First and foremost: Gravlax is not what you’re used to piling high on a sesame bagel with scallion cream cheese, red onion and tomato. That sort of fish—also known as Nova or Scottish-style salmon—is brined, then smoked, a double-headed curing process that gives it its signature flavor and texture.
Gravlax, though, cuts smoke out of the equation entirely for a more delicately flavored fish that still melts in your mouth. To make it, all you really have to do is rub a raw salmon fillet with salt, dill and sugar, put the salmon in your refrigerator and wait. A few days later, you’ll have honest-to-God lox—if not the kind you’ll usually see on an appetizing platter.
- 1 bunch fresh dill
- 1–2 pounds salmon fillet, preferably one that’s roughly rectangular, since that'll make it cure more evenly. Oh, and this goes without saying, but: You're not cooking it with fire, so please buy the best-quality fish you can find.
- ¼ cup aquavit or dry vermouth
- 3 tablespoons kosher salt
- 4 teaspoons sugar
- ¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
- ¼ teaspoon allspice
- Divide dill bunch, and place half on the bottom of a shallow glass dish that’s just big enough to hold the fish. Add salmon, skin side down. Pour aquavit over fish. Mix salt, sugar, pepper and allspice together, and distribute the mixture evenly over the salmon, lightly patting it into the fish on both sides.
- Cover top of salmon with the rest of the dill, then cover dish with foil and set a weight on top. My grandmother would use a red brick, which she got from sweet-talking a construction worker; I used two 28-ounce cans of tomatoes.
- Refrigerate for at least 2 days. Remove weight after 24 hours. Spoon juices over fish occasionally. (The salmon can be left in brine for a week; its texture will get firmer the longer it sits in the brine.) When ready to serve, remove from brine, wipe off spice mixture and slice salmon thinly on the diagonal at a 45-degree angle. Want to really go all-out? Pair with limpa bread, cucumber salad and horseradish mustard sauce.