Who likes to watch paint dry? Well, me, for starters. Ask my ex-wife. I once did 7 coats of our newborn’s bedroom before I figured out the streak I was trying to remove was actually a shadow. But I digress.
Gravlax is sublime. Versatile. Healthy. And delicious. Your friends on Zoom will be impressed and their pixilated mouths will be watering as they fade in and out of your sputtering broadband. And this dish, while super easy to prep, takes two days to complete. A little like watching paint dry. Where shall we start?
Gravlax, for the uninitiated, is cured fish. Salmon to be precise. Good and good for you. It is not sashimi and and it is not smoked salmon, meaning it is not technically raw. I’m not sure what the FDA says, but I believe the Pilgrims originally brought it over from Loch Lomond on the Mayflower, which is good enough for me.
We are looking at three basic ingredients, all of which you have in your house, except for the fish, which you will find farm-raised and plastic wrapped at any grocery store in America. It does not have to be organic or line-caught by a grizzled sea captain in a hand-hewn schooner. Buy a handsome looking hunk, about a pound will do.
The original recipe calls for Aqavit, but everyone I know is currently well-provisioned in vodka and this will work fine. Pour two and a half jiggers in a cocktail mixer, add a splash of vermouth and ice, shake well and pour over 3 cocktail olives. Then, before you put the vodka away, drizzle about a teaspoon on top of the fish and rub it in with your fingers. Good!
Next, mix 1/3 cup kosher salt, 1/3 cup sugar, and a tablespoon of coarsely ground black pepper in a bowl. Sprinkle liberally over the entire flesh side of the fish and lay the fish in a baking dish. This is the effect you are going for before you flip it skin side up (flesh down) and cover it loosely in Saran Wrap.
Now, before you cue up THE IRISHMEN on Netflix, find a heavy object such as a brick, a half gallon of milk, or “Infinite Jest” and place it on top of your fish in the fridge. Then prepare to hunker down, because gravlax takes about two days (or 48 hours, but who’s counting?) to cure. You should flip it around every 12 hours or so, but there is no need to set a timer because you’re not going anywhere soon and neither is the fish.
Cut to two days later. Your salmon has miraculously segued to an unseemly hunk of brined deliciousness. Remove it from its curative salt bath and scrape the excess gently off the orange flesh with the side of a fork. I like to set it back in the fridge uncovered on a small baking rack for a few hours to let it air dry.
And now, the fun part. Channel your inner Zabar’s counter clerk, get your longest, sharpest knife, and do this!
Voila! In these times of fear and reflection you have accomplished something new, and how great is that?!! Your gravlax goes well on a bagel, or lightly toasted rye, or perhaps with a plateful of scrambled eggs and freshly chopped green onion. Or you can serve it when the sun goes down on a pretty wooden board with a baguette and some olives and a gooey hunk of brie to accompany that martini. Be well and eat well, friends. Safe distance and Salut!