In Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry (W.W. Norton & Company, 2014), food preserving expert Cathy Barrow presents a beautiful collection of essential preserving techniques for turning the fleeting abundance of the farmers’ market into a well-stocked pantry full of canned fruits and vegetables, jams, stocks, soups and more. This Gravlax recipe is from the section “Preserved Meat and Fish.”
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In our house, most celebratory meals and holiday gatherings start with a gravlax appetizer, served with cocktail rye, along with an herbed mustard sauce. Or drape it over a beet salad, wrap around steamed asparagus, or add a generous amount to your breakfast toast. There are people who don’t care for smoked salmon, but their attitude changes when they are introduced to gravlax. It’s silky and sweet and the velvety texture melts in your mouth.
What I love most about gravlax is the flexibility of the recipe. Dill or no dill, your choice. I prefer lemon verbena, fresh and fragrant; sometimes I use Thai basil or mint mixed with chervil. Try white sugar, maple syrup, or honey instead of brown sugar. Liberally sprinkle with tequila or Cognac instead of gin. In a pinch, fennel fronds can be substituted. Add ½ teaspoon dill seeds and toast the seeds with the peppercorns. If the gin lacks herbal tones, add 3 crushed juniper berries to the rub. This basic ancient Scandinavian curing technique begs to be adapted.
• 1-1/2 tablespoons white peppercorns
• 1 tablespoon anise seeds
• 1/4 cup (3 oz., 10 g) coarsely chopped fresh lemon verbena or dill, plus 2 tablespoons finely chopped verbena or dill
• 1 cup (8 oz., 220g) firmly packed light brown sugar
• 3 tablespoons (3 oz., 84 g) kosher or fine sea salt
• 3 tablespoons (1.5 oz.) gin, the more herbal the better
• 2 pounds (1 kg) center-cut salmon fillet (skin-on)
1. In a small dry skillet, toast the white peppercorns and anise seeds until they release their fragrance, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat.
2. Pulse the coarsely chopped lemon verbena a few times in the bowl of a food processor, then add the sugar, salt, and toasted spices. Whir until all the herbs and spices are ground very fine. Add the gin and pulse to make a loose paste.
3. Rinse and dry the salmon. Check for pin bones and remove any you find with strong tweezers. Set a large piece of foil on the work surface and cover with a piece of plastic wrap. Place the salmon flesh side up on the plastic wrap. Dump the herb paste on top of the salmon and pat it over the surface. Wrap tightly in the plastic and then the foil.
4. Place the package in a 1-gallon zip-lock bag, set it on a baking sheet or tray, and put another pan on top of the fish. Weight down the pan with heavy cans or a brick. Cure in the refrigerator for 2 days, turning the bag over a few times.
5. Remove the pan and weights, remove the fish from the bag and unwrap it. Scrape off and discard most of the green paste. (Do not rinse—you would just be adding back the moisture the salt pulled from the salmon.) Dry the fish with paper towels, then press the remaining finely chopped verbena all over the flesh side of the salmon. Well wrapped in plastic wrap, the gravlax can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
6. To serve, slice paper-thin, on a slight angle, cutting it away from the skin. A bit of verbena should adhere to each slice, forming a ruffled decorative edge for an elegant presentation.
More Recipes from Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry:
Reprinted with permission from Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry, by Cathy Barrow, and published by W.W. Norton & Company. Buy this book from our store: Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry