Whenever I pick up HF-W’s Fish book, I’m always drawn, as if by osmosis, towards the smoking and curing section. Hugh gets very excited about Gravadmax, but given that we had a beautiful salmon it would have been a crime not to do the proper version. Ever since we had some amazing gravadlax at the Dorchester Grill, I’ve wanted to make it myself.
Apparently gravadlax started in Scandinavia as a way of preserving the seasonal glut of salmon. They buried the fish in the sand at the high tide mark with dill, salt, pine needles and an array of other locally prevalent herbs and then removed it days, weeks or months later after it had fermented. The technique has since evolved away from pine needles and fermentation towards a more elegant solution involving pressure, salt, sugar and dill. Loosely translated the "grav" bit means to bury in a grave and the "lax" means salmon. Luckily "gravadlax" sounds a lot better than "decayed salmon".
Season your salmon on both sides with copious amounts of good quality salt. Then sprinkle with a few spoons of sugar. Then empty an entire jar of dill into the equation and cover the whole fish like a crazed Viking (shamefully we didn’t have any fresh dill). Say a couple of prayers to Thor and then slip the fish into a freezer bag. Pop this in a flat bottomed ceramic dish and then stack your heaviest cooking books on top to squish it down.
Pop it in your larder, or failing that, fridge and turn the fish over every 12 hours or so. Some juice should leach out and after 3 days you’ll be rewarded with some sensationally cured fish. You can leave it for longer if you like a stronger cure.
I cast my mind back to our meal at the Dorchester Grill and remembered the way our charming waiter had carved the gravadlax at our table side.
Inspired by him, I sliced the fish on a slight angle with a super sharp knife and presented it in a rosette with a cup of mustard and dill spiked crème fraiche.
With a glass of shimmering Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc it was every bit as good as the tea smoked salmon we devoured the day before. And even if I do say so myself, as good as the Dorchester.