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Do like the Swedes and hit your fresh salmon side with masses of dill mixed with sugar and salt. Or try my version – with a little tang and a little spice.
It is amazing how a little salt and sugar transfers bland, oily and pale orange piece of salmon into a vibrant, lean and translucent delicacy. It is very much like the ‘before’ and ‘after’ body on Weight Watchers adverts. It takes a couple of minutes to rub the curing mix into your side of boring salmon and then there’s just the wait: three days, longer or shorter depending on the preference.
This is the best method I have tried. It is simple; it is versatile as you can swap and change the flavourings, or skip them altogether opting for salmon cured au naturel. That option would be advised especially if you got hold of an especially lovely, organic or wild fish. But even the standard farmed (though sustainable) salmon will undergo the miracle makeover when blasted with the salt, sugar and spice.
Some recipes instruct you to weigh down the foil-wrapped package, with tins or a heavy plate. I don’t think it’s necessary having tried it with and without weighing. Swedes say you needn’t – and who knows their gravadlax better than them?
Gravad lax, often shortened to gravlax (or gravlaks in Scandinavian languages) is salmon cured in a mix of salt and sugar but the end result is not very different from cold smoked fish. Hot smoking is a different story as that produces salmon flesh that’s cooked through. I personally don’t see the point of it: it makes the fish taste almost exactly as if it was poached, steamed or baked.
Unavoidably there are questions about whether it’s safe to eat home-cured salmon. I despair a little on hearing them: you can eat salmon raw if it’s fresh. Curing is like cooking: salt and sugar penetrate the fish flesh just like heat might do, changing its structure and texture, working towards preserving the food so it can be stored for longer. How could this be unsafe? It’s the most ancient method of cooking, in a broad sense.
Needless to say it’s great value too – good smoked salmon is quite expensive. Cure a small fillet for starters and see what a treat it is. Who knows, you might never go back.
cured salmonServings: 4-6Time: over 4 days
- 450g (1 pound) fresh salmon fillet, skin on
- ½ tsp fennel seeds
- ½ tsp Sichuan peppercorns
- ½ tsp caraway seeds
- ½ tsp nigella seeds
- 65g (4 tbsp.) brown sugar
- 70g (1/3 cup) sea salt flakes
- zest grated from 1 large lemon
1. Rinse the salmon fillet if it needs it and pat dry with kitchen towels.
2. Place the seeds and peppercorns in a small skillet and toast until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a mortar and pestle and grind roughly.
3. Mix the brown sugar, salt, ground spices and lemon zest in a bowl. Prepare a length of cling film, large enough to wrap the salmon piece, set over a shallow dish.
Spread a little curing mix at the bottom. Place the salmon on it, skin down, and pour over the rest of the curing mix, making sure it’s well covered.
4. Wrap the fish with the foil and refrigerate for 3 days. You can turn it over halfway through the curing process if the piece is very thick: just turn the package over in the dish taking care not to lose the liquid.
5. Take the salmon out of the foil packaging and brush off the mix. Rinse it with cold water then wipe it with kitchen towels and place, skin down, on a plate. Chill in the fridge again for at least 12 hours to dry it and firm it up.
6. To serve, slice thinly and drizzle with lemon and/or balsamic vinegar.