SWEDISH GRAVADLAX with CRÈME FRAÎCHE, CAPERS, & DILL
A long, long time ago, during the Middle Ages to be precise, medieval fishermen cured salmon by burying their specimens in the sand above the high tide level, and then waited for the fish to ferment. An ancient tradition, salting fish preserves it by drying it out and removing the moisture microorganisms need to thrive. Originally this practice insured that the catch would be safe from spoiling when boats were out to sea far from market. Today, a mix of salt, sugar, herbs, and spices serve to cold cure salmon and make a traditional smorgasbord plate. Delicious prepared as a made in advance pre dinner appetizer, it is wonderful served spread on bagels, or alongside buttered toast soldiers. Dill, known as the "king of herbs" in Sweden, is a natural anti-bacterial and digestion assistant. The calcium rich fronds of this soft feathery herb provide relief from insomnia, aid in bone health, and are a natural aromatic disinfectant. This recipe allows for the chef to find the perfect ratio of salt to sugar curing to please his or her palate. Curing salmon lends itself to experimenting with smoked salts, white, brown, muscovado, demerara, or caster sugar, fennel fronds, and spices such as caraway or coriander seeds (just a few of the many possible variations). This preparation is the perfect jumping off point in learning to appreciate and love Nordic cuisine, while making a luxurious, yet simple and sophisticated plate.
Nota bene: Choose an iodine and additive free salt to maintain the salmon's gorgeous pink flesh color (iodine turns everything dark) and flavor. Avoid farmed salmon as it is often full of antibiotics and its health benefits diminished due to a diet filled with corn and other ingredients not normally consumed by this species. Previously frozen is fine and actually a plus in this recipe. Only an extremely sharp knife will do to cut the lox thinly. To make caster sugar, place sugar in the bowl of a mini food processor and whir until finely ground. In a pinch, this small plate may be made with prepackaged smoked salmon. Once cured, fish may be refrigerated for up to 5 days.
2 pounds wild salmon, skin on, scales removed
1/3 cup fine sea salt
3/4 cup castor sugar
4 bunches of dill, one whole, three finely chopped, reserve 2 full stems & 3 tablespoons
2 tablespoons whole white peppercorns, crushed
6 ounces crème fraîche
2 tablespoons red onion, finely minced
3 tablespoons non-pareil capers (smallest size)
One fresh lemon, finely sliced for garnish
1 English cucumber, sliced in 1/4" thick circles
6 slices sourdough, crust removed and cut into 3/4" W x 4" L pieces
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
1. Using fish tweezers or needle nose pliers, remove the pin bones from the salmon (pull the bones towards the head of the fish).
2. Line the bottom of a shallow rimmed baking dish with the whole stems of dill.
3. Mix the salt, sugar, and crushed peppercorns together in a glass bowl.
4. Rub some of the mixture into skin of the salmon and place on top of the dill sprigs.
5. Gently rub the remaining mixture onto the flesh of the salmon making certain to completely bury the flesh. Top with the two finely chopped bunches of dill so that the skin and salt/sugar mixture is no longer visible.
6. Cover with plastic film and refrigerated for at least 24 and up to 48 hours.
7. Remove from the refrigerator and quickly and thoroughly rinse under cold running water. Pat dry. The gravlax is ready to slice thinly--with an extremely sharp blade--and enjoy as is or proceed below.
8. Heat a heavy bottom cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the butter and when it melts and begins to foam, add the toast soldiers. Turn from time to time until all sides are toasted and golden. Remove to paper towels.
9. Thinly slice the salmon against the grain (on the bias) and then slice again until there are very small pieces, but not so small as to be like paste. Place in a glass bowl.
10. All at once, add the crème fraîche, capers, red onion, and 3 tablespoons dill. Mix gently taking care not mash the salmon.
11. Place the salmon in a bowl and garnish with lemon slices and bits of fresh dill. Serve with toast soldiers, slather on top of a bagel, or spoon a tablespoon onto the tops of mini baked toasts. Garnish with a bit of dill.
SERVES 8 TO 12