Once in a great while, I come across a spectacular dish that needs little tinkering to skinny-fy or simplify because it’s already perfectly healthy and incredibly easy…like Swedish Gravlax with Mustard Dill Sauce.
Not the same as the smoked salmon you’d find in a grocery store, but similar to traditional lox you sometimes find in a kosher deli, gravlax is “cold-cured” in salt and sugar. But with the additional seasonings of fresh dill and Aquavit (a Scandinavian alcohol flavored with caraway and other herbs and spices), it has a uniquely delicious taste that somehow makes it more “special” than any deli breakfast food. (That hint of “specialness” may also be because a gravlax appetizer in a restaurant like Marcus Samuelsson’s Aquavit in New York will run you 20 bucks…)
So when in Stockholm for the husband’s “Jack Reacher” premier in December, I was thrilled to see gravlax (or gravad lox) show up at every meal….
In the morning it was served with breakfast eggs at The Grand Hotel. At lunch, we had it in a sandwich at Melloqvist Kaffebar. (According to the New York Times, this little cafe was a favorite haunt of “Dragon Tattoo” author Stieg Larsson. I just had to go.)
At a post premier dinner at the groovy bistro in The Rival Hotel–owned, natch, by ABBA’s Benny Andersson–it showed up on one of the ubiquitous platters of pickled fish that seem to begin most evening meals.
I have to say, I didn’t mind at all. It was delicious. And eating fish morning to night seemed fitting in a city made up of 14 islands and connected by 50 bridges. Besides, with salmon so low in calories, but loaded with protein and rich in healthy Omega 3’s, it was as guilt free and skinny as souvenir eating could ever be! (And since I was wearing some seriously bulky sweaters and puffy coats while there, any food that kept my body’s “puff” in check was welcomed.)
But back in L.A., I was a little intimated to attempt the dish. Curing fish sounded, at best, complicated and, at worst, dangerous. Thankfully, I was wrong. This dish is as foolproof and safe as it is delicious and takes, quite literally, just minutes of actual hands-on effort.
Of all the recipes I tried for this post, this one turned out best. The original version–which I tweaked just a tiny bit–comes from my Swedish friend, former next door neighbor and caterer to the stars, Helene Henderson. She’s also the author of one of my absolutely favorite cookbooks, “The Swedish Table.”
2 fresh salmon fillets, skin on one side only, about 10-12 inches each (If you can afford to buy fresh wild salmon rather than farmed, do it.)
2 T Aquavit (Price varies brand to brand…but for curing fish, the inexpensive $16 dollar version found at BevMo or Costco works as well as the pricier stuff.)
1/2 c kosher salt
1/2 c plus 2 T sugar
2 handfuls of fresh dill (No need to chop, but I do tear mine apart a bit to release the flavor and aroma)
Mix the salt and sugar together in a small bowl.
Rinse your salmon and pat dry. Place one fillet, skin side up, and the other, skin side down, on a piece of foil a few inch longer than the fillets laid end to end.
Sprinkle the skin of the first fillet with a couple of tablespoons of the salt/sugar mixture and carefully flip it so the flesh side is up. Sprinkle the flesh of both fillets with all of the Aquavit and then cover both with most of the salt sugar mixture.
Pile all of the dill onto the flesh of the first fillet and carefully flip the second piece on top, skin side up.
Coat the skin of the second piece of salmon with the last couple of tablespoons of salt and sugar.
Wrap the salmon dill sandwich snuggly in the foil so that the dill will stay in place and the fillets won’t slide around. (The fish will stiffen up as it cures and you want it to stay smooth and pretty as you flip the bag during curing.)
Slip the foil packet into a plastic bag, squeeze out as much air as you can and seal with a twist tie. Place the bag onto a dish, I use a Pyrex, so that any juices that escape won’t end up in your fridge.
Reach into the fridge and flip the bag over 2 or 3 times a day for two days.
When ready to serve, open up the bag, separate the fillets and toss out the dill and any remaining sugar/salt brine in the bag. Either give the salmon a quick rinse in cold water and pat dry or just blot really, really well with paper towels.
Using a sharp knife and a slow sawing motion, cut the salmon at a steep diagonal into thin slices.
As you feel your blade hit the skin on the bottom, simply “push” the slice of fish to the side with your knife to release it from the skin. (Note, you’re going to discard the skin but, if there are ugly but tasty bits of salmon still clinging to it, scrape those off and save to make Salmon Tartar. That will be the next post!)
When all of the salmon is sliced, arrange it on a platter and garnish with more fresh dill, some cucumber slices and some tiny ringlets of shallots.
You can drizzle a scant bit of Skinny Mustard Dill Sauce down the center and sprinkle on a few capers or a dollop of inexpensive caviar to dress it up even more if you like. If serving as an appetizer, have a basket of heart healthy (and authentic for the gravlax!) Light Rye Wasa Bread on the side. Or, to make it a starter, serve a few slices on top of a salad of soft greens with a slice of Wasa on the side…
SKINNY MUSTARD DILL SAUCE
2 T fresh dill, chopped fine
2 T fresh lemon juice (Do taste your lemon juice to make sure it’s sweet and not sour.)
1 T Dijon mustard
1 T light mayonnaise or Reduced Fat Vegenaise
1 T white balsamic vinegar or seasoned rice wine vinegar (The sweetness of these vinegar eliminates the need for added sugar.)
Whisk all together in a small bowl and, if needed, season with a pinch of salt or white pepper.
Drizzle a scant bit of the sauce down the center of the gravlax or serve in a dish on the side.
And if you’re really in the mood to feel like a Swede, refer to this article on how enjoy the dish with a “snap!”