Caught red-handed!

Tue 16 Dec 2014 @ 14:48
Author Paul Dring

With all that heavy festive fare looming on the horizon, it's good to lay on some lighter options over Christmas – and nothing quite fits the bill quite like salmon. And though there's nothing wrong with buying your own ready made smoked salmon, it's a lot of fun to do as I did last year and cure your own gravlax.

This Nordic dish of salmon, cured in salt and sugar and flecked with dill, is popular at Christmas in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, where it is served with rye bread and a dill and mustard sauce as an appetiser. Back in the day, fishermen would bury whole fish on the beach above the tide line, where it would become salted and lightly fermented. 'Grav' means 'grave' in the Scandinavian languages, while 'lax' means 'salmon', so the dish's name literally means 'buried salmon'.

I didn't go to such great lengths as entombing my fish on the strand; instead, I followed Jamie's brilliant recipe for sloe-gin gravlax, which we featured in the magazine last year (see the full recipe here). I also enlisted the help of an eager assistant, my five-year-old daughter Tallulah, above, who particularly enjoyed getting hands on with the blackberry and sloe gin cure.

I had procured a side of Alaskan sockeye salmon to work with. Firm fleshed, it has a gorgeous deep orange colour, a natural hue derived from the crustaceans and zooplankton that constitute the fish's diet in its pristine Alaskan habitat. This colour would stand out when the gravlax was sliced into but its outsides were about to get purple, the result of the cure of blackberries, sloe gin, demerara sugar and rock salt that my young assistant was gleefully rubbing into it. After this had been done, we wrapped the fish in foil and cling film and retired it to the fridge, whereupon Tallulah was retired to the bath.

After a couple of days repose, the fish was due for its herb cure, a layer of chopped dill and tarragon, which was pressed onto the flesh before the salmon was, again, wrapped and returned to the fridge.

The following day it was ready to eat and glorious it was, too. Sliced thinly at an acute angle, the orange interior formed a pleasing contrast with the purple-tinged, green-flecked exterior, while the anise-like tarragon, aromatic dill and fruity blackberry cure accentuated the delicate flavour of the fish. Served on dark rye bread with an array of pickles, it's about as good as it gets and, for me, is as much a flavour of Christmas as turkey, mince pies and mulled wine – and a whole lot more delicious!

For more information about Alaska salmon, please visit the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute website.

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