Salmon gravlax or lox as it's also called, is a Scandinavian delicacy also used abundantly in New York deli culture. This recipe for homemade cured salmon is super easy to follow, cheaper to make than store-bought, and the flavour far superior.
Knowing how to make your own cured salmon gravlax will enable you to have a seemingly luxurious food ready whenever you need for breakfast bagels, light lunch salad or evening canapés with champagne.
What is it
Cured salmon gravlax or lox, is fresh salmon that has been cured with equal parts of sugar and salt.
Variations include adding aromatics like coriander and juniper, root vegetables like beetroot and horseradish and even a touch of vodka, whisky or gin.
The tastiest version is one where the taste of the salmon shines and is not overpowered by other flavours.
This salmon gravlax recipe only uses salt, sugar, fresh black pepper and citrus zest.
Good quality fresh salmon needs little more than a few simple ingredients to transform it into something truly amazing.
Why cure Salmon
Fresh fish contain plenty of water. Think of this for a second.
You never see dried food spoiling do you?
Because dried foods contain very little to no water, chemical processes come to a halt.
Chemical processes involved in food spoilage and preservation happen really quickly when enough water is present and pretty much don’t exist without the presence of water.
What does that have to do with curing salmon?
Fish, specifically salmon, has a large amount of water. 70% To be exact. About the same amount as you and me.
For us to preserve the salmon to keep it safe for consumption, we need to remove part of the water to slow down unwanted chemical processes involved in breaking down organic matter.
One of the ways of doing this is to draw the water out by applying salt and sugar. This has a double beneficial effect.
First, the salt and the sugar draws out moisture from the fish. This slows down the chemical processes involved in breaking down the flesh.
Second, the resulting brine that forms penetrates the flesh of the salmon.
Resulting in a higher concentration of salt within the fish which in turn prevents unwanted bacteria. It also seasons the salmon throughout, making it wonderful to eat and use for a large range of dishes.
Fish prepared this way could last for up to a week in the fridge and many months in the freezer.
You can cure any type of fish this way.
Perfect cure ratio
Equal parts sugar to equal parts salt + Aromatics(citrus rind, spices).
The cure mixture should be 20% of the weight of the salmon you cure.
Using more cure is just wasted and can result in over salty salmon.
Minimum curing time is 6 hours and a maximum of 24 hours. 12 hours is the golden middle.
Gravlax vs smoked salmon
The only difference is that gravlax is not smoked.
Smoked salmon gets cured first and then cold smoked.
The texture of smoked salmon is a little firmer and slightly chewier while gravlax has a smoother more sashimi-like texture.
This is because it loses a bit more moisture when cold smoked.
Whenever a recipe calls for one or the other you can use either or.
- Remove the scales but keep the skin on - The scales will prevent the salt from penetrating the skin part of the fish if left on. Keeping the skin on makes it easy to slice and prevents the flesh from over-salting.
- Use quality fish - Use the best salmon you can afford. Bad ingredients won't result in a tasty result.
- Let it rest - Once the salmon is salted, let it rest in the fridge for one day. The saltiness will normalise so the fish is salted equally throughout.
Useful equipment for this recipe
Wooden Chopping Board
Electronic Kitchen Scales
Gyuto Japanese Chefs Knife
- Salmon - Getting high-quality salmon fillet is key to the best results possible. With that said, you could also use good quality frozen salmon. I normally buy a whole fresh fillet with the skin on and the bones still in tacked. You could ask the fishmonger to scale the fish and remove the bones for you.
- Citrus - I use three kinds. Lime, orange and lemon. You can use any combination you like. Omit one or two or even do it without any zest.
- Sugar - I find brown sugar works best by adding a slight molasses flavour but you can easily use regular white sugar too.
- Salt - Natural course ground sea salt works best.
How to make it
- Make the cure by mixing the salt, sugar, pepper and citrus zest.
- When this is done. Layout double layers of plastic wrap on a counter.
- With your plastic wrap ready, cure ready and fish fillet prepped, sprinkle half the cure mix onto the plastic wrap.
- Place the salmon skin-side down onto the cure mix.
- Finally, sprinkle the rest of it over the salmon making sure the fish is completely covered with the salt mix.
- Wrap up the salmon tightly, label it with the time, and place it into the fridge for at least 12 hours and up to 24.
- The following day, remove the salmon from the plastic wrap over the sink(there will be lots of brine in the plastic).
- Wash the fish with cold running tap water and pat it dry with a kitchen towel or a clean cloth.
- Wrap airtight and store in the fridge. It will last for 7 days or you could freeze it for longer storage.
If you want you can easily modify this gravlax by adding the following.
- Add alcohol - Add 50 grams of vodka, gin, whisky, or bourbon to the salt mix. Cure as instructed. My favourite is using a smokey Scottish whiskey for a subtle smokey flavour
- Add veg - Grated some beetroot into the cure mix to turn the gravlax bright red on the outside while still orangy pink on the inside. Add grated purple cabbage for a bright, purple and orange contrast. Adding a touch of grated horseradish adds a nice sharp and fresh kick to the flavour. You can also add dill to the salt cure.
- Miso - I make my own miso using koji. You can use store-bought if you want. Simply add a tablespoon full of miso to the salt mix and cure as instructed.
- Spices - Add some toasted and coarsely ground clove, allspice, star anise, coriander or cumin seeds. Simply add to the salt mix. Be careful using too much as spices can easily overpower the delicate fish taste.
Lox or Gravlax is a popular food to serve at any time of the day and classic dishes containing cured salmon are plenty. Here are a few ideas.
- On bread - Everyone that loves gravlax knows how delicious a salmon bagel with cream cheese and dill can be. This classic combo of lox and creamy spread can be used on other homemade bread like Borodinsky dark rye bread, classic sourdough or even wrapped with coleslaw in a soft flour tortilla.
- Salad add-in - It makes a perfect light lunch salad like this cured salmon salad with a soft boiled egg. You can add it to a classic Caesar salad or serve with some fresh cucumbers, homemade croutons and a simple yoghurt dressing.
- Appetiser - Slice thinly and serve with toasted flax sourdough, butter and a wedge of lemon. Or, with some smokey chipotle guacamole and corn tortilla chips.
- Canapé topping - Slice sourdough baguette thinly and bake in the oven until crispy. Add cream cheese, cured salmon, and capers along with a pinch of freshly ground black peppers.
- Make a quick dip - Blend one part cured salmon with one part cream cheese in a food processor until smooth. Thin it down with a touch of cream or milk if needed. Season with salt and pepper.
Frequently asked question
Once the salmon is cured you should always keep it wrapped airtight in the fridge or freezer.
It will stay fresh for 7 days kept in the fridge and can be frozen for up to 6 months.
Apart from being completely safe to eat cured salmon is very healthy too. It's rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids and a good source of protein. Being fish it's also much easier to digest than meat and a great option for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Yes, as long as you use good quality frozen salmon or you froze it yourself.
Other recipes you may like
If you would like to know how to prepare basic foods simply and properly then you will find the following recipes helpful.
- How to cook salmon fillet
- 3 Michelin star mashed potatoes
- How to cook steak
- Garlic butter
- Homemade mayonnaise
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