Culinary Pen
cooking, curing, salting,
smoking... and eating!


Written By Culinary Pen on Tuesday, December 30, 2008 | 8:01:00 PM

One of the more exciting skills I've been polishing this year is making my own salt-cured salmon, or gravlax. The process is similar to curing prosciutto, except that pork, being as dense as it is, takes much longer. Otherwise, you're basically packing a piece of fresh salmon in 2 parts sugar to 1 part salt. Add 1/4 alcohol (Pernod for fennel cured salmon, Scotch for honey and whiskey cured salmon, etc), and your flavorings (dill, white pepper...). Pack the salmon in this dry rub, then weigh it down to force the water out for 2-3 days.

After you fish the salmon out of the paste, it'll have a firm, cartilage-like texture around the edges. Rinse off the brine, pat dry, and enjoy over the next 2-3 weeks. Right before Christmas I made a dill and lemon zest cured salmon, which turned out great, but it went pretty fast with the holidays. So last Saturday I used a remaining knob of horseradish to do a slightly more aggressive-flavored gravlax. I grated it to about 1/2 cup of horseradish and mixed that into the cure with a small amount of black pepper.

Today I unwrapped the salmon and gave it a taste test. I was pleasantly surprised that the horseradish flavor came through quite clearly, as sometimes it fades in pungency as time goes on. This second photo here is of the cured salmon - you can see it doesn't look much different from the first.

One thing I love about this process is that you don't need to use nitrites to cure it, so it's remarkable easy to do without any special trips to the chemist. For next time, I'm considering doing a Chinese Five Spice Salmon, as something of a change of pace.

Faced with two pounds of salmon and no upcoming holidays, I felt pretty free to experiment with this gravlax. For dinner tonight, I sliced it into thin rashers of salmon and tossed them in an Alfredo sauce with pasta and blanched asparagus. Aside from salting the water, I didn't add much salt, expecting the salmon to make up for it. I still ended up having to add a touch more salt, but the full flavors of the salmon and asparagus worked wonderfully in the rich sauce.

I've heard you can also cure swordfish in the same way, which I'd like to try in the near future. But I'm really hoping to get some nice, fresh wild salmon in to try it with this. I'd just do a simple cure on that, to see if the flavor of the wild salmon shines through, without dill and the like. Unfortunately the market has only had either farm raised salmon, or $25+ lb Wild King Salmon. Well, maybe that can be a New Year's splurge...

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