Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The Cure for the Holiday Blues.

Have you ever wished you could make something for a party that just blows everyone's mind? I mean something that everybody will love to eat and at the same time make you look like the king shit of cooking?

"Yes John, that sounds radder than a Sasquatch fighting a chupacabre. The problem is, my culinary expertise amounts to me just barely being able to open up a box of Stagg Chili".

Well faithful reader, I have the perfect dish for you. It's Called Gravlax. Don't be taken back by the funny name or that it sounds like Harry Potter speaking Parseltongue; Gravlax is a simple and wonderfully flavorful example of how to cure fish.

Curing is one of the ways humans have been preserving meats and vegetables for thousands of years. Now of course, humans don't have to preserve foods because we have refrigerators to keep our foods from rotting. We preserve our food now because it tastes damn good. From the aptly named salt cod to the more labor intensive prosciutto or salami, cured items are a huge part of modern society. The process of curing in the home though has almost been forgotten by the masses. It's a shame because the main ingredient is something that all of us have at our fingertips in the kitchen; salt.

In a cure, salt is what gives food its flavor, its texture, and preserves the food item so it can be stored for long periods of time. It has been sustaining our civilization for millenia, and now it will sustain you and yours once you learn how to use it properly. The transformative property of salt cannot be overstated here and after you have completed this recipe, you will understand the power of the darkside salt. Uhhhh, anyway..... let's get started!



1 filet of Salmon with the skin on (2-3 pounds)
1 ounce of Gin (you can substitute vodka, Aquavit, or Pernod)
1 ounce of lemon juice
6 ounces of Salt
4 ounces of Sugar
1/2 ounce of fresh cracked Black Pepper (see picture on my favorite easy way to crack pepper)
1 bunch of Dill

• Rinse and dry your salmon filet.

• Combine the gin and lemon juice and brush the outside of the salmon filet with it.

 • Chop the hell out of your dill. You want it rough chopped, not minced into a paste.

 • As mentioned above, cracking whole pepper is easy. Just put said pepper into a metal cake pan, cover with plastic wrap and bash into oblivion with a heavy object (I use a meat tenderizer). Using the plastic wrap keeps the peppercorns from popping out as well as being translucent so you will be able to see which peppercorns have been crushed and which have not.

 • Combine the salt, sugar, pepper, and dill in a bowl. Mix together with your hands. Try to squeeze the cure mix together so you bruise the dill. (This will extract a little more flavor from the dill).

 • Place salmon on a piece of cheese cloth that is three times as wide as the filet. It only needs to be in one layer since you will be wrapping it up.

• Place the filet in a 13 x 9 baking dish (or whatever the fish fits into with walls). Make sure that your cheese cloth is hanging out of the dish, not under the fish.

• Cover the salmon filet with the cure mixture. Try to cover the thinner end of the filet less than the thicker end. More salt on a thinner end will make it super salty.

• Fold in the end pieces of the cheese cloth and then roll it up till there is no more cheese cloth. It will not look perfect (see mine). This is ok (seriously, it's cool), it just needs to keep the salt on the fish.

• Transfer the fish from the dish onto a sheet pan with a wire rack in it. If you do not have a wire rack insert (and why wouldn't you?), you can just put it on a sheet pan without it. The rack is there to raise it up so the water from the fish can drain out easier. Don't go killing yourself trying to find a wire rack insert, it will cure without it (but really you should have one).

• Place some weight on top of the filet. I just used the dish I had the fish in and a cast iron pan. You could use a brick instead of the cast iron guy; just make sure that you get even pressure on Mr. Fish.

• Place the wrapped salmon filet in your fridge and let it sit for 48-72 hours depending on how cured (salty) you want it. I go for 60 myself.

• Unwrap your gravlax and wash off all of the cure mixture. Pat dry delicately with a paper towel.

• If you are not going to eat it right away, just wrap it up in some plastic wrap or place it into a zip top bag.

* Do not worry about a little discoloration on the top of the fish. It is caused by the pepper and the dill bleeding into the flesh. It just looks a little strange. It you are wierded out by the way it looks, by all means thinly slice it away.

• If you are going to eat it right away then you should find your sharpest knife and begin to cut the gravlax as thinly as you possibly can. You want it almost transparent. This will not be easy at first, but I guarantee you by the time you have sliced that whole filet up, you will be an old hand at it.

Traditionally, this is served on pumpernickel with a dill mustard sauce (recipe in the next day or two). Other accoutrement that I use are finely diced red onion, capers, and a separated and minced hard boiled egg (whites and yolk apart from each other).

Non-traditionally, you can use this in whatever you want. I have seen it in potato salad, sandwiches and I've even put it in my scrambled eggs (recommended!). So go out there and make some gravlax. I will be by your house in a few days to test the results.........for scientific reasons of course.

Update: I have posted recipes for a mustard sauce and a mustard vinaigrette in the comments section. Feel free to comment on anything you like with your gravlax.