Salt curing fish is a method that goes back thousands of years and one that I had not attempted to do myself until last year. It is incredibly easy, all it requires is patience. The only salt cured fish I was used to eating growing up was “bacalao” (dried salted cod). This method for salt cured salmon is completely different, with Nordic origins and some very well-known variations, like Gravlax. For those who are new to the term here is a piece from one of my favorite books and chefs: The Nordic Cookbook by Magnus Nilsson.
“The name of the dish itself comes from the Swedish word meaning ‘to bury’. This refers back to the original gravlax, which was just salted and buried in the ground to ferment before being eaten, a technique similar to Norwegian rakfisk.”
I love fish but Salmon might as well be my favorite. More than a recipe, this is a method or cooking technique that delivers amazing eye-catching, delicate, and delicious results. The dry curing method releases all the excess water in the fish through osmosis and some other technical things that I won’t bore you with. You can buy cured salmon, usually with a big price tag; or you can spend the money on getting a good sustainable salmon and make it yourself, making your dollars go a long way. I made this for a brunch I hosted a couple of weeks ago, everyone loved it. I don’t mind curing a big piece of fish and having leftovers, I can eat it every day, for breakfast, lunch or dinner, in salads, with bread, pancakes, eggs, bagels, rice, or pasta.
The traditional gravlax uses dill for the curing, I love cilantro and I like to put my own spin on it by using cilantro sometimes instead of dill. For this recipe I used coriander and fennel seeds, and skipped the dill all together. The fennel really gives a subtle after bite flavor that left everyone wondering what it was. As with anything that you want to make in your kitchen, feel free to switch things up and give it your own flare.
2 lb. Salmon, skinless*
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
4 tablespoons salt
3 tablespoons sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
*You can cure salmon with skin on, I have done both with and without skin and without is my preference.
Place the salmon in a deep dish or sheet pan in one layer. Run your fingers softly through the flesh and remove the pin bones (the best way to do this is with a tweezer). In a small sauté pan add coriander and fennel seeds, toast over medium heat until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Crush the seeds with a mortar and pestle, if you don’t have a mortar, you can use the back of a spoon or the side of a chef’s knife on a cutting board. In a small bowl combine crushed seeds, salt, sugar, and lemon zest. Pour half of the mixture on top of the fish, pat all over with your hands. Turn the fish over and repeat with other half of the curing mix. Cover the fish with plastic wrap. Place another sheet pan on top and weight down with something heavy. I used my granite molcajete (this thing is heavy!). You could also use cans of food, or a heavy pan, cast iron works perfect.
Place the fish in the refrigerator for a minimum of 24 hours and up to 3 days. If leaving for more than 24 hours, make sure to check and remove some of the curing liquid to avoid over flooding. To stop the cure, rinse the fish under cold running water, scraping the seasonings off. Discard the curing liquid, place the fish back in the sheet pan, cover with plastic and return to the fridge, leave it for the same amount of time as it was with the curing mix. You can skip this step and serve straight after curing it, however this step allows for the cure to even within the flesh.
When ready to serve, cut the fish at a 90 degree angle in thin slices. It is great straight out of the cutting board, or you can serve it with capers, pickled onion, dill or cilantro. Here are some ideas to enjoy your cured salmon:
→ On top of rye or whole wheat bread
→ On top of pancakes
→ In a green salad, it goes well with apple or pear
→ In a bagel with cream cheese, substitute for Lox (cold smoked salmon)
→ In pasta, substitute for the smoke trout on this recipe
→ With scrambled eggs to fancy up your breakfast