There are only about 6 more weeks remaining for the local king (chinook) salmon season in the Bay Area, so I wanted to take the opportunity to share my favorite method for making gravlax, the Scandinavian cured salmon. My version, which results in rich, velvety slices of salmon (albeit saltier than your typical smoked salmon) is based on the recipe I learned years ago when I interned at the Chez Panisse Café in Berkeley (their version is in one of my all-time favorite cookbooks, the Chez Panisse Café Cookbook).
I diverge from the classical gravlax in one major way. I substitute lemongrass or lemon verbena or, well virtually anything, for dill.
Before I go on, I have to confess, I don't like dill. My friends and I were discussing over the weekend what, if any, flavors we dislike and the only one I could think of was dill. It's funny, because my Indian wife despises saffron and my Filipino friend shudders at the mere mention of ginger. And here I am with a hefty dose of Swedish in my mongrel American gene pool, and I disdain of the herb commonly associated with Scandinavian cuisine.
It's really my mother's fault. When I was growing up, she used to dump hefty amounts of green stuff from a dusty old jar marked, appropriately, "dried dill weed" into our buttered peas. Some herbs just do not fare well in the dried form. In the case of "dill weed," the result is a disastrous exponential expansion of the weedy aspect of the herb. Now whenever I so much as get a whiff of the stuff, even if it is fresh, that gag reflex resurfaces from when I was six years old and forced to eat my veggies.
But, as usual, I digress.
First you need about a 1 pound piece of extremely fresh king salmon fillet, skin on. I buy my local salmon exclusively from Larry Miyamura of Shogun Fish Company who catches, cleans and sells his salmon direct at our local farmers market. I prefer to use a tail piece or the next cut up from the tail, because it's easier to slice the final product. It's also thinner, so it cures faster. Pull out any pin bones with needle-nosed pliers.
Lightly toast 1/2 teaspoon coriander seeds in a pan over medium heat, and then allow to cool. In a mortar, coarsely crush coriander with 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns. Transfer to a bowl and stir in 1/3 cup each kosher* salt and sugar.
Coarsely chop 1/4 cup lemon verbena leaves or thinly slice 1 stalk lemongrass.
Place fillet in a glass or stainless steel dish lined with a piece of cheesecloth, skin side down, and thoroughly coat first the bottom and then the top with the salt-sugar mixture and the herbs, leaving no flesh exposed. Wrap tightly with the cheesecloth, cover, and refrigerate for a total of 48 hours. After the first 24 hours, turn the salmon skin side up.
After 48 hours, your now cured salmon will look similar to the photo at the right. Before serving, scrape of the herbs and the undissolved salt and sugar. Slice at an angle with a very sharp, thin-bladed knife into paper-thin slices.
I usually serve it for breakfast on buttered toast or a bagel, sometimes adding a few thin slices of avocado to cut the saltiness of the salmon.
I've made several versions of gravlax over the years, not all with lemony herbs. I've also had good results with fennel seeds and wild fennel fronds, ajwain (an Indian spice often used in fish curries), and a combination of coriander and cumin. Let your creativity guide you.
* For the amounts specified, I use Diamond Crystal® kosher salt. If you substitute any other brand of kosher or any other type of salt, reduce quatity of salt to about 1/4 cup.