Fish Food: Homemade Gravlax for the Holidays

The new Jewish deli-inspired craze has us all lining up for artisanal pastrami and house-preserved pickles, but fish has been left behind in this Jewish food renaissance. Let's remember, though, that smoked fish is in our blood, too, and there's no better time than the Jewish high holidays to experiment with creating your own sustainably-raised, locally-cured fish (especially if you use a wild variety such as Coho, which is still in season).

Homemade gravlax is the perfect brunch food and makes for an impressive centerpiece at your Yom Kippur Break-Fast, or Rosh Hashanah nibble, or any brunch. The name literally means "grave-salmon" in most Nordic tongues; the salmon is buried in salt and sugar as part of the curing process. Revisiting this ancient northern and eastern European recipe allows home cooks to create that smoked salmon flavor without the fuss of a wood-burning fire or a hipster backyard smoker. Plus, the fish 'cooks' for days in the fridge, so once you've salted your side of salmon you are free to atone or mark the holy day as you wish. Just be sure to get the bagels and cream cheese in advance.

The finished dish, courtesy Chris Radley
Gravlax

Serves 12
3 pounds salmon (preferably wild), center cut, thoroughly boned, and halved lengthwise (or crosswise)*
2 large bunches fresh dill
1/4 cup coarse salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons crushed (not ground) peppercorns, preferably white. Fennel or coriander seeds may be added as well.**

Place half the fish, skin side down, in a rectangular glass baking dish or casserole. Sprinkle dry ingredients over dill. Spread dill over fish. Top with the other half of the fish, skin side up.

Cover with foil and weight with a board and a five-pound weight (two cans work nicely). Refrigerate for a minimum of 72 hours (or up to 4 days), turning the salmon every 12 hours (keeping the fish flesh-to-flesh) and basting with accumulated juices.

To serve, remove fish from marinade, scrape away dill and spices, and pat dry. Slice thinly on the diagonal and serve with Dill Mustard Sauce (recipe below), sliced onions and tomatoes, capers, and little squares of dark pumpernickel or bagels.

*If you can't find a whole side of fish to be halved lengthwise, ask your fishmonger to find you two pieces of salmon that are mirror-like in size.

**A mortar and pestle works great for crushing the peppercorns (and seeds, if using) but if you don't have a set seal the peppercorns in a freezer bag and crush with a heavy pan on a cutting board.

Dill Mustard Sauce
½ cup chopped dill
2/3 cup sour cream
1 cup mustard
2 tablespoons of cider vinegar, to taste

Mix all the ingredients and serve alongside gravlax or drizzled on top. Enjoy!

Recipes adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook.

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About the Author

Sometimes known as the Doctor of Pastrami, Lara Rabinovitch is a writer and historian in Los Angeles.
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