The Salmon Cure: Making Gravlax

We don't have an appetizing store in Orange County. For that matter, the only appetizing store in Los Angeles is Barney Greengrass, and the prices there leave me breathless. It's actually cheaper, though not greener, to have it shipped from Zabar's or Russ and Daughters in New York.

An appetizing store, for those of you who think I've condemned every
shop in the county as being disgusting, is the “dairy” (in the kosher
sense) equivalent of a delicatessen. You buy meats and things like
chopped liver at a delicatessen; you buy cream cheese, salmon,
whitefish, salads and such at an appetizing store. Appetizing (the noun)
is the New York term for “things you serve at a bagel brunch besides
the bagels.”

While smoked salmon (“novy”) is beyond most people's immediate abilities, due to the lack of equipment and lack of Alton Brownian ingenuity, there is a Scandinavian delicacy that can help scratch the itch. Gravlax (or gravad lax), literally “buried salmon”, is salmon that has been preserved by curing. It's frighteningly easy to do, and while it's not smoked and is traditionally eaten on rye crispbread, it is excellent on bagels with cream cheese.

Some people use the liquid that exudes from the fish to make sauce for the fish. I never do this, which I suppose is wasteful. I just pour it out. I serve it with mustard sauce, made the cheap and cheerful way by stirring equal portions of sharp mustard and Greek yoghurt together.


2 salmon fillets, about a pound each, of similar size (two tail pieces is fine)
1/2 pound kosher salt
1/3 pound brown sugar
1 Tbsp. cracked black pepper
1 bunch fresh dill, stems and fronds, chopped


1. Wash the fish and pat it dry.
2. Mix the salt, sugar, pepper and dill together in a bowl.
3. Lay out a long piece of cling film and spread 1/4 of the seasoning on it.
4. Lay the first fillet on it, skin side down.
5. Take two thirds of the remaining seasoning and pile it on the fillet.
6. Lay the second fillet on top, skin side up.
7. Spread the remaining seasoning on top, adjusting for total coverage.
8. Wrap the fish up reasonably tightly.
9. Lay in a pan (with a lip; it will “leak”), then weight down (a quart box of broth is fine).
10. Refrigerate, turning twice a day, for three to five days.
11. Rinse off the cure, pat dry, and let chill four to six hours to dry fully.
12. Slice thinly on the bias and serve either with mustard sauce and dill or with bagels and cream cheese.

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