Cookbook Profile

Gravlax with Mustard Sauce

Serves 10 to 12 as an appetizer, more as part of a buffet

Gravlax, salmon cured to a velvety, silky-smooth texture in a sugar-salt-dill mixture, is one of the great traditional Scandinavian dishes. An essential part of any smorgasbord table, it also makes an elegant appetizer for a dinner party, perhaps a New Year's Eve celebration. Although it is a special- occasion dish, it is simple to prepare. I like to start the cure at room temperature, so that the sugar and salt slowly dissolve, penetrating the flesh of the fish, then finish with a longer stint in the refrigerator. (The word gravlax comes from gravad lax, literally, "buried salmon," because in the days before refrigeration, the salmon was buried in the ground to keep it cold as it cured.)

As gravlax has become popular in the United States, chefs have experimented with all sorts of cures-using tequila and cilantro, for example, or gin and juniper berries. But of all the fresh herbs used in Sweden, dill is the most popular, particularly in fish preparations, and I offer the classic version here, with the traditional mustard-dill sauce as an accompaniment. I do add a little coffee to the sauce to give it a touch of earthiness.

On a smorgasbord table, present the cured fish whole, with a sharp slicing knife so guests can serve themselves. If you're not sure about your guests' knife skills, slice the gravlax and arrange the paper-thin slices on a platter, with the mustard sauce alongside.

For the Gravlax
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup kosher salt
2 tablespoons cracked white peppercorns
2 1/2-3 pounds skin-on salmon fillet, in one piece,
     any pin bones removed
2-3 large bunches fresh dill, coarsely chopped (including stems)

For the Mustard Sauce
2 tablespoons honey mustard
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon cold strong coffee
Pinch of salt
Pinch of freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup grapeseed oil or canola oil
1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
Thin slices Potato Mustard Bread (page 204 of book)
     or whole-grain bread

1. Prepare the Gravlax: Combine the sugar, salt, and peppercorns in a small bowl and mix well. Place the salmon in a shallow dish and rub a handful of the salt mixture into both sides of the fish. Sprinkle the salmon with the remaining mixture and cover with the dill. Cover the dish and let stand for 6 hours in a cool spot.

2. Transfer the salmon to the refrigerator and let cure for 36 hours.

3. Up To 1 Day Ahead, Prepare the Mustard Sauce: Combine both mustards, the sugar, vinegar, coffee, salt, and pepper in a blender. With the machine running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream, blending until the sauce is thick and creamy. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the dill. Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, or overnight, to allow the flavors to marry.

4. Scrape the seasonings off the gravlax. Slice the gravlax on the bias into thin slices, or leave whole so your guests can slice it themselves. Serve with the mustard sauce and bread.

Buy only the freshest salmon for gravlax; ask the fish market for sushi-quality fish. If wild salmon from the Pacific Northwest or Alaska is in season, so much the better; wild salmon has more flavor and a better texture than the farm-raised fish. There are several different varieties of salmon, most of which are in season in the late spring or in the summer. Look for wild salmon at good fish markets.

Gravlax will keep in the refrigerator, well wrapped, for at least 7 days. Leftovers can also be frozen, wrapped in plastic and then in foil, for up to 2 months.

Be sure to save the salmon skin to make Crispy Salmon Skin (page 20 of book). If you serve only part of the salmon, cut off the exposed skin and reserve it. When you are ready to serve the remainder of the gravlax, crisp the skin as directed in the recipe, then break it up and use it as a garnish for the fish.


Buy the Book!


And the New Scandinavian Cuisine
by Marcus Samuelsson
Houghton Mifflin
$45.00; Hardcover; 312 pages
Full color throughout; more than 100 photographs
ISBN: 0618109412
Recipe reprinted by permission.





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This page created November 2003