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“Smoked” Gravlax


Bagel Lox, featuring homemade “smoked” Gravlax, Philidelphia Cream Cheese, Kamuela Tomatoes, Sweet Ewa Onions, Fresh Dill and Fresh Crack Black on a Einstein Bros. Bagel.

Notice “Smoked” is in quotation marks, as cured salmon purists probably want to force me to the whipping pole right about now, protesting, “You can’t say Smoked Gravlax!”

You see, there’s this whole breakdown by European region and method when it comes to how cured salmon is named, going back to the original Scandinavian dish know as Gravlax.

The term “Gravlax” or “Gravad Lax” literally translates in Scandinavian as “grave salmon”, or “buried salmon”. This, being their original regional method of curing salmon was by burying it in sand near the shoreline where the salmon was caught. When high tide came in, the natural salt from the ocean water surf would wash-up and absorb into the sand and cure/preserve the buried salmon.

Simply brilliant!

However, that’s just one Nordic preparation. There are others.

Image courtesy of thekitchn.com

To satisfy the “purists” out there, here’s the basic breakdown in variety of European cured and smoked salmon:

• Lox – Cured Pacific Salmon, not smoked
Nova (Scotia) Lox – salt cured and then cold smoked Atlantic Salmon.
Scotch, Nordic & Irish Lox – Cured salmon indigenous to the respective countries. Dry brined and then rinsed and finally cold smoked.
Gravad Lax or Gravlax – literally translated from its origin in Scandinavia as “buried salmon,” as that’s how it used to be cured. Encased in salt and sugar, plus lots of Dill.
European Kippered Salmon – Whole salmon split into thick planks (like chicken fingers) before being brined and then cold smoked.

For more great information on all that, click here:
Smoked Salmon, Lox & Gravlax: What’s the Difference?

OK, now that we understand this a bit more (and you know I’m deviating a bit), let’s get to making “Smoked” Gravlax!

That’s approximately 1-1/2 pounds of wild-caught Coho Salmon fillet from Alaska a friend had given me from a trip there that was previously frozen. Yet upon defrosting it, I swear, it was pretty much as good as fresh sushi grade, where I was initially nibbling at it raw with no abandon (I had two of them, actually!). I ended up sauteing the other half and whacking it pretty much just like that, with enough for a week’s worth of dinners. So ono!

So our task here is to make “Smoked” Gravlax (yes, I’m calling it that), which I’ve always been fascinated about, being I LOVE the stuff, however admittedly never made it myself before. Well, famous last words, there’s always a first for everything! Ha-ha!

And where do we begin, as well you might ask? From da’ beginning! lol Where now all the cured salmon “purists” are shaking your heads again at the very THOUGHT of adding liquid smoke to a Gravlax recipe. Da’ nerve! Right? Well, I was honestly worried myself that it would turn out tasting bitter,  however it actually worked out GREAT!

So I began my first-time attempt at making Gravlax from the beginning (lol!) by lomi-ing (massaging) the liquid smoke into the flesh of the Salmon, just enough to make sure it was well distributed and coated.

That was followed by the most crucial “ingrediments” of the salmon-curing process: Hawaiian Salt and Cane Sugar (in this case). Specifically about an equal parts each of cane sugar and Hawaiian Salt at a 1:1 ratio (50/50, or “half ‘dis, half ‘dat” if you’re so mathematically challenged lol). That, totaling 1 cup (8 oz.). That was a perfect amount to coat both sides (skin-side, too) of the Coha Salmon fillet shown here.

Note, the skin was left on the fillet, as is recommended by most Gravlax recipes I’ve looked-up, which helps to keep the flesh from shrinking and curling-up as it loses moisture during the curing process.

The final flavoring agent before this gets packed-up for curing is the ever-crucial DILL. GOD, do I LOVE Dill! It’s totally BFFs with Salmon, and pasta too!

Let’s just say this: If I smoked weed, I’d lace my joints with Dill, I love it that much. lol  Seriously, though!

Next, I cut the prepared salmon fillet in half and “sandwich it” as shown, where the flesh-side meets each other, with the skin outside, kinda’ like a quite massive salmon fillet meat ‘n dill burger if you will.

At this point I said screw the Gravlax, threw the prepared Salmon on the grill, salt, sugar, dill ‘n all and had at it. Nah, jus’ kidding. lol

Next easy step for making the Gravlax, is you wrap it up VERY TIGHTLY in the tin foil it’s prepared on, then wrap that with a few layers of paper towels to absorb the liquid, followed finally by several layers of plastic cling wrap. Toss that puppy (fishy) in the fridge on a plate and weigh it down with something heavy. In my case, I used an unopened half-gallon carton of juice, which worked out well for the space I had. Keep it simple, in other words.

After 3 days of curing in the fridge, voila…

I was actually surprised how green the Dill still was, as I expected it to look all wilted and “dead” from the salt. Especially considering the Dill I used for this was already about a week and a half old.

As a few folks recommended online, I didn’t rinse it under water to remove excess salt, sugar and dill, instead opting to pat it with a damp paper towel to clean it up, therefore retaining more flavor. Good call as it turned out!

Well, let’s slice up our home-made “Smoked” Gravlax and try it!…

OMG. Lord have Mercy. LORD HAVE MERCY! I said can someone give me an AMEN? Can someone shout out and bless me with an AMEN!, my brothers and sistahs! Dude, you don’t even KNOW how ONO this turned out. SO. AWE. SOME. Dang! I swear, it was really tough holding myself back from downing this entire fillet of fresh-made Gravlax in one sitting.

However we can’t eat it all just yet, as we have some Bagel Lox to make!

Like burgers, everyone has their own way they like to build their bagel lox, as well as what’s on it besides the basic lox and cream cheese.

For mine, the first part of the Bagel Lox build is a thick slathering of Philadephia Cream Cheese on a plain bagel. In this case a quite large Bagel from Costco, that’s branded under the Kirkland Signature label by Einstein Bros Bagels. And they’re quite large bagels, at that.

Note that a couple twists of fresh crack black was also added, then off it goes into the microwave for a brief 15 seconds to soften the bagel ‘n cream cheese foundation…

Next goes on three thick-cut slices of Kamuela Tomatoes…

Can I eat it now? Nope, not until we add on multiple very thin slices of fresh-made “Smoked” Gravlax!…

Awe, look, it’s shaped like a heart. A quite butchered heart (been there, felt that). Yet oh, so ONOLICIOUS LOOKING!

And when I say thin-sliced, thin enough where you can see through the Gravlax…

Can I eat it now? Nope, not until we top it with also very thin slices of Sweet Ewa Onion and a generous helping of Dill Fronds, finished again with more fresh crack black…

I opted for the Ewa Sweet Onion to try and add some “Hawaii” in this Bagel Lox along with the Kamuela Tomato. Otherwise I would have used the much more colorfully purple “Red” onion, which is standard for Bagel Lox.

So can I eat it now? Why, yes Pomai, yes you can!..

MM-MM-MM, is this ONO! Ultimately, absolutely FOOD of the GODS.

My first attempt at making this here Salmon Gravlax turned out perfectly balanced with salt, sugar and smoke, and so buttery soft, it literally melts in your mouth. Seriously, you could spread this salmon on toast with a butter knife, it’s that soft. Yet still had enough substance to cut through thinly with a very sharp knife. And so FRESH-TASTING. Incredible! Almost like this salmon had just been landed. This, after having been sitting in my refrigerator (not freezer) in a zip-lock over a week now curing and waiting for me to eat it.

As for Capers, which are typically garnished on Bagel Lox, that’s not my thing, where I compensated that instead with copious amounts of Dill and Lemon Juice squeezed all over for an equivalent contrasting flavor effect.

Breaking it down, you get that naturally tasting salty, smokey, “meaty” salmon, with the cream cheese helping to tame down the saltiness of the salmon, while evenly spreading its savory goodness. The thick-cut tomatoes between the salmon and cream cheese act sort of like a diplomatic agent, helping to shake each other’s hands if you will. This, contrasted again by the fresh dill on top that really opens up the flavors of EVERYTHING, contrasted yet again by the sweet bite of the Ewa (yay!) onion and acidity from the lemon juice, rounded out by the toasty earthen bagel and…

“AMAZING!”, is all I really need to say.

Let’s now compare the price of commercially prepared Smoked Salmon at Costco to whole fresh Salmon fillets.


Costco (Honolulu) – Fresh Farmed Steelhead Salmon Fillet (boneless, skin on) – $7.99/lb.


Costco (Honolulu) – Fresh Farmed Atlantic Salmon Fillet (boneless, skinless) – $8.99/lb.


Costco (Honolulu) – Norwegian Smoked Salmon Slices – $10.49/12 oz. package


Costco (Honolulu) – Kirkland Signature Smoked Salmon (wild-caught, pre-sliced) 2-pack 12 ounces each – $22.99

Comparing $11.50 for 12 oz. of Costco’s Signature Wild Smoked Salmon to $9 for the Atlantic Farm-raised Salmon, and that ain’t bad, actually. Let’s make it equal quantities, meaning it actually costs about $15 for an equal amount of the packaged smoked salmon to the 16 oz. (1 lb.) of the Atlantic Salmon Fillet in “plain” state for $9. But then you consider the extra work (which is easy) to prepare the the smoked gravlax, plus the price of the salt, sugar and dill, which closed the gap a few dollars more, and it looks like the packaged Kirkland Signature Smoked Salmon works out to be a pretty good deal, with no work involved. Just eat.

But hey, say you’re like me and your neighbor, family or friends go to Alaska for fishing trips often, and bring you back the stuff, at least you now know about this option! Or you just might want to make it yourself to save that few extra dollars, plus the satisfaction that comes from preparing it.

Well, I’m off to enjoy another scratch-made Bagel Lox. Nom-nom-nom….

17 thoughts on ““Smoked” Gravlax

  • March 16, 2014 at 5:18 pm
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    Just the way I like a bagel. Minus the salmon :) The rest can stay (more lemon too). And some capers sprinkled over the top would be perfection. I do love dill, I’ve never thought of putting dill sprigs on a bagel before. I might try that (though minus the cream cheese, since I no longer indulge in dairy). So basically, everything you have, but different :)

    Reply
    • March 16, 2014 at 6:05 pm
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      h-Chan,

      Not a big fan of Capers, which is why I compensate similar flavors with excessive dill and lemon. Yes! And yes, I too could do without the smoked salmon and still be a happy camper, as long as there’s all the other ingredients in this “build”. I’m totally a fresh-sliced tomato ‘n EVOO fan. Love that! ;-)

      Off-topic question (to everyone): does it seem excessively long for your comments to process/post to this website? Let me know. Mahalo.

      Reply
      • March 16, 2014 at 6:43 pm
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        It seems to take longer than it used to, but it has been this way for a while. Maybe not the whole time you’ve used this comment box style, but possibly since soon after.

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  • March 16, 2014 at 11:14 pm
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    I was skeeved by the picture of your hairy wrist and watch. Who cooks with a big clunky Seiko?

    Reply
  • March 17, 2014 at 12:37 am
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    Pomai, I have never had lox with bagel with cream cheese but my SF cousins had it all the time. Maybe I make salmon into a lomi salmon on bagel with cream cheese. An island bagel.

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  • March 17, 2014 at 2:54 am
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    @ Amy – Funny you mention Lomi Salmon Bagel, as I was going to mention that myself in the post, but decided to leave it for comments. Thanks! Then there’s Lomi Salmon Dip, which is simply Lomi Salmon mixed with softened Cream Cheese. Really ono on Triscuit crackers!

    @ Lactavia – I was knew someone would mention my hairy wrists and hands! LOL! {TMI} I will say, I don’t have shedding problems, and can’t recall EVER having to pluck my own hair out food I prepare. Only others hair out of food served from restaurant kitchens. {/TMI}

    @ h-Chan – I’ll check (activate/deactivate) the WP plugins to see if any are bogging the site down. It’s happened before. Thanks!

    Reply
  • March 17, 2014 at 9:47 am
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    Looks like a winna! Pomai, you sure you not Uchinanchu? Pretty hairy hands and stubby fingers. BTW, was shopping and saw something new. Biscoff cookies with a layer of “real” Belgian chocolate. I know how much you love that stuff. My wife says its the bomb.

    Reply
  • March 17, 2014 at 11:14 am
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    @ kobi – Must be the camera angle. My fingers look pretty normally proportioned to me…

    Pomai's hand

    Notice my “green” shirt for St. Paddy’s Day. ;-)

    I still have my Biscoff Spread review on the back burner. Got all kinds of “goodies” I plan on using it on. I promised Keith-San I’d try it with Maebo’s One-Ton Chips. I’m curious How Biscoff Cookies would taste with Nutella spread on it.

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    • March 17, 2014 at 5:59 pm
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      That’s green? You must have received many pinches today.

      Reply
  • March 17, 2014 at 2:34 pm
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    Wow I like your palm. It show you have lot of interest and talent. It show also you can be some what of a rebel at time.

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  • March 17, 2014 at 7:38 pm
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    @ h-Chan – Yeah, my shirt’s color is more like an “Olive Drab“, which is commonly used for military camouflage and flight suits.

    “Green” enough for St. Paddy’s Day to not get pinched, me thinks, me laddy! ;-)

    @ Amy – Palm reading freaks me out. Please don’t go there. lol

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    • March 18, 2014 at 3:11 am
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      Pomai, my family the women been into taoist practice for many generations and palm reading is part of it too

      Reply
  • March 18, 2014 at 8:52 pm
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    Steelhead is actually the ocean-living form of the rainbow trout. It is actually the same species as rainbow trout, so it is not a salmon. Sure looks like it though!

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  • March 19, 2014 at 4:59 am
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    My buddy and I just caught 26 steelhead about two weeks ago, here in Oregon. I brought 6 home, and I smoked them and then canned them in the pressure canner. Thirty six 1/2 pints of smoked steelhead in the pantry! Oh, and one on the BBQ! We use much of it just like you, Pomai, with bagels, cream cheese, sliced onion, etc. We have it for dinner some nights. And H. Hippo is correct. Steelhead is a sea-going rainbow trout. Born in a river, goes to sea, grows up, comes back to its home river and spawns…. BUT… unlike a salmon, it doesn’t die at that point. It can go back out to sea and get even bigger! Plus, I think as far as taste goes, steelhead is mo betta. (Wish I could share my pics)

    Reply
    • March 19, 2014 at 7:36 am
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      BigBoyChan,

      OK, now you and HungryHippo have me VERY curious how Steelhead tastes compared to salmon. How would you describe the difference? Fat content? “Fishiness”? Texture? More importantly for the sake of this post, could Steelhead be used to make Lox?

      Reply
      • March 19, 2014 at 8:12 am
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        Different, but similar. I was born and raised in Oregon, so I’ve eaten and caught a lot of both. Actually, the various species of salmon taste quite differently than each other, with sockeye (called Red in Alaska) usually being the most popular. It’s my favorite salmon. Steelhead (also called steelhead trout) is a little less fishy and has a lower fat content. If fresh, it has a very firm flesh, just like freshly caught salmon. To an untrained eye, you probably couldn’t tell a large steelhead from a small to medium sized salmon, such as a coho. 10 lbs. is an average size for both a steelhead and a coho (called a silver in Alaska). Anything over 20 lbs. could be considered a trophy steelhead. A chinook salmon (or king in Alaska) can reach upwards of 100 lbs. for a tropy, however. And you most certainly could use steelhead to make lox; I’ve done so. Although I prefer steelhead, the two types of fish are pretty much interchangeable in many recipes. I teach classes on smoking fish and on canning, and I often use whichever of the two is freshest (in season) and if they’re both in season, I’ll use the one that’s cheapest.

        Reply

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