20 August 2009

nothing but pink clouds

How many unsharp pictures you think one can take of the same object? A non-moving, well-lit object at that, while using a pretty foolproof point-and-shoot camera?

More than you think, apparently.

Going through the pictures I had taken at our summer party right before the hungry locusts (aka our guests) were called in, I found that none of the pictures I had taken of the gravlax, the cured whole salmon I had made, were even remotely sharp.

More than that, the salmon seemed to have poisoned the pictures it was in. Picture of cheese platter and italian vegetables - sharp. Picture of cheese platter and a tiny corner of gravlax - mostly sharp. Picture of cheese platter and gravlax - damn unsharp. Picture of gravlax - nothing but pink clouds. Tiny corner of gravlax and tuna tabouleh - sharp again!

What the fudge?!

So, this is what I could salvage, a cutout from a larger 'groupshot':

But despite the pictures, the gravlax itself was a resounding success. Especially considering how little work it actually had been to prepare.

I've been told it's a traditional swedish(?) way of preserving salmon, and the recipe is one I've got handed down from my mother. Curing with salt takes some of the moisture out of the meat, making it firmer, more intense and darker, pretty much like a cured ham. After two days curing, it is still recognizably 'fishy' in texture, but at four days, it really is more ham than salmon, except for the taste, of course.
My family is a little divided on how many days curing are best, but two days seem to be the best compromise.

The sauce that goes with it is traditional and pretty nice, especially if you make it completely from scratch and grind your own mustard, but that's not really necessary. Also, it is far from the only option - my wife skips the sauce completely and sticks with garlic smetana to go with the gravlax.

Whatever you put on top of it - the gravlax is a dead-simple way of preparing a different, intensely tasty salmon dish, perfect for a light summer dinner or as a nice starter.

gravlax (cured salmon)
(Serves 4-6 as a main, double as starters. Images show a whole 6kg salmon.)

for the gravlax
1kg fresh salmon with skin, in two equally-sized pieces
5 small bundles dill
1 tablespoon white pepper
3 tablespoons sugar
4 tablespoons coarse salt

for the sauce
3 tablespoons hot mustard
1 teaspoon mustard powder
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon plain vinegar

Wash the salmon and descale, if necessary. Pat dry.
When you buy the salmon, make sure it is very fresh. Curing will make it taste more intense, for good or bad. Also, making sure you get two pieces of the same shape helps a lot.

Roughly shop the dill and coarsely grind the white pepper. Mix both with the sugar and the salt.

Put one piece of salmon onto a large sheet of tinfoil, skin-side down. Cover well with the spiced salt-sugar-mix, then lay the other piece on top, skin side up.
In the end, you should have skin-meat-salt-meat-skin.

Wrap the salmon tightly with the foil and put into a high-rimmed dish. Lay something heavy, like a stone or a full water-bottle, on top of the whole thing, making sure there's some gentle but insistent pressure all over the fish.
I actually have a few cobblestones in my larder right for that purpose... and as doorstoppers, if need be.

Cure the salmon in a cool place (but not the refrigerator) for two days, turning the bundle each twelve hours.
Do not discard the brine running out, you'll need it for the sauce.

On the day of serving, unwrap the fish and discard the remaining salt and spices. Depending on how intense you like the dish, you can even wash it off, as long as you carefully dry the salmon afterwards.

For the sauce, add four tablespoons of the brine with the remaining ingredients, and stir or blend until smooth. Correct seasoning, trying to find a rather mild balance between hot/salty/sweet.

Serve the fish in thin slices with some fresh dill, the sauce and some fresh bread. Pickles or cucumber salad go very well with this.

The gravlax keeps in the fridge for a few days, but grows more and more intense and ham-like each day.
By the way, I've heard rumours about a version of this involving rainbow trout, coriander green and ginger instead of salmon and dill... My fingers twitch even thinking about this. MUST. TRY. SOON!


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Anonymous said...

How cool that you made your own gravlax! And sometimes the tastiest things take the worst pictures. I don't know why.

Reuben Morningchilde said...

Thanks, Camille! We were a little daunted, I have to admit, but it was really so simple and a great dish to have on the table. And about the pictures - I am mostly stunned that everything else has turned out sharp and it's only the salmon pictures that are botched. Well, then again, better as if the salmon had been botched.