I don’t know how the gene for liking preserved fish is managing to hold on so tightly, but somehow through the throes of evolution, people are still enjoying it, and not because they need to. You see back in the day, if you wanted to eat certain foods that weren’t just caught, such as fish which have a nasty habit of spoiling rather quickly, you needed to preserve them first. The problem with food, is that we’re not the only organisms that need it to survive. Apparently there are these tiny little organisms called bacteria, and they just love the taste of meat. So how do we get rid of said bacteria? We don’t…we just learn to get rid of the ones that we don’t like. And we’ve done that rather smartly (if we do say so ourselves) by subjecting the bacteria to something that we’re usually ok with, namely: salt. It’s rather ingenious, by putting enough salt, you basically are depleting the amount of water the bacteria can get to (through the process of osmosis), and either killing the bacteria or slowing them down enough that they can’t harm you. Another added benefit of adding salt to meat, is it dissolves the muscle proteins, making them weaker and more tender, but at the same time, the dehydration of the tissue allows the whole meat to be more dense and compact. What you end up with is this tender yet firm piece of animal flesh, ripe for placing on top of a bagel.
Gravlax means “buried fish” and probably is named such because back in the day, the fishermen who caught the fish, didn’t even have a lot salt lying around to preserve the fish, so they would lightly salt it, and bury it underground. The fish would then ferment (which is technically a different step then just salting), and would have a very strong, cheesy taste. Modern versions of gravlax is simply salting a fish, and dry curing it for a few days.
Most gravlax recipes are pretty standard. Cover a piece of salmon with a lot of salt and sugar, place a whole bunch of dill on top, place something heavy over the fish to weigh it all down, and let it sit in the refrigerator for a few days. The only things set in stone is the amount of salt and sugar, and that you need to weigh it down, other than that, you can play around with it. You can use a different herb if you’d like, different sugars, etc…It does help to baste the fish once a day with pooled liquid to help redistribute the salt, and to make sure it’s evenly coated.
For our gravlax, I followed the America’s Test Kitchen’s recipe. They used brown sugar for it’s slight smokiness, and also drizzled a little brandy over the fish. For the brandy, I used 777, which for some odd reason I had lying around, which I figured since it’s not really for drinking, maybe I can use it on fish (I’m still not sure if I could). If you don’t have any, it’s fine, there will be enough liquid that exudes out from the salt.
After three days in the chill chest, wipe away everything from on top of the fish, and slice it really thinly.
This “recipe” is really simple, all you need is time, and if left whole it can be left in the fridge for up to 1 week, just slice what you want, and use the skin to flap over the cut surface.
Anyway, in case you’re wondering, this is not the same as what we commonly refer to as “lox.” Lox apparently is Yiddish for salmon, but the lox we usually buy is cold smoked salmon. We didn’t get into it, but another way of preserving meats is by smoking it (although it really only “cures” the outer most layer), and when it comes to smoking you can either smoke with hot smoke (what you normally think of when you think of smoking [generally anywhere above 90 degrees, I think]), or you can cold smoke it, which leaves the meat raw, but gets the benefits of smoking (flavor, and anti-microbial).
I love lox, like a lot, I could eat it every day, but if you’ve ever had fresh lox (whether cold smoked salmon, gravlax, or whatever), you’d see there’s a world of a difference between fresh and the other stuff, to the point where, and not to sound snobby, but I wouldn’t even eat the non-fresh stuff, it’s just not worth the heartburn. This gravlax I made was up there was one of the best lox (I’m just gonna lump them all in one category) I’ve ever had. It was difficult to slice paper thin, but it was still awesome.
If you give this a try, let me know what you think
adapted from America’s Test Kitchen
- ⅓ cup packed (2 ⅓ ounces) light brown sugar
- ¼ cup kosher salt
- 1-pound skin-on center-cut salmon fillet
- 3 tablespoons brandy (optional)
- 1 cup roughly chopped fresh dill
- Combine sugar and salt in small bowl. Place salmon in 13 by 9-inch glass baking dish and drizzle brandy slowly over top (it will drip down sides). Cover the salmon with the suger-salt mixture, patting it down, and then cover it with the chopped dill.
- Cover salmon loosely with plastic wrap, then place a dish on the tallest part of the salmon (close to center of fillet). Weigh baking dish with 2 or 3 heavy cans and transfer salmon to refrigerator.
- Every day for next two days, Take off the cans and dish, and baste the fish with the liquid that pooled on the bottom. Replace cans and dish, and place back in the fridge
- On the third day, drain off all of the liquid and scrape off the dill. Slice the salmon as thinly as possible on bias.(The salmon can be refrigerated for up to 1 week; it should be left whole and not sliced until ready to serve, and use the “flap” of skin to cover the cut surface)