The term Gravlax (though this appears to be a purely Western spelling) literally means “Grave Salmon” or “Buried Salmon.” The name, and the tradition, arose from a preparation in medieval times that involved curing raw fish by salting and burying it on the beach. The preparation continues to play a prominent role in Scandinavian cuisine and today the process occurs above ground with salt, sugar and dill – though numerous other flavors can be added.
The impetus for our Gravlax was the massive harvest of sockeye salmon that occurred during the first seasonal opening along the Copper River in Alaska. Not only is this some of the finest salmon in the world, but the above average harvest dropped the price considerably, meaning that it was fair game for what was, admittedly, an experimental project.
A 2:1 ration of salt to sugar was liberally packed on the salmon, whose skin had been pricked several times with a paring knife, along with a sprinkling of chopped fresh dill. The fillet was then wrapped tightly in plastic and weighted (in this case, using a plate and a box of Kosher salt) while curing in the refrigerator. After 24 hours the salmon was flipped and the liquid drained from its plate. After 48 hours the excess dill was scraped off, the salmon thinly sliced and enjoyed by all on pumpernickel bread with cream cheese and capers. With this preparation, the flavor of the salmon is the key element – no smoke to enhance otherwise bland fish. Yet with this fine, fresh Copper River Salmon – flown in that very morning according to our fish monger – the flavor shone through beautifully and made for a delicious dish. Another great tribute to the power of ingredients.
Note: My employer Schiedermayer & Associates works with the good people at Copper River Salmon, though they were in no way involved with this post.