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