Whole30 Sugar-Free Cured Gravlax
Remember when I made these 100% naturally leavened bagels last week? I also cured my own gravlax! It's a lot easier than I thought, much cheaper, healthier and just like store-bought! I compared recipes from two of my favourite food blogs Food52 and Serious Eats. The two recipes ask for very different amounts of curing mix, but I find a small amount goes a long way.
What is Gravlax and how is it different from Lox & Smoked Salmon?
Most commonly known in Scandinavia, gravlax is traditionally un-smoked and is cured for a few days with salt, sugar and spices. The amount of salt used is significantly less than lox, which is brined in salt for weeks. Gravlax is weighed down during the curing process, ('grav,' as in grave in the ground) to help the flavours penetrate.
How and Why I Omit Sugar in the Curing Mix?
Curing is traditionally a method of food preservation where salt, nitrites and/or sugar to draw moisture out of meat, fish and vegetables. The main role of salt and sugar is to draw water out of microbal cells through osmosis, which inhibits growth of microorganisms. Sugar also mellows out the harshness of the salt, but doesn't really penetrate deep in the protein.
With this in mind, I treated sugar as one of the flavourings in this recipe, and borrowed a Whole30 technique of a juice marinade to replace sugar in conventional curing. I then added some juniper berries to bring back a hint of piney tartness.
Gravlax with Fennel, Coriander and Dill
Makes roughly 1 pound of cured salmon (the salmon will lose water weight).
Sushi grade salmon is not required as curing is a method of preserving food, but make sure the fish is as fresh as possible. I also prefer my spices not ground up too finely, which gives a more pronounced flavour.
Clean the salmon fillet. Fill a large bowl with cold water and add enough salt to make it taste like the sea. Gently lower the piece of salmon into the bowl and let stand 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, make the cure mix. Toast coriander seeds in a small skillet over high heat, stirring constantly, until fragrant, careful not to burn them. If you prefer a subtler juniper taste, toast them with the coriander seeds as well. If not, crush untoasted juniper berries with toasted coriander seeds in a mortar and pestle and crush until you have a coarse mix. Stir in salt, white pepper, orange juice and lime zest until combined.
Remove salmon from the water bath and pat dry with paper towels. On a work surface, turn the salmon skin side up and rub in half of the cure mix, until evenly covered.
Arrange half the dill over the bottom of a baking dish large enough to hold salmon. Place the salmon skin-side down and rub the remaining cure mix over the top and sides. Cover with the remaining dill and cover with plastic wrap. Weigh down with something heavy, like a crock pot or a couple cans of tomato sauce over a plate. Place the baking dish in the back of your refrigerator for 24 hours.
The next day, unpack the salmon and turn it skin-side up. Re-pack with dill, cover with plastic wrap and set the weight back on. Refrigerate for another 24 hours, or until salmon is sufficiently cured. 1 more day will give it a lighter cure and 2 more days for a slightly firmer texture and saltier flavour.
When ready to serve, unwrap the salmon, scraping off dill, and slightly dry the surface with a piece of paper towel. Using a very sharp slicing knife, cut gravlax on the bias into thin slices. Leftover gravlax can be wrapped tightly with plastic wrap and kept refrigerated for approximately 5 days after curing.
2-pound (900g) skin-on salmon fillet
salt for washing salmon
For the cure:
3 tablespoons (50g) kosher salt
1 teaspoon juniper berries
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
25 mL orange juice
grated lime zest (optional)
2 large bunches dill