Gravlax: Salty-Sweet Salmon, Fragrant with Dill

3 Jan

You might not expect my Caribbean family to serve something so distinctly Northern European as gravlax, a salt and sugar-cured Swedish delicacy, but we are equal opportunity gourmands. And there are two important sources of inspiration for how gravlax has become a frequent element of our party buffets. I’ll tell you about those and then give you some nifty background on the dish itself!

Start with the freshest salmon you can find/afford

Start with the freshest salmon you can find/afford

We get ours from Two Cousins Fish Market in Freeport. They are very accommodating to kids and to folks looking for sustainable options.

We get ours from Two Cousins Fish Market in Freeport. They are very accommodating to kids and to folks looking for sustainable options.

One source of inspiration is my Swedish sister-in-law, Annika, who has introduced us to the joys of Scandinavian cooking over the years and whose recipes have become part of family tradition. Second is Frank Eldridge, the college mentor for both my parents who helped them get together at Springfield College more than a half-century ago and who apparently introduced them to gravlax as well. He is no longer with us, but his gravlax is; this is an adaptation of his recipe, sent to us by his wife. 

Be lavish with the dill

Be lavish with the dill

The etymology of Gravlax is pretty cool…and not just because it comes from cold weather countries or because it is a fish dish served chilled.

Grav refers to grave – in olden times the Swedes used to bury the fish to not just cure it but also ferment it – and lax refers to salmon — which will sound familiar to anyone who has had a bagel with cream cheese and lox!

Layer and wrap

Layer and wrap

Today’s gravlax is not fermented or buried, but it is lavished with a crazy amount of sugar, salt and dill and then left to transform into a light and elegant piece of fish that you slice really thinly. It’s almost like sushi in its tenderness and clean texture, but the dill gives it its own distinct personality.

You'll notice the curing begin on the edges.

You’ll notice the curing begin on the edges.

I happen to like it the longer it stays in the fridge after the curing is done. Some folks say it should be eaten within a couple of days of curing, but I think it is great a little dried from refrigeration a week later!

Some folks make all manner of sauces for it. We like it straight. And to be fair…my dad did most of the work on this. It is his baby!

Smaklig måltid!

Lovely dash of color on a buffet table

Lovely dash of color on a buffet table


4 lbs salmon filet in two pieces, skin on and bones out

Two large bunches of dill, rinsed and dried

1/3 Cup kosher salt

1/3 Cup sugar

1 Tbs black peppercorns, crushed

Place one filet skin side down on a large sheet of aluminum foil in a glass, enamel, or stainless steel baking dish. Place the dill on the fish. In a separate bowl, combine the salt, sugar and dried peppercorns and sprinkle the mixture evenly over the dill. Top with the other side of the fish, skin side up. Wrap with the aluminum foil and set a heavy platter – bigger than the salmon – on top and weigh down with a couple of bags of beans.

Refrigerate for at least 48 hours and up to 3 days, turning the fish every 12 hours and basting the fish with the liquid that accumulates on the bottom of the baking dish (pulling them apart to baste inside and rewrapping and weighing down each time}.

When the gravlax is ready, remove the fish from the marinade and scrape off all the herbs and seasonings and pat dry with paper towel. Serve skin side down, slicing off in thin strips, leaving the skin behind.

You May Also Like:

Skagen Salad (Swedish Shrimp Salad)

Creamy, sweet, tangy, chunky, light Swedish Skagen Salad (the best shrimp salad EVER)

Creamy, sweet, tangy, chunky, light Swedish Skagen Salad (the best shrimp salad EVER)



11 Responses to “Gravlax: Salty-Sweet Salmon, Fragrant with Dill”

  1. Eha January 3, 2014 at 11:28 pm #

    Natalia dearHeart ~ being Estonian born, this is ‘mother’s milk’ to me and the first ‘recipe’ I was ever taught to do. Have prepared and do so hundreds of times!! Being an utter purist with recipes like these I applaud you for not adding extra ingredients: not that one should not, but it is no longer ‘gravlax’ then! But I am sorry: the correct professional proportion is 2 parts caster sugar, i part salt 🙂 ! [See Viveka – myguiltypleasures : she is the ultimate professional!] Oh and may we have the sweet mustard sauce recipe also as that is the absolutely necessary second half of the dish!! meanwhile all the very bset for 2014!!

    • Natalia at Hot, Cheap & Easy January 3, 2014 at 11:36 pm #

      We debated the sugar salt proportion! Next time you do gravlax, take pictures and you can guest post on my blog! (will not likely agree about needing mustard sauce, as I do not have such cultural obligation, but would willingly post you recipe for those who must…)

      • Eha January 4, 2014 at 12:15 am #

        As I have to get the salmon from Sydney 100 km away, this may not be in the realms of today or tomorrow 🙂 ! But thanks!! Sweet mustard sauce is actually part and parcel of any true gravlax anywhere in Northern Europe. Many chefs make the gravlax as a base for the sauce actually: it is such an important part of the dish. It would be like making osso buco without gremolata 🙂 !. Noticed you asked about Rick Stein . . . He is on our TV and has been for a decade or more with one of his many series all the time? Has also written some very definitive cookery books! Fantastic chef and charming gentleman . . .

      • Natalia at Hot, Cheap & Easy January 4, 2014 at 12:19 am #

        My offer stands, however long it takes for you to be able to share your recipe with us! (have never, ever, understood sweet mustard sauce…here there are any number of honey-mustard dressings for salads and sauces for other things…Not. My. Thing.)

      • Eha January 4, 2014 at 10:07 pm #

        Answer #2 : Thanks for the offer . . . do not make it to Sydney too often tho’! Also have cooked European food very rarely during the past few decades. Australia is basically fusion food and 70 % of my dishes are Asian: am researching the differences and similarities of Hunanese/Hainanese/Szechuan at the moment. Also the spicing of Burmese dishes. The closest I get to Europe is the Mediterranean, usually N Africa, very much following in the steps of the fantastic Yotam Ottolenghi these days, with “Jerusalem’ being my very favourite cookery tome!! All the best!

      • Natalia at Hot, Cheap & Easy January 5, 2014 at 8:33 am #

        I am very curious about the Jerusalem cookbook…perhaps I’ll check it out from the library and see how we go…I am very fond of Mediterranean food! I know a lot less about preparing Asian food…

  2. Mad Dog January 3, 2014 at 11:41 am #

    Great post! I made this myself a few years ago based on a Rick Stein recipe. It was excellent 😉

    • Natalia at Hot, Cheap & Easy January 3, 2014 at 3:32 pm #

      Who is Rick Stein? a new person to discover?

      • Mad Dog January 3, 2014 at 10:40 pm #

        He’s a fish TV chef who works with the same production company that Keith Floyd did. His restaurant in Cornwall is excellent, I’ve eaten there twice 🙂

  3. lulu January 3, 2014 at 8:37 am #

    I’ve never made gravlax, but you make it seem very doable, and we do love it. I’m asking myself, why not try it?

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