August 22, 2016
We live within easy walking distance of Honest Weight, one of the most reliable fish stores in the city. Although we often eat Saturday lunch there after our market shopping, we are less likely to buy a piece of fish to take home. That has all changed. I have just discovered that you CAN teach an old dog new tricks: I have made, for the first time in my life, GRAVLAX.
I got it into my head that I wanted to try making it. It was so delicious--and so easy to do--that I think I'll be making gravlax every other week for the rest of my life.
It is essential to have very fresh fish--and useful to have a fishmonger you can talk to. I originally asked him for a side of salmon, but when I said I'd be making gravlax, he suggested trout instead, since they had just that moment had a delivery of long silvery trout. Always trust your fishmonger. We came home with two sides, for a total weight of just under two pounds (skin on, boneless).
I had already decided how I would proceed, with a mashing-up of several recipes, so as soon as I got home I refrigerated the fish while I made the rub*:
3 T sea salt
2 T organic Free Trade cane sugar
2 t. peppercorns
2 t. whole coriander seed**
These I ground together in my small spice grinder. (I first put them in a mortar and pestle but decided I was too impatient to pound the peppercorns and coriander that way.) After grinding these to a coarse consistency, I put them into a small bowl and stirred in 3 T gin.
Next I washed a big bunch of dill that I had bought at the market. (By "big" I mean that it was a little over two inches in diameter at the base of the bunch.) I dried the dill lightly and removed the heavier stems, then chopped it roughly .
I rubbed the spice slurry into all sides of the trout fillets, then layered them into a gratin dish that was just big enough to hold the fish: a layer of chopped dill; one trout piece, skin-side-down; another layer of dill; the other piece of fish, skin-side-up; another layer of dill. Note that the two flesh sides of the fish are facing each other, with a layer of dill between them.
I covered the fish loosely with plastic wrap then weighted it by covering it with a plate that fit inside the gratin dish, then putting on top of the plate two half-litre plastic water bottles full of water. I refrigerated the whole thing.
Just before bed I uncovered the fish and turned over the whole package so that the bottom became the top. I basted it with the liquid that had accumulated in the dish then reweighted the fish and returned the whole thing to the refrigerator.
Just as the amount of salt and sugar called for varies from recipe to recipe, so does the recommended length of curing time. I served mine after 20 hours and called it perfect. Others suggest 24 to 36 hours, or even two or three days. You can make it as long as a week ahead of time: once it has reached the cured stage that you like, remove it from the brine and scrape off the dill and spices, then wrap it in fresh plastic and keep very cold.
To serve, slice it very thinly with a long, sharp knife, slicing on an angle and carrying the knife right across the skin to remove as much flesh as possible. You can serve your gravlax with mustard mayonnaise or sour cream. I fully expected to want sour cream on my serving, but after my first bite I just ate it plain and with delight.
*Some recipes call for over a cup of sugar and 3/4 cup of salt of this amount of fish. That seems excessive to me.
**The coriander seed is optional, but it was very good. I'll use it again next time.