Gravad Lax, or gravlax, is Scandinavian cured salmon. It very closely resembles lox in flavor and texture but not in effort to prepare. While Lox is cured and then cold-smoked Gravlax is merely cured. Cold-smoking requires a smoker, and frequent monitoring depending on how sophisticated your smoker is. It's a satisfying project but will keep you home all day. Gravlax on the other hand is almost effortless. She only requires 10 minutes of active time from you. The curing process is 48 hours but you aren't really involved in this process. She's got this.
Swedes enjoy their gravlax on crisp bread with mustard sauce and for dinner with salad and boiled potatoes. But gravlax can also step in wherever lox works and add her own spin to your familiar favorites. In the photo below you'll see I've served it with bagel crostini, mustard butter, and lemon pepper cream cheese, a sort of homage to Sweden and New York, both places I used to call home.
For this recipe you will need high quality wild salmon. I've used Chinook (Spring) and Coho (Silver) and both worked well. I will say I slightly prefered the results better with coho because the texture holds up a little better. I've also used wild arctic char with great results.
A note on tradition: you'll see that I've listed some ingredients as optional. While juniper and horseradish are traditionally optional, dill and white pepper are not. If you want to make proper Scandinavian gravlax use white pepper and dill. However if you are trying to simulate a more lox-like experience, or if you prefer vanilla to rocky road, then you might like to try it with just salt and sugar. The flavor of the salmon really stands out with this variation, making it my favorite route.
If you try this I'd love to hear how it goes! Happy New Year!
3 pounds of salmon in 1 lbs filets, or left whole. Bones removed, skin on.
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup kosher salt
2 Tablespoons white or black pepper optional
2 bunches fresh dill, coarsely chopped optional
2 teaspoons juniper berries or prepared horseradish optional
If you know me at all you know that I don’t believe in the usefulness of shame, particularly when it pertains to food. I really do believe that life is short and that indulgence can be a facilitator of joy. And isn't joy the point of all of this?
I’m one of those people who wants to cram as many experiences into my life while I can even if it means food comas, hangovers and indigestion. I’m the most out of control anytime I return to Canada from long stints in Nicaragua, where I live most of the year. All of my expat friends are the same way. We fly home to our various developed lands, are inevitably over-bowled by grocery stores, restaurants, and home-cooking and we all come back 10 pounds heavier than when we left. There are just so many things we miss from back home that abstaining while we are here is the only thing that isn't on the table.
So this is all fine and good until you wake up one morning and realize that you can’t possibly bear any more ‘life experiences’ because you’ve gone and done it again: your liver is pickled and your blood is moving so slowly through your body that you can barely stay awake let alone participate in life. It’s called a food hangover and that my friends is the state I found myself in yesterday.
Times like this call for huge volumes of green vegetables and nothing more. It has nothing to do with self-control or wanting to reduce your waistline. That is never the point. It’s about something more essential- feeling good. Every bite tastes like medicine- and I’m not talking cherry cough syrup kind of medicine. I’m talking banana penicillin medicine. Does anyone else remember how delicious that stuff was and what a silver lining it was to being a sick child? This is the grown up equivalent. Mas o Minus.
Not only is spinach high in vitamin A, iron, and chlorophyll, it’s also known to be effective at moistening dryness of the body. This is excellent if you’re hungover and essential for surviving dry northern winters. I use a lot of parsley in this recipe because it’s extremely high in nutrients including vitamin A and C, calcium, magnesium, iron, and chlorophyll. Both spinach and parsley are dear friends of our kidneys, liver, and digestive system as a whole. I do have to be clear here: when I say it's good for our digestive system I mean it cleans your digestive system. You understand what I'm saying right? Ok you've been warned.
For this recipe I use frozen, not fresh spinach. I realize this doesn't sound very sexy but spinach has an extremely high shrinkage factor and there is nothing sexy about that. If you do choose to use fresh leaves you’re going to need bags and bags of it and plenty of patience. Frozen spinach has been pre-wilted so while it will still shrink down (more than you expect) the loss won’t be quite as emotional.
This recipe in itself is very simple, affordable, and straightforward. It only involves 10 minutes of active time and about 30 minutes of cooking time. You can play with it as much as you want. Add cumin, coriander, and turmeric at the onset to make it Indian stewed spinach. Replace half the parsley with dill for a more Scandinavian flavor, and excellent pairing with salmon. Replace the water with a can of coconut milk for a cleaner interpretation of Jamaican Callaloo. Hold the water and add plenty vegetable broth and you’ve got soup. Add potatoes and/or lentils, or top with a fried egg and you’ve got more substance. Not detoxing? It’s perfect for that too: slather this stuff on garlic toast, eat it with steamed jasmine rice and toasted pita, or even mix it with feta, throw it on phyllo and bake it into spanakopita. It’s a springboard recipe is what I’m getting at. You feel me?
You’ll notice I ask you to add salt 4 times. Seasoning your food in steps is the best way to develop flavor. Throughout the cooking process you want the dish to be adequately salted. Taste it. Taste it again. And yet again. This is the path to greatness.
Without further ramble here is your recipe:
Yields 4-6 servings
2 Tablespoons olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, small dice (1/4”)
1 head garlic, minced
3 X 10 ounce packages frozen spinach, thawed
1 cup of water
1 head parsley, minced
salt, pepper, chili flakes, lemon juice as you wish
plain yogurt or kefir, optional
Feta cheese, optional
Put the oil into a medium-sized pot and turn the flame on low. Add the onion, and some salt and cook, stirring occasionally until the onions turns golden, about 15 minutes. Don’t rush this step, you’re building flavor here.
Add your garlic and more salt, mix well. Add the spinach, more salt and a cup of water. Turn the heat up to medium-low and cook just until the spinach begins to darken, about 15 minutes. If the mixtures dries up before this happens add a little more water. Don’t cook it until it’s army green, but do wait until the vibrancy begins to dull. As far as moisture content, you're going for stewed, not souped. You definitely want some liquid in the pot but not too much that you couldn't eat this with a fork if you were inclined.
Off the heat and stir in the parsley and seasonings to your desired taste. Top generously with plain yogurt/kefir and/or feta.
Hold the wine, serve with kombucha.
Game. Set. Match. You're cured.