Gravlax

Gravlax is a Nordic dish consisting of raw salmon which has been cured in salt, sugar and flavoured with dill. It’s popular all over Scandinavia and traditionally served with dark bread and a sweet mustard sauce as a starter or as part of a buffet, which they call a smorgasbord.

When we were posted to Copenhagen we ate a lot of gravlax and I acquired the recipe. It’s very easy to make, cheaper than the bought version and can be made ahead and kept in the freezer. Perfect to whip out as needed and serve to guests over the holiday season. Serve as an alternative to smoked salmon, with bagels and cream cheese or in canapes.

My original recipe said to use salmon fillets with the skin on, which is what I have always done. However, I found some very nice fillets in Costco, with the skin and pin bones all removed and decided to see how they would work. They were perfect, with no waste. Removing pin bones is a pain in the neck so all I can say is good old Costco as there are absolutely no bones. If you buy fillets with the skin on that’s fine. People love the sauce so I usually double the recipe. Any left over also goes well with smoked salmon, ham, cold roast beef or chicken.

If two fillets is too much just do one, cut in half, and sandwiched with half the salt, sugar and dill mixture.

Gravlax

¼ cup salt
¼ cup sugar
2 whole salmon fillets, skin and pin bones removed, each weighing 800-1200g
1 large bunch dill, finely chopped in food processor or by hand, including stalks
freshly ground black pepper

Mix salt, sugar and and dill. Place about a third in a large ceramic or glass dish about the size of the salmon fillets and spread out evenly. Then place one fillet on top. Sprinkle with another third of the salt/sugar mixture, then place the second fillet on top. Sprinkle with remaining mixture pressing it into the fish. As you go season each layer with freshly ground black pepper. Cover with plastic (I use a shower cap!) place a small chopping board and a weight such as a brick on top then refrigerate for 3-4 days to “cure” the fish. Each day turn the salmon over and rub the curing mixture in.

Remove fillets and rinse off salt/sugar/dill mixture under the tap. Pat dry with paper towels. Wrap each fillet in plastic wrap and freeze until needed. I usually cut each fillet into 3 and wrap each piece individually before freezing, but a whole fillet looks more spectacular on a buffet table. Remove gravlax from the freezer and thaw a bit. Slice thinly on the diagonal while still slightly frozen, which makes it easier. Garnish with fresh dill and lemon wedges. Some people like to serve it with a few capers and slices of red onion. If liked serve with dark pumpernickel or rye bread and Sweet Mustard Sauce.

Sweet Mustard Sauce

¼ cup Dijon mustard
1 tsp hot English mustard (powder or ready made)
2 Tbs sugar
2 Tbs white wine or cider vinegar
⅓ cup vegetable oil
3 Tbs chopped fresh dill

Place all ingredients in a jar with a lid and shake vigorously to emulsify. Keep a few fronds of dill for garnish.

Beef Carpaccio

We recently hosted a birthday dinner for our son-in-law, Sacha.  We started off with smoked salmon served on Baba Ganoush – a Middle Eastern eggplant dip recipe – garnished with home-made pesto and dried pink peppercorns. These can be bought from The Essential Ingredient and are not the same as the ones in brine.  They’re slightly sweet and fragrant, rather than peppery and go really well with any salmon dish.  They also look pretty as you can see from the photo.

For the second course I served Winter Beef Carpaccio from Michael Moore’s cook book Moore to Food – thinly sliced beef fillet, garnished with roasted onions and mushrooms, goat’s cheese and micro-herbs and drizzled with roasted black pepper oil. Sacha is a fan of carpaccio and ceviche, which both use raw fish or meat as the main ingredient, so I knew this dish would appeal to him.  Passionfruit Cheesecake made a refreshing end to the meal.

Dill with everything

I learned how to make this Finnish Salmon Pie at a cooking demonstration given by a Finnish diplomat’s wife over 20 years ago.  Back then fresh salmon was not so readily available and everyone used tins.  In fact I don’t think I tasted fresh salmon until I was in my twenties!

The original recipe used two large tins of salmon.  I now make it using a combination of fresh and tinned, which I think gives a good result.  The butter and dill sauce is an optional addition.  Not on the agenda if you’re watching cholesterol levels, but quite delicious.  The cucumber salad is a perfect accompaniment.

If you’re not sure what a Swiss roll tin looks like have a look at these images on Google.  Mine is about 25x30cm.  If your tin is bigger just roll out the pastry to about this size.

Finnish Salmon Pie

Cottage Cheese Pastry:

150g self-raising flour
125g butter
125g cottage cheese (or ricotta)
1-2 Tbs cold water
Filling:
500g fresh salmon
1 x 415g can pink salmon, drained
2 Tbs chopped fresh dill
2 hard-boiled eggs, chopped
50g long grain rice, almost cooked
3 Tbs cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 egg, beaten

Sauce:
100g butter, melted
2-3 Tbs chopped dill

Pastry: Place flour and butter in food processor and process until it forms crumbs.  Add cottage cheese and process.  As soon as the pastry starts to stick together add just enough water so that it forms into a ball.  Stop motor immediately, tip out, wrap in plastic wrap and chill while you prepare the filling.

Filling: Cook rice and eggs together in boiling water to cover for 10 minutes. Tip into a sieve and allow the rice to drain.  Put the eggs back in the pan, cover with cold water and leave until cool enough to handle, then peel.  Remove skin and any bones from fresh salmon, then cut into 1-2cm dice.  Place in a bowl with the canned salmon (discard skin and bones), the rice, dill and hard-boiled eggs, roughly chopped.  Mix well and season to taste.

Place a piece of baking paper on a Swiss roll tin – not essential but makes washing up easier.  On a floured surface roll out pastry to the size of the Swiss roll tin, then place on the baking paper, folding it to make it easier to move.  It doesn’t matter if the edges are ragged, you won’t see them once the pie is finished. Place salmon filling down centre in the shape of a log or loaf and covering about a third of the pastry surface.  Cut diagonal slits in pastry every 2cm down each side, from the edge of the pastry as far as the filling. Fold in the two ends, then bring up strips from alternate sides, overlapping them slightly, to form a pseudo-plait. Use your hands to push everything firmly into place.  Can be refrigerated at this stage if you like.   Paint with beaten egg and bake for 30-40 minutes at 200°C. Serve warm, cut into slices and drizzled with the sauce.

Sauce: Melt butter and mix with chopped dill.

Variations: use white fish and canned tuna instead of the salmon.

Cucumber Salad with Dill

4-5 Lebanese cucumbers (about 15cm long) or 2 longer telegraph cucumbers
1 medium brown onion
1/3 cup vinegar (cider or white wine)P1060250 - Copy
¼ cup water
1-2 tsp salt, to taste
¼ cup sugar
½ cup thick sour cream
½ tsp hot English-style mustard
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill, firmly packed

Peel onion, cut in half and slice thinly. Slice unpeeled cucumbers thinly and mix with onions. The quickest way to do this is with the slicing blade of a food processor.

Mix vinegar, water, salt and sugar. Pour over onions and cucumbers, mix well and leave for 1-2 hours at room temperature, mixing from time to time. Drain cucumbers and onion in a colander or large sieve. Discard the juices. Put the colander in a bowl, so it continues to drain, then put it in the fridge, covered and leave it there draining till serving time. In a small bowl, mix sour cream, mustard, fresh dill and pepper to taste and refrigerate till serving time.

To serve, mix well-drained cucumbers and onions with the sour cream dressing. Garnish with sprigs of dill.

This salad goes well with most fish dishes, especially salmon. It’s also a good addition to a buffet or BBQ.

Salmon and Asparagus with Preserved Lemon Mayonnaise

This is an easy and delicious recipe from Donna Hay’s book No Time to Cook.  Ready to serve in no time at all, it’s perfect for a mid-week dinner.  The recipe calls for chervil but I substituted dill which is more readily available.

Salmon and Asparagus with Preserved Lemon Mayonnaise

2 x 180-200g salmon fillets, skin removed
1 bunch asparagus – 8-10 spears
1 Tbs olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Baby cos lettuce leaves, washed and dried
Mayonnaise:
½ cup mayonnaise (home-made or bought)
2 Tbs finely chopped preserved lemon (see note below)
1 Tbs finely chopped dill

Mix mayonnaise with remaining ingredients.  Place salmon and trimmed asparagus in a dish and add oil, salt and pepper and turn several times to coat thoroughly.  Preheat a char-grill pan or a non-stick frying pan to medium-high heat and cook salmon and asparagus for 2-3 minutes each side, or until cooked to liking.  Asparagus should be al dente.  The salmon will still be rare inside so if you like it well-done cook for longer.  Arrange some lettuce leaves on two serving plates, then the asparagus and salmon.  Serve with the mayonnaise.

Serves 2

Note: lemons preserved in salt are a Middle Eastern ingredient available from specialist shops.  Remove and discard the pulpy part and just use the lemon rind.

Warm Salmon Salad with Red Nut Dressing

Tonight we had a warm Salmon salad with an invented dressing I’ve called Red Nut Dressing. The salad is adaptable, so use whatever you have on hand, such as baby tomatoes, asparagus, rocket etc. A perfect dish for an early summer evening with a glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc.

Warm Salmon Salad with Red Nut Dressing

4-6 cups mesclun (small salad leaves)
1 cup beansprouts, washed and dried
½ small red onion, thinly sliced
1 small red capsicum, seeded and thinly sliced
1 avocado peeled and sliced
2 salmon portions weighing about 180-200g each, skinned and boned
1 Tbs olive oil

Red Nut Dressing
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/3 cup walnuts, blanched almonds or pine nuts
1 Tbs tomato paste
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp honey
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
½ cup vegetable oil e.g. canola
¼ cup red wine vinegar
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

To make dressing place all ingredients in a food processor and process until chunky-smooth.  Tip into a jam jar with a lid.  Place salad ingredients except avocado and salmon in a salad bowl.  Meanwhile lightly season salmon and pan fry in the 1 Tbs olive oil until cooked to liking.  It won’t take more than about 3 minutes each side (depending on thickness) and is nicer if still pink in the middle. Cut salmon into chunks.  Shake dressing then add enough to the salad to moisten. Mix well and divide between two individual salad bowls.  Arrange the avocado slices and salmon chunks on top, then spoon over a little more dressing.  There will be some left over.

Serves 2

Notes: the walnuts need to be fresh otherwise they can be bitter.  If in doubt substitute almonds or pine nuts.  If preferred, leave the salmon in one piece and just place it on top.