This past Sunday, I set out to put together the mother of all Mother’s Day brunches for the woman who is largely responsible for my undying passion for food. In an effort to pull out all the stops for this year’s celebration, I decided to cure my own gravlax for an over-the-top meal that would show my appreciation for all that she has done for me. Convinced my offering would exhibit a bit of advanced culinary know-how and finesse, I was certain that such a meal would surely outdo any boring old Benedict.
Having never cured salmon before, I was completely caught off guard by how simple and hands-off the whole curing process was going to be. Here I was planning an elaborate, intricate and involved meal, and I was nearly done with all of the “advanced” prep work three days before the big event. Flash forward to Sunday and a few careful, paper-thin slices later and we were sitting down to an elegant brunch that went down as “one of the best in years.” Placed atop a toasted bagel with rich cream cheese, crisp red onions, juicy tomato and briny capers, the lox stood out as a true hero with its subtle essence of dill and lemon on a delicate backdrop of sweet, salty salmon. There might not have been pillowy poached eggs and velvety hollandaise this time around, but served alongside fresh seasonal fruit, soft scrambled eggs and refreshing mimosas, it was as elegant a meal as any.
When making gravlax at home, it is of the utmost importance that you purchase salmon at it’s peak of freshness. Check with your fishmonger to make sure that the salmon hasn’t been previously frozen and thawed. For easy cleanup, I like to wrap the fillet itself with a thin layer of the excess cheesecloth and apply the salt/sugar cure directly on top — the flavor will be just as pronounced and you’ll save yourself the task of picking off stray bits of pepper or dill. Slicing gravlax thinly enough can be a challenge even for the most accomplished home cook. Use a very sharp knife with a long, thin blade and try to slice the flesh in one direction (pulling the knife toward you) in an effort to attain paper-thin slices — cutting the fillet while it is cold with a warm knife helps significantly. It takes a bit of practice, but don’t worry if you can’t get perfect slices each time — the ugly ones taste just as good.
- 1 to 1-1/4 lb. skin-on salmon fillet, preferably center-cut, pin bones removed
- 1/2 cup kosher salt
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 small bunch fresh dill fronds
- 2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
- 4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons vodka
- Line a flat-bottomed strainer or perforated sheet pan with a large piece of cheesecloth, allowing the edges to drape over the sides.
- Place the salmon fillet skin-side down on the layer of cheesecloth and drape the overhanging edges loosely around the fillet.
- In a small bowl mix together the kosher salt, granulated sugar and pepper until well-combined. Pack the cure mixture on top of the wrapped salmon in a thick, even layer. Scatter the dill fronds on top of the cure mixture and drizzle evenly with the lemon juice and vodka.
- Cover the sheet pan/strainer with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3 days.
- When ready to serve, brush off the and discard the cure. Using a very sharp knife, slice thinly at a sharp angle to make wide, paper-thin slices.
- Serve piled atop a lightly toasted bagel with cream cheese, capers, ripe tomato, thinly sliced red onion, a few turns of coarsely ground black pepper and a lemon wedge or two.
Makes enough for 4 generous portions