravlax Without Fear: A Stunning Dish Just Looks Hard.”
What I’ve come to find out about gravlax is there are a lot of ways to approach this piece of fish that is not cooked, but instead, is cured with sugar and salt. I went out of my way to purchase a good piece of salmon (about 1 pound) at Publix, and started the process. After I got my piece ready, I read some recipes that suggested freezing the fish first to kill any parasites that might be lurking inside. Yuk. And too late. Well, I eat a lot of sushi so I figured I’d be okay. (So far I am.)
I read you have to press the fish while it cures with a board topped by cans or something similar to weigh the fish down and help it release its moisture. I read that you cut the fish in half and press the two halves together so the skin side is up on both sides with the sugar/salt mixture in between. I read that you have to turn it several times during the curing process, which could last from two to five days. You can add vodka, herbs, etc, or you could keep it simple.
I chose to forego the pressing, the turning, and the varied ingredients (and the freezing, which I just might do for safety’s sake next time). I coated the flesh side of the fish (which I did not cut in half, by the way) with A LOT of sugar and salt and chopped, fresh dill. Then I wrapped it in plastic, and left it alone for about 48 hours. I didn’t turn it (although I probably would next time). A lot of rather thick liquid, almost like a gel, came out of the fish and into the casserole dish I was using to house it while in the fridge.
Once I rinsed off the sugar and salt, I sliced it thinly. I slathered vegetable cream cheese on a ritz cracker and laid some salmon on top. It was delicious. I ate it every morning for breakfast on a whole wheat english muffin with some capers.
If you like Nova, lox, smoked salmon, or whatever you want to call it, you have to try it. I will definitely be making this again. However, next time I won’t be so thorough about the rinsing because it would have been a little more salty and dill-like. I’ll also layer on the dill first, then add the sugar and salt. I might even experiment with brown sugar instead of white, or sprinkling a little vodka on the fish first like they do in Norway. So many new things to try!