Few things – except the Swedish chef from The Muppets Show and the smörgåsbord, of which this dish is an indispensible part – are so associated with Sweden and Swedish cooking as gravlax. It’s enjoyed in many ways, but the favourites are either as a standalone dish, with lemon wedges and a warm side, or in very thin slices as part of a festive buffet. The name of the dish itself comes from the Swedish word meaning ‘to bury’. This refers back to the original gravlax, which was just salted and buried in the ground to ferment before being eaten. The use of white pepper and dill as aromatics, which is completely dominating gravlax recipes today, started in the eighteenth century, but before that the fish was probably not seasoned at all, except by the cure itself.
Reprinted with permission from The Nordic Cookbook, by Magnus Nilsson, copyright 2015, published by Phaidon Press. —Food52
4, as a standalone dish
2 1/4 pounds
salmon fillet, skin on, pin bones removed and patted dry
Remove the pin bones from a clean and evenly thick piece of fish fillet. Rub it all over with a mixture of salt, sugar and aromatics. I like to store the fish and the curing mix in a plastic bag, which makes it easy to keep the whole surface of the fish in contact with the cure, ensuring an even result. When the fish is thoroughly coated, place it in its bag on a tray and set a few plates on top to weight it down a little (or use something else flat and suitably heavy). Transfer it to the refrigerator to cure for the required length of time.
I like to cure the salmon for about 24 hours before washing off the cure mix. To stop the cure, take the fish out of the bag and either rinse it quickly under cold running water or scrape the cure and seasonings off it. Transfer the fish to a new plastic bag, place it back on the tray and return it to the refrigerator. This allows the cure to even out within the fish. Leave it for about the same length of time as it was in the curing mix.
The fish can be served straight away or after only a short rest, but it will appear more cured on the surface than in the middle. Fish prepared this way is either cut straight down, at a 90-degree angle relative to the chopping (cutting) board, in slightly thicker slices of 4 to 5 mm (1/8 to 1/4 inch) or else it is cut at a 45-degree angle into very thin and much larger slices.