It’s Christmas, and the Grazer’s mind is turning to beetroot and dill-cured gravlax
I love gravlax at Christmas, and although this is a little bit of effort initially, once cured it keeps well in the fridge and keeps on giving throughout the holidays. It’s a lovely starter on Christmas day or just keep it in and cut slivers as required for canapés and unexpected guests.
This works best with a big piece of fish, preferably a whole side. I get mine from Lindsay’s at the Grainger Market in Newcastle, where it comes from Wester Ross, a salmon farm in the sea lochs of North West Scotland.
Salmon farming is a contentious subject and one that I have read frankly disgusting things about. I wouldn’t buy salmon from the supermarket anymore, nor meat to be honest. So apart from eating wild salmon, which isn’t always available, I have been looking for sources and information that I trust. Wester Ross is independent and uses no antibiotics or chemicals. The fish are reared by hand and have space and clear water to grow without growth promoters or supplements, and the end product is superb.
To prepare, check over the salmon gently with your fingers and remove bones with a pair of tweezers, then cut into equal halves.
In a large bowl combine 300g caster sugar, 300g Maldon sea salt, 15g black peppercorns crushed in a pestle and mortar, a roughly chopped bunch of dill and 2 peeled and grated beetroot. Give everything a good mix.
You will need a container that the salmon fits quite snugly in – I use a Tupperware – add about a quarter of the mix to the base, then one piece of salmon skin side down.
Spread two thirds of the remaining mix over the salmon, then add the second piece of fish, skin side up, like a sandwich, before topping with the remaining mix.
Then weight it – I usually use another Tupperware filled with tins – and pop it in the fridge. If you’re using large pieces of fish, cure it for about 5 days, turning both pieces over daily. Smaller pieces will be ready in 3 days. When it’s ready, take it out and brush off the mix, much of which will have turned to liquid, and rinse under cold water, then dry thoroughly with paper towels. You will notice how much it has firmed up, shedding its water and absorbing flavour.
As you do this more you will learn whether you prefer the firm, very cured bits at the edge, or the softer lightly cured almost sashimi bits in the middle, and you can cure your next piece to suit.
Leave the salmon attached to its skin and carve very thin slices with a very sharp knife on a slight angle. I love it with a winter salad and brown bread and butter. I could happily eat it every day topped with fresh dill and I particularly enjoy doing the carving, because it means I get all the scraps. Happy Christmas!
Read more from The Grazer at the-grazerblogspot.com and enjoy her food at The Cookhouse, Ouse Street, Newcastle NE1 2PF