Monday, August 4, 2008

Gravlax and beet carpaccio

I have to credit Ina Garten of the Food Network for the basic recipe below for one of nature’s miracles, gravlax.

The following entry from wikipedia will fill you in about gravlax.

Gravlax or gravad lax (Swedish, Danish), gravlaks (Norwegian) , graavilohi (Finnish), graflax (Icelandic) is a Scandinavian dish consisting of raw salmon cured in salt, sugar, and dill. Gravlax is usually served as an appetizer, sliced thinly and accompanied by hovmästarsås (also known as gravlaxsås), a dill and mustard sauce, either on bread of some kind, or with boiled potatoes.

During the Middle Ages, gravlax was made by fishermen, who salted the salmon and lightly fermented it by burying it in the sand above the high-tide line. The word gravlax comes from the Scandinavian word grav, which means literally "grave" or "hole in the ground" (in Swedish, Norwegian, Danish and Estonian), and lax (or laks), which means "salmon", thus gravlax is "salmon dug into the ground".

Today fermentation is no longer used in the production process. Instead the salmon is "buried" in a dry marinade of salt, sugar, and dill, and cured for a few days. As the salmon cures, the moisture turns the dry cure into a highly concentrated brine, which can be used in Scandinavian cooking as part of a sauce. This same method of curing can be used for any fatty fish, but salmon is the most common. Modern variations on the marinade can include fennel and Pernod, black pepper and coriander seed, or horseradish.

Commercially prepared gravlax is sometimes smoked, and as such is incorrectly termed "gravlax". Salmon is often served in Scandinavia also raw and uncured, not unlike sashimi, but calling it "gravlax" is also incorrect.
Hope you found that illuminating. We ate our gravlax yesterday with a beet carpaccio inspired by chef Jamie Oliver from his program, “Jamie at Home.” Now I am using the word carpaccio loosely, not the only person to do so. It actually refers most often to thinly sliced beef or tuna served raw or very lightly seared. Jamie used grated raw baby beets and freshly grated horseradish. I had neither of these. Hence, the recipe is entirely my own creation.

At our favorite produce market last weekend I found the most beautiful pinkish, whitish beets. They cooked up and taste just like regular red beets, but are very pretty on a plate. I made up the sauce and will give the best guidance I can as I kept tinkering with the proportions until I liked the taste.

It’s also important that I point out that I am always cooking for 2, so double or triple these recipes as you wish.


1 pound fresh salmon, center cut
1 large bunch of dill, plus 1/4 cup chopped dill for serving
1/8 cup kosher salt 1/8 cup sugar
1 tablespoon white or black peppercorns, crushed
1 1/2 tsp whole fennel seeds
splash of sake or other spirit

Cut the salmon in half crosswise and place half the fish skin side down in a deep dish. Wash and shake dry the dill and place it on the fish. Combine the salt, sugar, crushed peppercorns, and fennel seeds in a small bowl and sprinkle it evenly over the piece of fish. Place the other half of salmon over the dill, skin side up. Cover the dish with aluminum foil.

Place a smaller pan on top of the foil and weight it with some heavy cans. Refrigerate the salmon for at least 2 and up to 3 days, turning it every 12 hours and basting it with the liquid that collects.

Lay each piece of salmon flat on a cutting board, remove the bunch of dill, and sprinkle the top with chopped dill. With a long thin slicing knife, slice the salmon in long thin slices as you would for smoked salmon. Make sure your knife is very, very sharp.

Serve on pumpernickel bread or toast. You can also top it with a fried egg that has been allowed to come to room temperature. Or try the beet carpaccio below.

Beet carpaccio

1 large beet, steamed, cooled and peeled

Slice the beet very thin on a mandoline. Arrange the slices on 2 plates. Drizzle with the sauce below, top with gravlax slices and another drizzle of sauce. Garnish with some fresh dill if you have it.

Dressing for beets and gravlax

Olive oil
Chinese black vinegar
Sherry vinegar
White pepper
Lemon juice

If you do not have black vinegar add a bit more sherry vinegar. Be careful not to let vinegar totally highjack the sauce. Whisk the ingredients together and taste. It may take a few minutes of adding small amounts of whatever you think necessary. Remember the rule of thumb: you should be able to detect the presence of every ingredient, however, slightly.

I can’t express adequately the thrill will experienced with the first mouthful of this stuff. The addition of Colorado-grown sweet corn made this supper as memorable as can be for a man of my age.

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