Recipe: Vacuum Sealer Beet-Cured Gravlax
It’s funny how time time has a way of changing things.
For a brief half year, I lived surrounded by the fjords and mountains of Norway’s southwestern coast. Some nights were so long each moment of sunlight breaking through clouds was a treat. I left when the sun stayed in the sky so long I thought I was trapped in a little pocket of time. And as much as the vistas were breathtaking, the people unforgetable, and my experiences unique I couldn’t help but hope for home as I was there.
Now, nearly a decade later, it’s a different story. All of those moments - the highs and the lows - I look back upon fondly. Where I once swore to never return I now plan on one day exploring once more. Until that day comes, food lets me visit the Nordic countries one bite at a time.
Gravlax is one of my favourite Scandinavian treats. With simple ingredients - and a just little time to smooth its flavours - gravlax is also the easiest luxury to make at home.
I’ve tried dozens of recipes over the years. The most traditionally accurate call for two fillets of fish - preferably from opposite sides of the same fish - liberally cured with salt and sugar and sandwiched skin-side out around a core of herbs and spices. It’s then tightly wrapped with cling film and popped into the fridge with a weighted object on top to help expel moisture.
There’s a couple issues with this. First, finding perfectly fitting pieces of fish can be a pain. Second, the resulting liquid squeezed from the product leaves a sticky, fishy-smelling mess to clean.
We’re going to solve this with a little bit of kitchen tech: a vacuum sealer. With it, there’s no need to find a perfectly fitting second fillet to keep the dry brine against its flesh. I’ve also found that the vacuum applies an acceptable amount of pressure to help press moisture out of the fish, resulting in a perfectly firm mouthfeel. And all of that liquid? It stays in the bag, away from the rest of the fridge.
Finding the right amount of salt and sugar to use is up to personal preference. We’re using a 1:1.5 sugar to salt ratio that I’ve poached from Serious Eats for the dry brine. It’s the best I’ve used: not overpoweringly sweet, nor too salty. We’ve found that a 10% dry brine yields the perfect gravlax texture and flavour: perfectly firm and silky, with a flavour that still highlights the fish. Make sure to use a scale for this recipe.
Once you’ve gotten a hang of the base recipe, branch out and play with flavour combinations. Freshly-ground caraway seeds, juniper berries, or white pepper would all be fine additions to your gravlax. You could also try adding citrus zest, or playing with the fresh herbs used. And, while we use fresh Atlantic salmon for this recipe, any salmonid works well; try arctic char or trout for a different texture and flavour.
Finally, there’s a matter of how to serve your gravlax. Sliced thinly on a diagonal, it’s the perfect topping for open-face sandwiches (known as smorrebrod), atop rye crackers with a dollop of fresh cheese and capers, or simply alone with a shot of well-chilled aquavit.
Recipe: Beet-Cured Salmon Gravlax
- 454g salmon fillet
- 18g white sugar
- 27g kosher salt
- 1 bunch dill
- 1 small beet, grated (optional)
Start with a good piece of sashimi-grade salmon. Ask your friendly fishmonger for a skin-on fillet piece with the pin bones removed.
Combine salt and sugar together in a small mixing bowl, then liberally apply to both sides of the fish. Working with such small quantities can be a pain; we recommend mixing a larger batch of gravlax brine for future use.
Completely cover the flesh side of the fish with grated beetroot. This is an optional step, but imparts a lovely magenta hue to the finished product.
Cover liberally with fresh dill fronds.
Using wax or parchment paper, fold fish into a little parcel. This will help you manage the fillet as you put it into the vacuum seal bag, as well as prevent any unsightly impressions from the sealing process.
Place a wad of folded paper towel into bottom of vacuum sealer bag, followed by fish. Seal, then place in refrigerator for two to three days.
Remove gravlax from package. Discard paper, herbs, and beet and rinse well. Pat dry and serve sliced thinly. Gravlax will keep sealed and refrigerated for roughly a week, though we expect you to finish it well before then.
Words by Nicholas Wong. Photos by Abhishek Dekate.