Homemade Gravlax a la Marketman…

Salmon in a grave. Buried (rotting) fish. That’s the literal translation of gravlax. Folks used to salt and bury the fish so that it would ferment ever so slightly (presumably in cold North Atlantic weather) before consuming it. I bet most of you who have enjoyed smoked salmon or gravlax didn’t know that. I certainly didn’t before I started reading up on the process several months ago, increasingly curious about attempting to make my own gravlax at home for the holidays. It seemed a bit of a stretch at the least, no fresh salmon in the vicinity, no cool outdoor temperatures, and a proliferation of neighborhood cats just waiting to pounce on a nice juicy pink fish. But let me tell you, this was one of the easiest and most elegant food items I have ever prepared. Why we have all been bamboozled into paying through the nose for this “delicacy” is now beyond me.

It started with an expedition to the shores of Manila Bay… The Seaside market that is. :) To my suki salmon and tuna vendor and the hope of scoring a nice, just minutes before defrosted salmon (probably from the Pacific Northwest, and most likely farmed not wild which would have been preferable) that was then filleted for me and ready for curing. But it wasn’t going to be that easy. They had no whole salmon left that was already defrosted. So I had to buy a whole frozen salmon, still in its original plastic bag. That wasn’t such a bad thing, for cootie purposes, but that also meant I would have to clean and fillet the monster myself. :) Back at home, we defrosted the nearly 15 pound fish for 4+ hours and while still very cold in parts, I started to scale it in the outdoor laundry area… What a mess!

Once the crew had given my fish the once over and declared it mostly scale-free, I took a big cleaver and decapitated it with one forceful, confident blow to the neck (do fish have necks?). It was extremely satisfying to do this. Almost as good as smashing plates against a wall. I did the same to the tail and took out a thin fillet knife and took a deep breath. I had recently watched an episode of Masterchef where they had to fillet a whole salmon and do it neatly, with minimum wastage and brilliant portions. I would have failed that challenge. :)

This is perhaps the most flattering photo of my efforts. And I had help holding the slippery creature down. I must admit, a bead or two of sweat fell onto the skin of the fish, quickly dabbed with a paper towel, but perhaps more sweat would have contributed that special “x” factor to the dish eventually. :) The problem was the center of the fish was still a bit frozen, so my fillets were a tad jagged. But I did it…

The head, tail and trimmings were used for salmon sinigang. The two sides were cut in half, so we had four fillets. One of the fillets was portioned and frozen for future use. And three fillets were readied for curing. You will need just five ingredients (and actually it works with four as well). Kosher salt, sugar, white peppercorns, juniper berries and lots and lots of fresh dill (thank you Gejo for sourcing this for me).

For about 6-7 pounds of cleaned filleted salmon, I made a mixture of 2.5 cups sugar, 3/4 cup kosher salt, 2-2.5 tablespoons of cracked white peppercorns, and a tablespoon of cracked dried juniper berries. I prepped roughly 250 grams worth of fresh dill, roughly chopping the herbs. My main reference source for this recipe was Marcus Samuelson’s wonderful cookbook from the restaurant Aquavit in New York, though similar curing mixes abound on the internet and other cookbooks.

Lay your fillets on a clean chopping board, and rub the salt/sugar mixture all over the fillets. Cover them with chopped dill as well. Place the fillets into clean ziplock bags, adding the remainder of the mixture to the bags. Leave the bags out in cool temperature (we took them into an airconditioned room for say 2-3 hours) to let the sugar and salt mixture dissolve and liquefy. Place the bags into a refrigerator and turn them every 8 hours or so, leaving them in the fridge for a total of 36 hours curing time. Do NOT worry if it all seems to turn quite soupy. The brine has drawn out liquid from the fish…

Remember to rub both sides of the fish, the skin also need the brine. After 36 hours, scrape off as much of the herbs and peppercorns as possible, and discard the brining liquid. Dab the fish surface with a paper towel, wrap in cling wrap and return to the fridge. It is now ready to serve, and will keep for up to 5-6 days in the fridge. You can also freeze it for longer periods.

The color of the fish will turn a darker orange. And yes, no cooking at all. The salt and sugar will have “cooked” the meat of the fish. Our cook, looked at me with disbelief when I said she could eat it now, and refused to taste it until several other folks in the house had braved the gravlax… :)

Later that day, for a snazzy holiday dinner, we served the thinly sliced gravlax with a fresh citrus salsa and some toast. It turned out very well indeed. Guests and I were amazed how relatively easy this was to make. And it probably cost 1/5th or less the price of gravlax for sale at fancy delicatessens. We enjoyed some the next morning with cream cheese and bagels and in an ultimate display of yumminess…

…I deep-fried some of the salmon skin, and topped it with a slice of gravlax and drizzled it with some fresh lemon juice. SUPERB! A perfect dish for the holidays.


35 Responses

  1. Is gravlax the same thing as lox?

    I used to see a lot of Western books/comics that would mention lox and bagels as a school lunch, and that most children hated it. I wouldn’t know if it was a commonly held perception, but I don’t see how you can hate good salmon with cream cheese and a bagel.

  2. Gravlax is still different from smoked salmon because the latter still has a smoking process to go through right?

    Compared to Iceland’s rotting shark which has been described as having an ammonia-like taste, gravlax sounds more palatable.

  3. millet, actually it was a bit sweet, so I rebalanced the salt and sugar in this published recipe… it wasn’t overly salty or overly sweet, except on exposed surface areas…

  4. This looks delicious, and from your cook’s reaction I remember a previous help we had who fried the sushi we took home for her.

  5. Interesting! I just had a salmon gravlax appetizer for the first time last weekend at a wedding reception in Marriott. My girlfriend and I loved it! If I can try to score some ready salmon fillets, I’ll try this recipe. :)

  6. Wow, it’s really easy to do…I love salmon in bruschetta..brushed with a bit of olive oil..with capers and fresh dill… :-)

  7. For me, nothing beats gravlaks (or smoked salmon) on toast with scrambled egg plus green salad for breakfast or lunch. The first time I ate smoked salmon about ten years ago, I thought I wouldn’t like it, since then I was hooked…These days, my favourite “ulam” is anything that has to do with salmon.

  8. Whoa! Drool worthy indeed. I love salmon gravlax with bagel and cheese. Just one correction, I think its, “Guests and I were amazed how relatively easy this was to make.”

  9. MM,

    Thanks for this wonderful salmon recipe! My kids will love this one. i can’t wait to try this out this next week when I am off for the holidays.


  10. yummy!!!!!

    i just want to share my sad christmas baking…. paging BettyQ, i followed her recipe for lace cookies….. huhuhu! sadly, it didn’t turn out the way i expect it to be. but, i didn’t stop… search for a new recipe. FINALLY< perfect!!! I made perfect lace cookies.
    pointers: don't chill it for 4 hrs… anybody who wants the recipe.. let me know. i will share it

  11. For me, nothing beats gravlax with mustard-dill sauce on buttered “thinner than thin” crispbread (tunnbröd) from northern Sweden. My little girl, now 6 loves to eat them. If she was made to choose between meatballs with pasta and crispy gravlax open sandwich, she’ll choose the latter without hesitation. It is a staple on every swedish “julbord” (christmas table/feast) and other holidays as well.

    There was one time I went through a whole season of watching each weekly episode of Desperate Housewives with gravlax/cripsbread sandwiches in hors d’ouvres sizes with a a glass of sparkling white wine. Talk about a nice way to have some ME-time.

    Tunnbröd: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/c/c9/Tunnbr%C3%B6d-2007-07-14.jpg/800px-Tunnbr%C3%B6d-2007-07-14.jpg

  12. wow!! what a coincedence! i was planning to go to granville island to get this (and some stuff from aoyama and some cheeses as well) as my potluck in our christmas eve dinner. now, i just need to get those salami and cheeses and just make this gravlax tonight. Yahooo!!! thanks, MM! Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  13. Ms. Rosedmd…I find it easier to scoop the dough if well-chilled. It spreads out a lot so I space it faaaaar apart. You cannot turn your back while this is baking for it can turn out burnt in a matter of seconds. As soon as it comes out of the oven, wait for just a second or 2 before you gently lift it and mould it over a cup if you want or a dowel. This is the type of cookie that you can use as a container for a nice dessert more like a tuile.

  14. Right timing…one of the dental assistants where I work just gave me a steelhead salmon just now. They caught it over the weekend. Curing begins tonight after work. Thanks MM!!

    Paging Ms Betty q… anong differnce ng steelhead sa chinook sa sockeye? Also if you have a new email or old email is working, will you inform me throughmy email? Meron lang akong few questions. Hope all’s well. Marami salamat muli!!!

  15. MM…there is an Iron Chef episode where the ingredient was salmon. One chef made crispy salmon skin by using the plancha method…one cast iron pan over the heat inverted, placed the seasoned salmon skin and another cast iron pan over it and cooked it till crisp.

    Rosedmd and others now in a baking frenzy like me…it helps to know your oven really well and the placement of your baked goodies. I have 5 slots in my oven so what works for me is baking cookies and meringue wafers for sans rival on the upper third. Pies are baked on the lower third and cakes baked in the middle rack. Oven temp. too…what works for me is baking my shortbread cookies at 325 degrees contrary to what cookbooks says at 350 degrees. Also, replace the heating element every now and then and check oven temp.using an oven thermometer before using after replacing the element.

  16. Wisdom tooth: steelhead…a trout. Sockeye salmon…do not grow into a giant mama salmon….flesh is reddish orange and more firm than chinook. Chinook…can grow to a really huge salmon…flesh if lighter than sockeye and more orange-y. … more like moist, oily. I prefer chinooks for barbecuing for it stays moist and the belly and the collar….THE BESTEST for barbecuing! Chinook be distinguished from sockeye by the polka dots on the body near near the dorsal fin and on the tail. The chinook tail is also more square. There is also white spring or chinook and red chinook. Some people say that white spring is more “stinky” than red chinook. However, a lot of my native friends prize white spring. There is an elder here who makes BUTTER from white spring. I have never tasted it but they say it is highly prized commodity. I also prefer to use chinook…be it red or white in making Candied Salmon.

    Hope that helps!

  17. Betty q, so can I make gravlax out of this the steelhead kung steelhead nga sya? I don’t really know if this lady knows the difference between these fishes. Check ko yung skin ng fishda…hahaha. Merry Christmas sa iyo, Ms Betty q!!

  18. Just send me your phone no…Ms. Ngipin, ahahahahahaha! ..but send it thru the new e-mail …the manika one …then I will call you tonight para ikaw na lang ang mag-type! Certain words or instructions…mahirap i-translate at napakababaw ng aking Tagalog!

  19. Miss, wala akong yung “manika”. I’ll give you my new one as marami ring spam yung old.
    astermach@gmail.com Maski hello lang so i can have it on hand. Betty pahingi ng manika mo for Christmas…Muchas gracias (kailangan magpractice at pauwi na yung son ko from Spain)!! Ano kaya ang pinagbibibili nyang pimenton….

  20. Toasted montreal bagel, smothered with cream cheese and topped with gravlax then wash it down with a chilled merlot or any sparkling wine – to die for.

  21. I saw Jamie Oliver doing his version of this in one episode of his show.So this is Marketman’s version!

  22. Been wanting to do something like this – will try it with local fish. May I know where can I get the juniper berries? Thank you very much!

  23. Jessi, be careful, this recipe does NOT work with all fish, and is best suited to oily fish. Perhaps the only local fish or two that this might work with are tuna and tangigue… juniper berries might be available at Flavours n spices at Market!Market! Mall… You can omit juniper berries if you can’t find them. But you must use lots of fresh dill.

  24. Wonderful! MM what else is done to make this smoked salmon? Or is smoked salmon a totally different dish?

    Hi bettyq! I e-mailed you a few days ago. But in your old address which you might not be using anymore. Did you receive it? How can I get your new e-mail add kaya?

  25. My friend gave me a salmon cookbook and once I started doing this, I couldn’t stop. It’s so easy, and cheap! But I just buy frozen salmon from the supermarket and defrost it myself. I tried using smoked salt initally (I did the smoking myself, I almost choked doing it), but I just use regular salt now. I still miss the smokey taste, so I have been hunting for the liquid smoke flavoring.

    I only use dried dill, aside from the salt and sugar. I like it. It imparts a “cleaner and fresher” taste to the whole thing.

    I alone end up eating what I make, so a good kilo will last me 2 weeks since I have gone to eating it as a snack :P My family thinks I’m too crazy over the uncooked salmon! I’m linking below what I made.


  26. Thanks MM. I’ve been making graved lax for 30 years, with a very similar recipe. Try it with a few drops of balsamico glaze.

    Clarissa: I am also pretty crazy about that stuff. But it is not really raw fish like sushi, because it is actually cured in salt and sugar. Both these ingredients cure raw food and make it last longer.

  27. Gej, Ami is right. Gravlax is different from smoked salmon. Gravlax goes through a pickling process instead of a smoking one. The use of dill and sugar also imparts a quite different sweetish flavour.



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