IT was a bargain too good to miss: a whole side of salmon, weighing a kilo, for just £10 using our Tesco Clubcard. But we only wanted a couple of fillets to steam for tea and the small ones on the lower shelves cost a fiver.
Naturally I bought the side, cut off my two fillets and didn’t really have to think too much about what to do with the rest.
A nice plump section would make me gravadlax, cured pressed salmon, an excellent alternative to smoked, with the chance to add subtle flavours. The rest went in the freezer for a family dinner later in the week, cooked Chinese-style, with even more, the tail end, reserved for soup.
It was the Scandinavians who came up with gravadlax as a way of preserving salmon, smothering it in salt and herbs and burying it in the ground. That’s why you’ll see it alternatively translated as buried or pressed salmon. I have heard it had a bit of a reek!
Things have moved on a bit since.
Essentially you cut your salmon into two equal pieces, leaving the skin on, smearing it on both sides with sugar, salt, herbs (fresh dill gives that distinctive flavour), peppercorns, and a splosh or two of spirits, in my case gin, although alcohol is not essential. If you’re teetotal crushed juniper berries will give the same kick.
Now sandwich the two pieces of salmon together, fleshy sides inwards, wrap in clingfilm or put in a ziplock bag and nestle the whole thing in a handy container. Raid the pantry for two or three tins to press down on the salmon and pop it in the fridge.
Curing can take between one and four days, depending on the result you want or how long you can wait. Just remember to turn the salmon every 12 hours.
When ready, drain the liquid from the salmon, wipe clean and lay on a flat board. Now find a very sharp knife (I use a fish filleting knife) and cut the thinnest slices you can, on the slant, starting at the tail end. Hold the salmon still with a pad of kitchen paper.
Don’t worry about the skin. Curing will have toughened it up and you won’t slice through it, cutting at an angle.
You may disagree but I think gravadlax, as with smoked salmon, gains in texture by being sliced as thinly as possible.
I like it in thinly cut sandwiches with cream cheese or on blinis, little buckwheat pancakes (recipes are everywhere on line) with sour cream.
It’s improved by marinating briefly with a little lemon juice but taste first for pepper.
My cure is taken from Shaun Hill’s Salt is Essential but it is much the same, whatever your reference. Quanitites are for a kilo fillet, scale down if necessary.
You need 4 tablespoons each of rock or sea salt and granulated or Demerara sugar, a bunch of chopped dill and a tablespoon of crushed peppercorns. He adds two tablespoons of brandy to the mix. I used gin plus crushed juniper berries.
Now enjoy it. Gravadlax will keep for at least a week in the fridge, depending on the length of cure, and will freeze, keeping it in one piece. Obviously you won’t refreeze it.