|This is the photo from the Barefoot Contessa book. Because I never remember to take photos of holiday food. Because I am too excited, and too busy eating it and also drinking, to think of it. However, I did take photos of making the gravlax, which you will find below. (Note: it ends up looking just like this.)
|The ingredients are few.
Gravlax is a magic trick. After a day or so of happy contact with a simple salt-and-sugar curing mixture, raw salmon turns dense and silky, like the best smoked salmon you ever tasted, only not smoky.
|I crush the pepper in a mortar and pestle, but a heavy can works fine.
It takes well to seasonings, and in the recipe below, those seasonings include black pepper, dill, and lemon zest. You can be creative with this part, though.
|It will seem like a lot of salt and sugar, but most of it ends up in the liquid that comes out of the fish, which you will discard.
If you Google around, you’ll see lots of ideas about flavoring: grapefruit, aquavit, all kinds of spices. But if you’re new to curing salmon, try this very basic recipe first. You will not believe how easy it is—the salmon will be safely curing in the fridge five minutes after you unwrap it—and nobody will believe you made it, even if you’ve been making it every Christmas or whatever holiday for ten years.
One year, right after I said to Michael, “Maybe I’ll skip the gravlax this year,” my mom called to ascertain, on my father’s behalf, that I was making the gravlax, and yes I was! Then again, I am the same person who found myself making latkes this year not a full ten minutes after saying, “I’m not making latkes this year.” Sigh. Happy everything, my loves.
Gravlax with Mustard Sauce
I follow the Barefoot Contessa’s basic recipe and method, but I use black pepper instead of white pepper, I omit the tablespoon of fennel seeds, and I add lemon zest (I have flavored it with crushed juniper berries instead of the lemon, which is also good). I use a little less sugar. I serve it very thinly sliced, in a big heap (although it usually gets eaten as quickly as I can slice it) with very thinly sliced cucumbers and (sometimes) fresh pumpernickel bread, which I make in skinny loaves following this ridiculously elaborate recipe from this book (Google “Artisan Bread caramel color” for the recipe for that maddening ingredient). That weird, damp brown pumpernickel cocktail bread would work fine, I bet, and another thing I’ve done is thinly slice pumpernickel bagels, not the usual way, but top to bottom into narrow, skinny slices. You could also serve the gravlax on a plate, with just a wedge of lemon, and skip the bread and mustard sauce. I’m sorry this is such a long and micromanaging headnote.
2 (1 1/2-pound) pieces center-cut very, very fresh salmon fillet
½ cup kosher salt
4 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons black peppercorns, crushed
1 large bunch of fresh dill, plus extra for the sauce
The zest of one large lemon, shaved off in strips
Pumpernickel bread and thinly sliced cucumbers, for serving
Place one piece of salmon in a deep dish, skin side down. Combine the salt, sugar, and peppercorn in a small bowl and sprinkle half of it evenly over the salmon. Wash and shake dry the dill and arrange it over the fish. Top the dill with the lemon zest and sprinkle the remaining spice mixture over it. Place the other piece of salmon over the dill and spices, skin side up. Cover the dish with plastic wrap or aluminum foil. Place a smaller dish on top of the plastic wrap and weight it with heavy cans (I find this easiest if I first put a small baking sheet on top of the salmon; the salmon will lose a lot of bulk as the liquid is pulled out of it by the salt, so if it flattens below the rim of the dish it’s in, lose the baking sheet.
The Contessa’s next instructions are this: “Refrigerate the salmon for at least 2 to 3 days, turning it every 12 hours and basting it with the liquid that collects.” But, except for turning it roughly every 12 hours, that’s not what I do. I do the same thing every year: I make it mid-day on the 23rd, and on Christmas eve, we bring half of it to a friend’s house. I leave the other half in the fridge, with the dill and spices still, and we eat that one on Christmas day. But some of us think that the first night, when it’s only been curing for a day and a half, is when it’s best. Also, I don’t baste it.
To serve, lay the salmon fillets flat on a cutting board and scrape off most of the dill and spices. Slice with a long, thin, very sharp knife, at an angle across the grain. Arrange the slices in a heap on a platter, with the bread, cukes, and sauce, and let people help themselves.
½ cup Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons dry ground mustard (I use Coleman’s)
6 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup white wine vinegar
2/3 cup neutral-tasting vegetable oil (she uses olive oil, but I think it’s too strong)
6 tablespoons chopped fresh dill (my mum swears that if you cut it with a knife instead of properly snipping it with scissors, it tastes bitter, and I am an obedient child)
Combine the mustard, ground mustard, sugar, and vinegar in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the oil and stir in the chopped dill. Serve with the gravlax.