Shines like a jewel after 6 days

Shines like a jewel after 6 days

I usually have conflicting feelings when T. asks me something about cooking. “How do I cut the onions?” is innocent enough, he is my kitchen assistant, and I very gracefully sometimes let him take care of the lower tasks. Examples being cutting the guanciale and the bread, washing the greens – have you seen how much dirt comes from that spinach? – and reaching for things that are higher up.

coarse salt, sugar, herbs

coarse salt, sugar, herbs

A totally different story it is when he asks, seemingly innocently as we wait our turn at the fish stand (“bionda”, blondie, is what everyone gets called here), something like “how do you make the gravlax?”. Instantly, I have voices inside my head. What, you don’t have voices inside your head when you are cooking? “Why does he want to know? What does he plan? Is he thinking he can make the dish himself? Why is he so self-esteemed all at once? Ha, he needs to peel a ton of potatoes before he can cook a dish alone.” And, most importantly: “Sh**! He is going to see how easy it is to produce something so show-stopping!

bed the salmon in the mixture

bed the salmon in the mixture

Because easy and show-stopping and delicious it is! There are 100 ways to use it, too: drape slices over potatoes or blinis with some creme fraiche-horseradish mix, put pieces&bits into scrambled eggs, combine with zucchini for a delish pasta sauce…..

weigh it down with a matching wine!

weigh it down with a matching wine!

So, now go buy the freshest piece of salmon you can lay your hands on, with half of it make Nicky’s Salmon tartare for instant gratification while you wait (the only difficulty in making gravlax!) for the rest to turn into jewels!

Gravlax (Graved lax)
ancient method, own mix

prep: 20 mins
unattended: 6 days

Salmon fillets, freshest possible, without skin
coarse salt, 2x the weight of the salmon
sugar, 1x the weight of the salmon
herbs (I used fennel seeds, wild fennel greens, berries and leaves of myrtle; 1tbsp of each – feel free to use a mix that you like best – dill is traditional, if that rocks your boat!)

Wash and pat dry the salmon fillets. Check for any tiny fishbones that may be in the flesh, you can easily pull them out.

Mix salt, sugar and herbs. In a deep non-reactive dish (glass or ceramic) make a thin bed with the mixture. Put the fillets on this bed and cover completely with the rest of the mixture. Put foil saran wrap/cling film (thanks for reminding me, eat!) directly on the salt mixture, put the dish in the fridge and put something as a weight on it. I strongly advice to use the wrap/film, as the mixture will get soggy and smear on whatever you are using as a weight.

On the 2nd day, the fish will already start losing liquid, the salt mixture will get sticky. Check to see if you need to patch any bare spots. The fish has to be completely covered with the mixture throughout the process.

After 5 to 6 days the fish will be “graved”. It is hard, thinner and shiny. Bury it out of the mixture, wash quickly to get rid of the clumps of salt mixture and pat dry.  Discard salt mixture! To eat, slice real thin. Will keep, packed in parchment paper, weeks in the fridge. Can also be frozen.


There has been some discussion about eating raw salmon and possible parasite infection in the comments and in emails.  Here is what my research (in various government and/or research institute based sites in English and German) delivered and how I handle the situation:

* Raw fish, especially fresh water (or mixed-living) fish, can have parasites. Salmon is one of the those fish.
* The parasites live in the stomach and/or intestines of the fish when it is alive. When it dies, they go into the flesh.
* That is why fish are gutted as soon as they are caught – the worms have no time to eat themselves into the flesh. Don’t ever buy un-gutted salmon at the market.
* If some parasites (or their larvae) have found their way to the fish flesh, they are detectable with the bare eye – they are at least about 1 cm long.
* Almost none of the fish worms can’t adapt to the human system and don’t live in humans. There are no certain numbers but there have been about 200 infections in the USA in the past 27 years.
* Freezing at temperatures around -40°C (which you can’t achieve in a home freezer) and also cooking the fish kill all parasites. Hot smoking as well, but not cold smoking.
* Marinating (acids) doesn’t kill the parasites. There is uncertainty about salting. Some sources say abundant salt (as I use in my recipe as opposed to some lighter “graves” in other recipes) is enough to kill all parasites.
* All fish in Europe that are sold for explicit raw consumption have been frozen before – like in sushi restaurants.
* The fresh salmon from which I get the fillets at the market is not frozen.
* But it is very fresh, it has been gutted quickly, and I do visually examine the fillets before “graving” them with a lot of salt.
* Everyone should decide himself if he wants to eat fresh raw salmon or any other fish. I will surely keep on doing it, observing the above rules.

slice it thin - flavor explosion!

slice it thin - flavor explosion!

27 Responses

  1. mmmh! looks delicious! isn’t it funny how we never attempt to make things, thinking they must be sooo difficult and they turn out to be a walk in the park? and the effort-compliments ratio is so very compelling with gravlax, as well as with confit de canard which has bceome a staple around here!
    hope you’re well… it’s been ages ;-)

  2. Yes! I want to try this. I didn’t know it was so easy.

  3. what happens to the salt mix afterwards? does it have to be throw away as this seems like such a waste?, or can the same mix be used on another piece of fish?

  4. Johanna,
    you are so right! Confit was also for me such an eye-opener. My only problem now is that it is so hard to find duck legs here in Rome! – It really has been ages, you know, spring time in Rome is lovely :-)
    do try it, as it is really effortless.
    you should throw away the mixture. It turns into a paste/mud because of all the juice from the fish it has soaked, so it can’t be used again. Not only because it is already soaked and won’t “work” with the next peace of fish; but also because the juice from the fish would become a health threat after sometime. Use the cheapest salt and sugar you can find. For this, I had 500 g of salmon (5 Euros), so the 1kg of salt cost 13 cents and 500g of sugar cost 35 cents. The cost of the final product against what you would pay if you bought it in the deli justifies it! And the knowledge that you used only wholesome materials is priceless!

  5. I was a little mixed up with the foil part – it doesn’t show in the picture. Is it really necessary?

  6. Bruno Lazaretti,
    the foil is in the picture with the wine bottles directly underneath them – you need something between your salt mixture and the weight that you put on the whole thing – you don’t want everything to get all sticky and stinky, do you? Remember, the salt mixture is going to get very wet, almost muddy, after the 1st day because of the liquid coming out of the fish.

  7. It must taste great and I didn’t know it was so simple to make. Will have to try it this weekend so by Sunday next week will have some for scrambled eggs! Thanks so much.
    BTW, would any other combination of herbs also work?

  8. Harry,
    sure, try any combination of herbs you like. Actually traditional gravlax has lots of dill – which I despise, lol! So go ahead, use any herbs that work for you!

  9. i do believe that in this case foil should called plastic wrap or cling film, depending on your location in the english speaking world.

    Foil in english generally means aluminium.

    Nice pics by the way. I use a lot less salt, maybe 50 g to 2/3 sugar, per 700 g of fish, skin on. Makes for a moist salmon, which, granted, doesn’t keep as well but is very delicious

  10. eat,
    I tend to forget this, thanks for reminding me. I have edited the directions accordingly. I know and have tried the less salt version as well and prefer this one better. But surely it is a possibility, as it also takes a shorter time – 2 days is usually enough for that.

  11. Oh, right, eat got it right. The word ‘foil” – that’s what was confusing me.

    Thanks for the recipe. I’ll just find some fresh salmon.

    By the way, do you know if any other fish can be prepared this way too?

  12. Bruno Lazaretti,
    I think you can also make it with other fish from the trout or char families, but I have never made it myself. If you do try another fish, please let us know how it worked!

  13. Thank you for sharing the recipe. I must try it soon. My in-laws love gravlax. It’s easy to find Salmon in Europe but not in Tropical countries. Guessed I have to hunt down those air-flown salmon :-) Lovely blog and picts you have here.

  14. @ Bruno Lazaretti:

    I have tried a similar preparation for cefalo, grey mullet, i believe in english. Using 500g of cefalo filet with skin on and 20 g each of salt and sugar, adding some aroma with orange peel. Curing for a short four hours due to the low fat content of white fleshed fish. Serve with small salad with roast peppers and Artichoke hearts flavored with basil. Makes for a nice mediterranean variation.

  15. Fantastic post! I love gravlox, and can’t wait to try this. It looks delicious!!

    But, I will absolutely avoid using raw fresh salmon, and I strongly urge you to do the same. Fresh salmon, eaten raw, is incredibly dangerous. It needs to be properly frozen, instead. Sushi chefs know this, but home chefs are generally unaware of this critical requirement for eating raw salmon, or any other fresh water fish, for that matter.

    Here is a great article published in Gourmet Magazine outlining the dangers, and detailing proper freezing requirements.

    Sorry to be a bummer, but better safe that sorry, right?

    Cheers, and thanks for the great recipe and read! Beautiful photos, too!!

    ~ Paula

  16. eat,
    thanks for the “go” at Bruno Lazaretti!
    thanks for information. I am aware of this, actually the tape worm is also a problem in other, bigger, fish, like the swordfish, very popular in Italy. But I do buy my salmon fillets cut directly from a whole fish that I can see and I believe the tapeworm is in the intestines, with which I have no contact. But I will definitely look further into this.
    Update: I did some research to check my information. I have added my findings to the post itself, so everyone can see it readily.

  17. Thanks for that added information, Hande. I to0 will continue eating salmon raw. 200 cases in 27 years? I believe the risk of catching salmonella poisoning or eating bad mussels is much greater. I have been eating salmon – raw, cooked and graved style – for nearly 30 years. And won’t stop now.

  18. Great you reminded me. My mom always used to make gravlax. Very delicious! I hope I find the time soon to try it too!

    Thanks a lot.

  19. Wow,
    after years of making graavlaks, I decided to make four recipes out of a single 11 lb salmon. Three of the four were delicous, but relatively similar…just varying amounts of salt to sugar, some with hot peppers, some with juniper, dill, star anise, whisky, lemon zest, etc.

    This one, though, was definitely not expected, and was the most interesting. We look forward to eating it for many days, as it is the most preserved. It is quite salty and really delicious. My wife, who was born in Moscow, was totally psyched.
    Thanks for the recipe…ps, nothing living could survive that grave of salt.

  20. Wow, what a total waste of salmon. I followed your instructions to a T and what I got is over-salty jerky. It’s truly become jerky and is too salty to eat. What a waste of 2 pounds of good fish… I am so angry that I decided to follow your recipe rather than all the other ones that require less time and less salt. If I’d done what 90% of the other Tastespotting submissions had suggested maybe Id have been eating great tasting gravlax 3-4 days ago!

    • Dear Angry Reader,
      as with all recipes found on the internet, you have to use your own judgment. I think my notes, the comments and the pictures show it clearly that this is on the salty/drier side. I am sorry this recipe didn’t work for you.

  21. Great recipe! I grew up in Norway and was spoon-fed gravlaks from a young age, but I’ve never actually tried to make it myself! Now I shall have to :)

  22. Great…
    i like youur site..

  23. Hande, Great blog, I have to try your chocolate decadence wedges very soon. About the raw fish, I’ve been freezing my smoked salmon purchases before we eat them because of risk of infection. If you turn the knob to its lowest setting, home freezers do the job provided you keep the fish in there longer. I keep mine for 5 days. You need to measure the temperature in your freezer and consult a table for recommended freezing times. Iyi sanslar!

    • Merhaba Mine, thank you for your insight. I have initiated and kept the discussion about freezing here because I want to give everyone the whole picture and let everyone decide for himself. I do not freeze my fish before graving it and will keep on doing so till I am convinced of the necessity of doing otherwise – I am resisting to become a germophobe! :-)

  24. geçekten beğendim. elinize sağlık. devamını da bekleriz :)

  25. Nice recipe! All this talk of safety is really quite funny. Despite the articles and warnings everywhere, I know of no one thats ever known of anyone with a tapeworm, for gosh sakes. You’re right, the parasite can be rather easily seen, but regardless, properly dressed, fresh salmon carries no risk. Mankind has been curing and preserving things like this happily and safely for thousands of years without the use of freezers, imagine that!
    Sugar, salt, smoke, these natural ingredients can work wonders. Freezing destroys both the fresh flavor and the firm texture required for a delicious result— so much so that I dont think the recipe is even worth it that way. So my overly paranoid, sanitizer-drinking friends, relax! Nature is no so dangerous as you suspect

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