This is the classic preparation for gravlax. Dill is traditional, but I like to use a mixture of herbs. Once you’ve mastered this, you can flavor it in limitless ways. Here’s the most important thing: gravlax is ridiculously easy to make, but because few people do it, it’s incredibly impressive. You can serve hot dogs for Christmas dinner, but if you’ve started with a first course of homemade gravlax, your guests will think you’re a brilliant cook.
Line a pan just large enough to hold the salmon with a generous, overhanging layer of plastic wrap. Lay the salmon on top, skin side down. Feel the salmon carefully to find any little bones and remove them with your fingers or tweezers.
Mix the salt, sugar, zest, and pepper together and sprinkle over the salmon. Scatter the herbs over the fish, then sprinkle with the vodka. Wrap the salmon tightly with the plastic wrap and place a smaller pan directly on top of the wrapped salmon. Weight it with a brick, if you happen to have one, or some canned goods. Refrigerate for 1 to 2 days, turning the salmon over at least twice a day and pouring off the liquid.
To serve the gravlax, unwrap it and gently wipe off the curing ingredients. Slice it very thinly, at an angle, with long sawing strokes, leaving the skin behind. It’s best if the slices are almost thin enough to see through. If you notice any dark meat against the rosy flesh, neatly cut it away because it can be a little strong and fishy-tasting. Serve with a squeeze of lemon. Cured salmon lasts in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 days.
© 2004 John Ash. All rights reserved.