This week's Dim Sum Sunday theme is Mama Mia. Or possibly last week's. The folks at Karmic Kitchen announced this theme with their own entry a week ago, when it was appropriate and then announced a new theme on Thursday. I don't know if they're giving us lots of warning or none at all. Well, no matter. Mama Mia can be interpreted as either cooking one of your mother's recipes or something Swedish and I already had both on my to do list.
Right now: Swedish. Gravlax is a traditional Swedish cured salmon dish and surprisingly simple to make.
All you need is a salmon fillet, salt, sugar and dill (although there are plenty of optional extras).
I checked the salmon for bones and laid it skin-side-down over a few springs of dill on a sheet of plastic wrap. A lot of recipes add extra flavors at this point but I kept it simple for my first time out: for my 7 ounce fillet, 1 Tablespoon of sugar, 1 Tablespoon of sea salt and 1 teaspoon of ground black pepper mixed and spread over the flesh side of the fillet. That's topped with an big pile of dill (CSA dill I've had in the freezer for some time); a half cup's probably plenty, but you can't use too much. I was going to leave it at this, but just in case the common addition of flavored liqueur is bringing out alcohol-soluble flavors, I poured a couple teaspoons vodka over top. That all got wrapped up in two layers of plastic wrap, laid in a platter with a high rim, weighted down with cast iron and a can and left in the refrigerator for three days, flipped every 12 hours.
Cooking for Engineers, a website I often look to for reality checks, says the weight and flipping are dispensable, but I can't imagine getting the same firm texture without the even squeeze pushing out the water the salt pulls from the fish. You can see how it was squished flat. On the other hand, that water is pretty tasty so I wouldn't mind if some of it stayed in. I'll have to give it a try the other way to compare and contrast.
Here; after I carefully rinsed and brushed off the dill, sugar, salt and pepper; is the result, sliced thin and served with the traditional mustard sauce and crackers.
The mustard sauce is:
1 ounce Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 Tablespoon white wine vinegar
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 Tablespoons dill
Some recipes say to add the olive oil bit by bit while whisking furiously, but mustard's an emulsifier. I just dumped everything (bar the dill) into a bowl and stirred for a minute until it came together. No big deal.
The crackers are Kavli whole grain crispbread from Denmark. Thin slices of pumpernickel or whole wheat bread are traditional, but my kitchen's been too hot for baking and this did fine.
My, and probably your, point of comparison is lox. This isn't quite the same but it's close enough for government work. They both have the same lovely salty-sweet salmon flavor and a similar firm but melt-away soft texture. The gravlax has no smokiness, of course, and some subtle dilliness to it. Loximilitude aside, this is really good in and of itself. But, it's simple. And I know I did that on purpose, but even with the mustard dill sauce (which isn't half bad in a honey-mustard dressing sort of way) it needs something--I dunno, capers, lemon, cucumber, something. But then you don't sit down and eat a pile of lox, either. That's best with all the additional flavors of an everything bagel, cream cheese, tomato and onion. Let's call it even; they're both good leads, but they need their back-up singers to really shine.
... I've done a little more reading and found that the sugar to salt ratio is open to personal taste and 1:1, which resulted in the lox-like flavor, is unusually low. Most recipes call for twice to four times as much sugar as salt which would make for a rather different result. That variability, plus the various other changes that fall within the tradition make for lots of room for playing with flavors here. And going beyond that opens up lots more. Add a little ground lapsang souchong for smokiness to get closer to lox. Substitute soy sauce and cilantro to make a southeast Asian version. Or use whitefish and go a completely different direction with it. (These are not my original ideas, I should point out. I haven't seen actual recipes, but the suggestions are out there on the Web already.)
Bonus! Cooking Corner's gravlax page recommends, once you've sliced all the meat off of the salmon skin, deep fry it to make chips. Easy peasy, but they pop so you definitely need a spatter-guard and they make the oil unreusably fishy so use as little as possible. On the other hand, they're pre-seasoned for your convenience. They suggest serving the chips on top of cold boiled red potatoes, but I liked them on top of a graxlax-laden cracker for a bit more crunch.