Mormor's Aquavit-Cured Salmon with Mustard Sauce

(c) Alexandra Grablewski
Every year for the holidays, Mormor would make her famous gravlax. It wouldn't have been Christmas without it. She would buy whole wild salmon at the market and fillet them herself, and the house would smell of fresh dill while she worked. Her secret was the addition of aquavit. I've added lemon zest for zing and pink peppercorns for a bit of heat and visual appeal. After your salmon is cured, slice it paper-thin and serve it on dark bread with mustard sauce. You can use cognac in place of the aquavit. You will need to start this 3 days in advance of serving.

  • 1 large piece skin-on wild salmon fillet cut from the head end of the fish, (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 1 large bunch fresh dill, chopped (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 1/4 cup kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons crushed pink peppercorns
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup aquavit
  • Mustard Sauce (recipe follows)
1. Cut the salmon fillet in half crosswise.

2. Place one piece of fish skin side down in a glass dish large enough to hold it.

3. Mix the dill, salt, sugar, pink peppercorns, and lemon zest in a small bowl. Drizzle the aquavit over the salmon in the dish, then rub it with the salt mixture.

4. Top with the other piece of fish, skin side up. Cover with plastic wrap first, placed directly on the fish, then cover with foil.

5. Place a small cutting board on top of the fish and weigh it down with something heavy (I use tomato cans).

6. Refrigerate the salmon for 3 days, taking it out of the foil and plastic every 12 hours, basting it with the accumulated juices, and returning it to the setup and the refrigerator.

7. Discard the marinade. Scrape away the dill and any excess seasoning remaining on the fish. Slice the fish thinly on the diagonal and serve with the Mustard Sauce.

Mustard Sauce
Makes 1 cup

No Norwegian would ever have gravlax without this sauce. Sometimes I'll make it with sweet mustard and serve it with cold cuts and cheese.

  • 3 tablespoons extra-strong Dijon mustard (I use Maille)
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 3/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
1. Mix the mustard, sugar, vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste in a small bowl.

2. Whisk in the oil, a few drops first, then in a thin stream, until the sauce is thickened.

3. Stir in the dill and serve. The sauce will keep for up to 1 week, refrigerated in an airtight container.

Excerpted from Sweet Paul Eat & Make, © 2014 by Paul Lowe Einlyng. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

Yield: 
Serves 10
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