Wednesday, March 01, 2006

chez les Nordiques, pt. 2

For those of you who’ve been sitting on the edge of your seats, just dying to hear how that gravlax turned out… Well, it was absolute heaven. I mean, just look at it:

Hendrick's Gin Gravlax

When I set out to make it, I compared a half a dozen or so different recipes before finally settling on a what I deemed to be a classic version: Mark Bittman’s Salt-and-Sugar Cured Salmon from Fish: The Complete Guide To Buying and Cooking. I found all kinds of interesting variations on the Swedish original, but for my first gravlax I wanted to start with the basics. Bittman’s recipe was exactly what I was looking for: it includes all the staples—salmon, a roughly 50/50 salt to sugar ratio, and dill—and it also includes spirits. His ingredients list looks like this:

1 3- to 4-pound salmon, weighed after cleaning and beheading, filleted, skin on
3 tbsp salt
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 good-size bunch dill, roughly chopped, stems and all
1 tbsp spirits

Most recipes for gravlax—including Bittman’s, as you can see—work on the assumption that you have a whole salmon in front of you, either because you just caught it, or because you’re going to be feeding a sizable party a suitably substantial appetizer. Since I was only making this gravlax for the two of us, and because I was experimenting, I used a small 8-oz fillet instead. My variation went as follows:

1 8-oz salmon fillet, skin on
1/2 tbsp Maldon salt
1/3 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper
1/8-1/4 cup fresh dill, roughly chopped, stems and all
1/2 tbsp Hendrick’s gin

As you can see, I didn’t hold back on the seasonings. Using Bittman’s recipe as a blueprint, I went with what felt right. I wasn’t worried about using more salt than Bittman recommended because I was using Maldon salt, which has a finer edge to it. Originally I intended to make my gravlax with vodka, but when I realized that I didn’t have any on-hand and that I did have some Hendrick’s Gin , my decision was made. All of a sudden it all made sense. Those beautiful Hendrick’s aromatics were exactly what I was looking for, and because of that, as with the salt, I wasn’t worried about using a little extra. If you can’t get Hendrick’s gin where you live (we had to import ours ourselves from New York City last year) and you want to work with gin, go for something that’s similarly aromatic, like Bombay Sapphire. Finally, by all means, don’t skimp on the salmon. Ideally, you want to start with a wild salmon. It’s going to cost extra, but if you’re only working with an 8-oz fillet, like I did, it won’t be that expensive, and with gravlax a little goes a long way. Whatever you decide when it comes to type, make sure your salmon is “spanking fresh,” as Bittman puts it. There's absolutely no point in using anything less.

At last, the instructions:

Rinse and pat your fillet dry, lay it on a plate skin-side down, then sprinkle it with the salt, sugar, and pepper. Spread the dill on top of the fillet, covering the top as completely as possible, then sprinkle the gin all over it. Wrap the fillet tightly in plastic wrap. Place the fillet in a small plate and then sandwich another plate on top of it, using something that weighs about one pound (a bag of black-eyed peas worked perfectly) to press the top plate down (thereby pressing the salmon). Place your gravlax-in-the-making in the refrigerator.

Open the package every 12 to 24 hours and baste the salmon all over with the juices, putting it back in the refrigerator tightly wrapped each time. After 2 or 3 days (I waited about 60 hours), when the salmon has lost its translucence, slice it thinly as you would smoked salmon, making sure to follow the bias and to avoid the skin. Serve.

Some recipes recommend that you wipe off the dill and pepper first, and maybe even rinse it (although Bittman doesn’t), but I found this completely unnecessary. I just started slicing the gravlax —dill, spices, and all—and served it up on Finn Crisps with fresh chervil.

It’s hard to describe just how perfect this gravlax turned out. It’s firm and perfectly cured, it’s full of flavor but yet has a real delicacy to it. It’s so easy to make, but it nevertheless gives you great satisfaction—probably because you have to attend to it for a couple of days, probably because you have to be patient. I can’t imagine how satisfying it would have been had I actually caught my salmon myself.



Anonymous said...

Great recipe aj/michelle, I'm very tempted to give it a try. When you let it sit for 60 hours, was it at room temp?
Also, if I prepare it, should I plan to use if all in one shot or does it conserve well?
Finally, congratulation on starting to use your Maldon Salt. I was getting worried you again forgot about it!!
Anonymous in Ottawa

PS: talking about salt, prepared yesterday 2 huge jars of "molossol" dill pickles; can't wait to try it!

aj kinik said...

Good eye, Anonymous
I've put in the missing details on the subject of refrigeration.

How long before you get to break open those pickles?

Anonymous said...

Molossol pickles are good to go on 3rd or 4th day (sitting at room temp), depending on how "pickled" you like them. Also, if pickles are "fat ones", wait 4 days. Slim ones can be eaten on 3rd day;
Then it's better to refrigerate them (that is if you have enough left over to bother!)
Alexis in Ottawa

PS and now for something completely different: aj, are you aware this is "blinis week" before the beginning of Lent in the Orthodox calendar (no meat allowed). Have you ever tried blinis with exclusively-fish zakuskis and vodka of course? If not, you definitely should. (Unfortunately I have to give it a pass this year because of my work schedule, or else I would have invited you! last year I had 15 people over!)