...because you thought Sweden was Switzerland!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Food journal number 34: Cured salmon (gravad lax)

I'm still down with chicken pox. According to the label of the medicine I'm taking, it's possible for me to experience drowsiness, confusion, insomnia, and even (as a common side-effect) hallucinations while I'm on treatment. Perhaps I'm only dreaming that I'm blogging? :-) One side-effect my medicine surely doesn't have, however, is loss of appetite. As long as I'm not feeling too tired (which happens in the afternoons), I can still cook. In fact, the prospect of me staying at home for a while made me inspired to leaf through cookbooks, and so far I have made a delicious lentil soup – even Marcus was surprised that he could suddenly like lentils! – and he and I tried our hand at curing our own salmon to make gravad lax ("buried salmon") or gravlax.

We actually bought the salmon the day my symptoms appeared, at the fish counter in the grocery. Everybody thought it was an allergy then. I hope I didn't infect anybody there in time for their easter holidays.

The first piece of our very own gravad lax. I thought the Husman-type crisp bread overpowered the fish taste too much, so I made the next ones with wholegain toast bread (Rasker) instead.

"Burying" / curing salmon is a way of preserving the fish, but it also renders a terrific taste to it (my mouth waters just thinking about it). I wrote about gravad lax before (click here), mentioning that it is definitely one of the staples in a Swedish smörgåsbord and one of the more palate-friendly ones too, in comparison with marinated herring.

According to our recipe book, both fresh and frozen fish works for gravad lax, but the middle section of a fresh fish is said to be best. The fishmonger was kind enough to cut us this part from two whole fillets of salmon (two parts are needed, because they will be placed on top of one another. Another recipe, using only one salmon fillet, can be read here.)

He encouraged us with our cured salmon experiment, emphasizing how effortless it really was to make. It pays too. A kilo of salmon costs 109 kronor while ready-made gravad lax fetches for twice as much, if not more. The only thing against your side (if you have a two-man household like ours), is that it is best made in large batches. Asking us how many were to eat the salmon, the fishmonger laughed and said: "Well this one's going to last you a long time!" On the brighter side, we have all the Omega-3 we need for weeks.

1 kilo of salmon (of two half-kilo filets) needs:
1/2 deciliter fine salt
1/2 deciliter sugar
1 T coarsely ground white pepper (I used a garlic press, not our pepper mill)
a bunch of dill

Be sure to freeze the salmon at least 6 hours before use! Parasites can live in fish, and they only die when cooked or frozen. The fish has to be frozen solid throughout. Depending on size, this may take anything from 6 hours to 1 day – sometimes even 2 days are recommended. We froze ours for about a day, for practical reasons because we didn't want anything to do with the fish at nighttime, and also because we didn't want to take unnecessary risks with our health. We then let the fish slowly defrost overnight in the refrigerator, covered with some wax paper.

At lunchtime the next day, we took the defrosted fish out of the refrigerator and started with the (honestly) elementary curing procedure. It's just about hacking the dill, and mixing the sugar, salt and pepper in a separate bowl. You then layer the spice mixture and dill under, between, and above the fish fillets: start with the spice and dill, place the first fillet on it (skin down), generously sprinkle another layer of spice and dill before placing the next fillet on top of the first (skin up), and end with another layer of spice and dill. As mentioned, the skin of the fillet should be kept on. Leave the fish covered in the refrigerator for 2 days, but turn the fillets a couple of times (i.e. once a day) so that the bottom fillet doesn't turn out flatter than the other.

During the process, the fish will lose some water and the dry ingredients will turn into brine.

When the fish is ready, pour the brine out (otherwise, the fish will be too salty), wipe the fish with paper towels – some rinse them too, but I didn't – and try to cut it as thin as you can towards the tail. A finished gravad lax can stay in the refrigerator for an additional 5-6 days.

Gravad lax
is best served with crisp bread, as seen here in my old gravad lax entry, or alternatively, with boiled potatoes and hard boiled egg halves, if you're planning to have it for dinner. If not in a smörgåsbord, it's usually eaten as an appetizer, or even as a breakfast item – which is how we're mostly planing to eat ours, along with our usual cereals and oatmeal.

Making your own mustard sauce for buried salmon (gravlaxsås) is equally uncomplicated as preparing the fish. You need some mustard, salt, sugar, vinegar, white pepper, a lot of oil (1 and a half deciliters), and half a deciliter of finely chopped dill. Blend 2-3 tablespoons of mustard, 1 tablespoon of sugar, half to 1 tablespoon of vinegar, some salt (about 2 big pinches) and pepper (a smaller pinch), and literally add the oil by drops as you mix the ingredients together with an electric beater. Later you can pour a little more oil down – constantly but slowly, like a thin line of oil. Beat the dill in last. The sauce is actually a project for tonight, but I couldn't wait for it before writing this entry ;-)

Will write about the other food experiment next time: lentil soup!


Blogger pj said...

hi joy! sorry haven't been reading your blog or catching up with you lately. life's been hectic--but a really fulfilling sort of hectic.
i ran into your mom, dad, jon, and judith about three weeks ago. :D hehe. glad to see you're well, and still cooking!
I'm thinking of trying the "favorite cake" recipe one of these days.
hope to hear from you soon!

6:23 PM


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