Monday, August 18, 2014

Home-Cured Gravlax

There's always seemed to me that there are two camps of food: those worth endeavoring to make at home, and those better left to the pros. Don't get me wrong, there are certainly times I've delved into from-scratch territory and slaved over items, excellent versions of which could've easily (and, admittedly, more efficiently) been procured. I mean, there's certainly no dearth of excellent ice cream that can be bought in stores, but there are times when only homemade will do, when knowing you've made something yourself makes it taste that much better because you know what went into it, both ingredient- and labor-wise. But, come on, am I really going to sit around and make croissants when I know for certain I can get excellent ones made mercifully by somebody else? (I would have said the same of bagels a few months ago, but that was before I moved back to Chicago, and, you know, desperate times...)  Anyway, sometimes it's just not worth the hassle of procuring ingredients and toiling away for hours for something, particularly when it's just two of you to feed.

I always kind of assumed that gravlax was one of those other-people-should-take-care-of-this sort of things. I mean, silky, cured, delicious salmon had to be the sort of thing that required a ton of expertise and special equipment and shit, right? I figured gravlax was something found in great appetizing shops and fancy brunch places and couldn't possibly be something worth the effort to make at home.  But you know, I was wrong. Really fucking wrong. Gravlax turns out to be incredibly simple to make at home; there's about ten minutes of prep time and raw fish handling and some awkward fumbling with a side of salmon and plastic wrap at the outset, then then about 15-20 seconds of work twice a day for two or three days afterwards. That's. It. All that's needed afterwards is a very sharp knife and some people that really like to eat delicious things.

I found this process on Saveur. I hesitate to call it a recipe since there's so much that can be tweaked and tailored, but it truly is fast and easy and yields results that belie the simplicity in its preparation. Just don't throw it in the fridge before you head out of town for a long weekend or anything, since you do have to flip it twice a day, but otherwise, as long as you've got salmon, salt, sugar, some herbs and some saran wrap (and a bit of empty fridge real estate), you can have gravlax at the ready in three days.  And then you can have a super rad dinner or brunch party like an adult and be like, here's some home-cured gravlax and not be fucking lying because you actually really did cure that shit yourself.  So go on, be a badass; get curing.
Home-Cured Gravlax
Adapted from Saveur (original recipe here)
2 tbsp. peppercorns (white is preferable but any will do)
1 tbsp. fennel seeds
4 tsp. caraway seeds
2⁄3 cup kosher salt
1⁄3 cup sugar
2-lb. center-cut, skin-on salmon filet
1 - 1.5 cups dill sprigs, plus 1/2 cup chopped dill
1⁄4 cup vodka (optional)

Grind together the seeds and pepper until coarsely ground. Mix them in a medium-sized bowl with the sugar and salt until well-combined. Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with plastic wrap. Sprinkle half of the salt and sugar mixture over the plastic wrap. Place the salmon on top of the salt and sugar mixture on the plastic wrap, skin side down. Cover the fish with the rest of the salt mixture and the dill sprigs. Sprinkle the vodka evenly on top.

Fold the ends of the plastic wrap around the salmon and wrap the salmon tightly with additional plastic wrap. Use your fingers to make sure the salt and sugar mixture is pretty evenly covering both sides of the fish. Place the whole plastic-wrapped mess in the fridge on the baking sheet and refrigerate for 48-72 hours, flipping the package and using your fingers to redistribute the brine that accumulates in the package as the salt continues to pull water from the salmon.  When fully cured, the gravlax should be firm to the touch at its thickest part.

When cured, remove from the fridge and unwrap the package. Discard the spices, dill and brine that has accumulated.  Rinse the filet (well, that shit's salty) under cold running water; pat dry with paper towels.  You can cover a large place with the half cup of chopped dill and press the flesh side of the fish into it so that it is coated evenly; I forgot to do this but the gravlax was awesome nonetheless.

Cutting the fish takes a bit of practice and the sharpest, narrow long-bladed knife you've got, slice the fish against the grain on the diagonal into super thin pieces. Serve however you'd like; we ate it mostly on bagels with some cream cheese and other traditional accompaniments, but it would also be excellent with potato pancakes or blinis and some sour cream, or some dark bread and mustard, or simply straight from knife to mouth. However you go about eating it, I'm pretty sure you'll be happy with your decision to cure some yourself.
Makes a lot