I love smoked salmon, but because smoked meats (yes, even fish) can contain polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, compounds linked to cancer, I eat gravlax instead.
Some people use the terms smoked salmon, lox and gravlox interchangeably, but they aren't the same thing. Smoked salmon is, obviously, smoked, while gravlox and lox are salt-cured but not smoked at all. Gravlox (also spelled gravlax) is cured with salt and soften sugar but also with seasoning like dill or black pepper.
Curing salmon at home is easy. It's also much more affordable than buying the finished product. I used a frozen wild Silver Coho salmon fillet from Trader Joe's, for which I paid $7.99 per pound. To compare, gravlox with dill at Zabar's costs $49.00 per pound.
Most graxlox recipes use both salt and sugar to cure the fish, but the sugar isn't really necessary. (I've read recipes that use honey instead of sugar but I haven't tried this technique yet myself.) My recipe is sugar-free.
Most recipes also call for wrapping the seasoned salmon with plastic wrap and placing a weight on top, but I skipped these steps too. Dangerous chemicals can leech from plastic wrap into food, especially fatty foods like salmon, so instead I cured my salmon in an airtight glass container. I didn't use a weight and don't believe it's necessary. The salt will draw out the moisture, whether you weight it or not.
I used a small salmon fillet weighing in just over a half pound. If your fillet is bigger, make extra Lemon Dill Salt. Save any leftover salt for another purpose, as long as it hasn't come into contact with the raw fish.
3 tbsp sea salt
Zest from 1 organic lemon
Zest from 1 organic lemon
2 tbsp dill fronds, gently pulled from their stems
1 wild salmon fillet, deboned, with or without skin
Using a mortar and pestle, grind together the sea salt, lemon zest and dill until finely chopped.
Using a clean cloth or paper towel, pay dry the salmon. If your salmon has skin, place it skin-side down in a clean glass container. Spread a generous amount of Lemon Dill Salt over the surface and use clean hands to rub it in thoroughly.
If your salmon does not have skin, sprinkle about a tablespoon of the mixture onto the surface where the skin was removed. Rub it in thoroughly and turn the salmon over. Spread the rest of the salt mixture over the top of the salmon and rub it in thoroughly.
Be sure to coat every bit of flesh, right up to the edges.
Cover the salmon tightly and store it in the fridge for 2 or 3 days.
Once the salmon has cured for at least 48 hours, remove it from the fridge. The flesh will have firmed up and the fish will be sitting in liquid.
Drain away the liquid. Remove the dill and lemon residue, and wipe the surface dry. The more thoroughly you wipe it, the less salty it will taste.
If the gravlox is too salty, you can rinse it, but ONLY just before you serve it. Once it's cured, the salt has killed any surface bacteria, so the gravlox will last a couple of weeks in the fridge. But if you put water on it and put it back in the fridge, bacteria can start to grow again. So never wash gravlox unless you are ready to eat it.
Use a sharp, thin, flexible boning knife or fiiet knife to slice the cured salmon as thinly as possible. (If you live in New York City, sign up for a Knife Skills class at the Natural Gourmet Institute.)
Serve it any way you like:
- Place small pieces on top of cucumber rounds and add a dollop of whole milk Greek yogurt
- Arrange thinly sliced gravlox over eggs scrambled with asparagus or mushrooms
- Make a Nicoise salad by tossing salad greens with a French-style vinaigrette and topping them with sliced hard-boiled egg, steamed green beans, fresh tomato wedges, black olives, and a few slices of gravlox