Christmas is not a time for taking on unnecessary tasks, or making your kitchen any more of a complicated place than it is already. So you may recoil from the prospect of making your own cured salmon this Christmas. But hear me out: curing your own salmon is surprisingly straightforward.
The salmon is sprinkled with a salt-sugar rub, wrapped tightly in clingfilm and refrigerated. Turning the fish daily ensures an even cure, but that’s truly as complicated as it gets. Better still: it is colossally cheaper than buying salmon ready cured from the supermarket. And best of all: it’s a make ahead dish, one you can crack on with days in advance of Christmas. Gravadlax is salmon cured in sugar and salt with dill. It is often eaten in Nordic countries on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve. Like all curing, it comes from a time before refrigeration, when other methods were needed to preserve fresh fish (and meats, and milk). The name comes from the grave or hole that fishermen would bury the salmon in above the tide line.
Now in my house we tend to plump for a few days in the fridge. There are almost limitless cures you can try, blitzed together for different flavours – coriander seeds and orange zest, beetroot and horseradish, juniper seeds with a splash of gin, or try using smoked salt – but dill is the classic, and gives a distinctive flavour to the fish.
You want the freshest salmon you can lay your hands on for this. If you have any doubts, you need to freeze the salmon for a day and allow it to thaw in a fridge before starting the curing process. The recipe I have given is for a four day cure, but you can do still get a beautiful piece of fish with a shorter cure: 48 or even 36 hours will be enough in a pinch. It is usually thinly sliced, but don’t worry if your knife skills aren’t up to scratch; even thicker slices here will be impressive and
What you need
Makes: 500g cured salmon
Takes: 10 minutes hands on time, plus 4 days refrigeration
Bakes: No time at all
Small bunch of dill (about 15g)
75g Demerara Sugar
75g coarse salt
2 x 350g salmon fillet, boned, skin on
How to make
Finely chop the dill, including the stems, and mix together with the sugar and salt.
Lay out two sheets of clingfilm, one on top of each other. Put one fillet skin side down on the clingfilm. Sprinkle 3/4 of the cure onto the upturned fillet, and sandwich the second fillet on top.
Press the remaining cure, and any that has spilled out, onto the exposed sides and ends of the salmon. Wrap the clingfilm around the fillets, and then wrap again with more clingfilm as tightly as you can.
Place in a tray, just in case of leaks. Put something heavy on top of the package: another tray or dish, weighed down with weights or tin cans or a packet of dry rice, and then refrigerate.
On the following day, turn the clingfilm package over. Repeat this step on day three and day four.
On day five, remove the clingfilm over the sink and scrape away the cure, which will mostly have dissolved during its time in the fridge.
Slice on the diagonal, as finely as you can, cutting each slice away from the salmon skin. Pile up on a plate, and serve.