Gravlax -- Step by step by step by...

Joined Feb 13, 2008
In another thread, a cry for help rang out. It -- well she actually -- wants an actual recipe for Gravlax. And why not?

The term, in this case the Norwegian version, literally means "dug salmon." Most likely it's the etymological consequence of the need to keep temperatures low, above freezing, and constant -- which resulted in burying the wrapped fish in a pit.


Yield: A lot
Skill level: Beginner


First cure:
1 3lb segment or side of salmon
1 oz (approximately) aqvavit, gin, tequila or vodka

1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup white sugar
2 tbs fine ground white pepper
2/3 bunch dill sprigs

Second cure:
1/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup white sugar
1 tbs white pepper
1/3 bunch dill sprigs


Buy the best quality, highest fat content salmon possible. You'd like something around 10% fat or even higher, and that means buying from somewhere other than the supermarket. If you don't know where to purchase, call your favorite fish restaurants and find out who supplies their fish.

No matter how good your fish monger -- check for scales and remove any (s)he missed. To do that, hold the spine of your knife, gently, firmly, and perpindicularly against the skin and rub the suspicious areas vigorously back and forth. The scales will flake off.

Rinse the fish thoroughly, and dry.

If you bought a segment rather than a filleted side, fillet the segment into two (duh) sides. Trim to remove the fins, trim the ribs, and remove any thin sections of belly. If you're using a whole side, you'll want to take off the last few inches at the tail end -- which are better grilled, anyway. You're trying to create a piece as uniform in width, thickness and texture as possible.

Remove the pin bones with a needle nose pliers or tweezers which you keep reserved for fish work. Although some tearing is inevitable, do your best to keep it minimized when removing the pin bones -- although some tearing is inevitable. Tips: (1) To fine the pin bones, close your eyes and rub your fingers over the surface of the fish. (2) To avoid tearing, use an appropriate tool to grasp the bone and follow the direction of the bone.

Rinse the fish thoroughly again, dry it well.

Lay the the two pieces of fish, skin side down on a pan so the tail end of one lines up with the head end of the other. Splash a little gin (or whatever) on the flesh of each side. Use your finger tips to spread it evenly.

Note: If your pan isn't big enough to hold both pieces flat, use (get this) two pans -- one for each piece.

Mix the salt, sugar, and pepper for the first cure. Sprinkle one piece of fish generously.

Lay half of the dill sprigs for the first cure on that piece of fish, arranging them equally. Cover the dill sprigs with almost all of the remaining cure -- reserving a couple of tbs. Then cover the cure with the remaining dill sprigs. Sprinkle the remaining tbs of cure onto the unseasoned salmon. Finally, make a "gravlaks sandwich" by turning the piece without the dill onto the piece with the dill.

Cover the pan tightly with cling wrap.

Place a weighted pan on top of the wrap to press the fish, and hole in the refrigerator for at least 72 and up to 96 hours.
Note: Alternatively, you can keep the curing period down to as low as 24 hours for more of a "sashimi" type taste.

After 24 hours, drain the liquid, turn the fish, replace the cling wrap, the weights, and return to the refrigerator.

After 48 hours, drain the liquid, refresh the cure and dill with the "Second Cure" ingredients, replace the wrap, the weights and return to the refrigerator.

After 72 hours you can either remove the fish, or give it one more turn and another day.

Whenever you finally do remove the fish -- rinse it thoroughly and dry it. Using the sharpest possible knife, slice pieces off the skin. Slice pieces as thin as possible -- and by thin, I mean really, really thin. I.e., translucent if not transparent.


PS. This recipe is original with me. If you like it and want to share it with someone else, you have my permission on satisfaction of each of the following two conditions: First, your sharing is not for gain; and second, you attribute it to me, Boar D. Laze. I would consider it a kindness if you would also mention my eventually to be finished book, COOK FOOD GOOD: American Cooking and Technique for Beginners and Intermediates.
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Joined Aug 25, 2009
Chef BDL,

For someone (me) who has never made this is a good project. I enjoy recipes that require steps and technique.
Actually the two recipes you just posted are good for learning these things.

I am glad that I am making this with my father, I do not doubt he will show me a thing or two about cleaning , removing scales and de-boning. Looking for pin bones will be a mission for me for obvious reasons.

I have cleaned fish before...but my father likes to buy a complete fish and do it from scratch, I just get it done before it hits my board.

So he is happy now, just read the recipe to him.....tomorrow he is off to buy 2 salmon.

"Step aside Nigella" as my mother would say, "The Queen is in" ! :lol:

Thank you,

PS. I will be going with the Vodka.....
Joined Feb 13, 2008
A few more thoughts, some of which have been expressed in the related "gravadlax" thread:

Gravlaks freezes very well -- sliced or unsliced.

Gravlaks keeps 10 to 14 days in the refrigerator, as long as it's well wrapped. Wrap your sliced gravlaks in cling wrap, then put the wrapped slices in a freezer bag. Every other day, change the cling wrap or the surface of the fish will develop a less pleasant texture, and ultimately an aroma.

Unsliced gravlaks may be cooked. It may be cooked lightly, then chilled again, carved sashimi style (like "tataki" aka "seared tuna"), and served like any other sashimi or with a salad; it may be cooked through to medium-medium-rare; or ...

Gravlaks may be served like any other kind of lox -- on bagels, rye, pumpernickel (if you like to bake, you'll like this one:, onion dill bread (forgive me of tooting my own horn again, but that's just how we megalomaniacas roll:, flat crisp-bread, etc.; garnished with cream cheese, butter, onions, dill, capers, shallots, salmon roe, alone or in combination, and with any combination of a variety of other accompaniments.

There are also any number of "traditional" sauces, including cream and sourcream based, and vinaigrettes.

If you can get hold of good salmon, do try the recipe.

And let me know what you think!
Joined Nov 22, 2009
I've never seen a recipe with equal parts salt and sugar, actually. I guess that's the difference between Swedish and Norwegian gravlax. :)
Joined Feb 13, 2008
Could be. All I can tell you is that if you reserach gravlaks, gravlax, gravadlaks, and the other English spelling variants of one Scandinavian language or another, in English, you'll get salt - sugar - pepper ratios all over the map. You'll also see that similar volumes of coarse salt and sugar with substantially less white pepper is very common.

More, "similar volumes," might go some way to explain the difference between your 3:2:1 and my 1 sugar : 1 kosher salt; in that a given volume of sugar will weigh about 1.5X more than the same volume of coarse salt.

About my recipe in particular, there's no specific national origin for it. Nor does it make a claim to be some sort of highly tweaked and personal version. Like nearly all the recipes I post in CT, it's meant to give enough technique so the reader can tweak the recipe to her own preferences; while at the same time offering a recipe which can be followed exactly, and result in a successful, straight-forward dish.

"New American" is the operative style. While it borrows from anywhere, it's more about simplicity and balance than allegiance to tradition. It's not necessarily the best way to think about food -- just one among many -- and it works for me.

Joined May 29, 2006
Just made it yesterday for a small party coming up Sunday. I chop my fresh dill and coat whole side. When pulling pin bones pull them in direction of bone as doing opposite will tare salmon. I the Sous-vide or cryovac mine it works great, takes about 30 hours to work. We mix a dry rub of salt, sugar,salt & white pepper. Splash fish with aquavit then coat with rub.
Joined Aug 18, 2007
Thank you BDL. I now have a craving. So much so, that I have just taken a small pkt of smoked salmon out of the feezer for my breakfast tomorrow. It'll keep me going till i get the real thing...It's a hard life eh?
Joined Nov 26, 2009
Thanks for the recipe, very interesting to read! I don't have any experience making gravad lax, but I do have plenty experience eating it.

Here in Sweden it is commonly served with "hovmästarsås", roughly translated as sauce of the maître d'. "Hovmästare" may be literally translated as "master of the court", probably implying that this sauce is fancy enough to be served to royalty.

The storebought version of this sauce is very heavy in mustard, and I personally don't much care for it. My mother and grandmother have a different recipe, which may or may not qualify for the name, but which is nonetheless way more subtle and enjoyable, in my opinion. Their recipe goes like this:

3tbsp mustard (regular, sweet mustard)
1tbsp white sugar
1kryddmått finely ground white pepper
1kryddmått salt
1tbsp balsamic vinegar
1deciliter chopped dill (frozen or fresh)
1deciliter olive oil

A kryddmått measures 1ml, or a cubic centimeter, or a gram of liquid. A deciliter is 1/10 of a liter, or 1/(2.4) cup. Just in case any of you are as bad with our measurements as I am with yours :p

In my family gravad lax is often served as an appetizer at christmas and easter, usually along with hard-boiled eggs. Buttered toast is optional, lemon wedges are not!

I'm sure this is familiar stuff to boar_d_laze, he seems more than knowledgeable. "Grav" is actually Swedish for, you guessed it, "grave". So I'd translate it literally into "buried salmon". The etymology sounds spot on.

To my knowledge, I've never been served gravlax that was made with liquor, so I will definitely be trying it very soon. It may be more common in Norway, or it could simply be that my relatives don't cook much with alcohol.

Boar, would you be able to suggest some good vegetable pairings for gravad lax? I'm growing some beansprouts now, which I imagine could work, and pickled beans with onions may not be a bad match either. Any suggestions?

Thanks again for an informative post :)
Joined Dec 4, 2001
I will sometimes make gravlax sans dill and smoke small pieces in my Cameron stove top smoker. It makes a decent substitute for the cold smoked salmon you buy in the vacuum packages at the store. I use it in salads, on scrambled eggs, filling for raviolli and just to nibble on. My recipe is much like BDL's but I don't do a second cure and I use cracked black pepper. I turn every 12 hours and drain the liquid as it accumulates.
Joined Feb 13, 2008
I'm not exactly the keeper of the flame of gravlaks purity, and a good thing too. But iconoclast though I am, once you hot smoke it, it's not gravlaks anymore and becomes Elaborately, Time-Consumingly-Brined, Hot-Smoked Salmon. You gotta admit, that's a catchy name.

For what it's worth, I've had similarly good results doing the same unholy thing in my offset.

Why no dill?
Joined Dec 4, 2001
I find the smoked dill has an unpleasant off taste. Also the texture of the Elaborately, Time-Consumingly-Brined, Hot-Smoked Salmon is better than simple hot smoked. Anyway, as you know there's no real work involved with making gravlax; it's all fridge time.
Joined Aug 25, 2009

I realized "as of late" that the great project of cleaning 2 Large salmon from head to tail, scales off, and then to de-bone ....and all the other wonderful exciting pleasures that come with cleaning fish (in the back yard , my mother would not allow it in the house) , turned out to be quite I started to see red....and was anticipating a good shot of VODKA for myself , never mind the not all what its cracked up to be. Maybe thats just the more gentil side of me, I don't know ?

You are right, in the end it is all fridge time.....

The experince with father ? ....priceless
I would do it all over again......

At work, a different story.

ps. Give it a fancy name after all that hard work ? DESERVES IT !
Joined Dec 4, 2001
Well, that's right. I was starting with a side of salmon (or even just a few pounds of center cut) from the fishmonger and not the whole fish. So it's just a question of checking for scales and pulling the pin bones.
Joined Oct 9, 2008
With salmon that you're going to prepare this way, make life easy for yourself and don't go through all this trouble. Don't worry about the scales: skin the fillets once removed. I haven't found that this dramatically changes the results with cured fish.

The classic French method: Gut your fish if necessary, and clean the cavity of any bloody remnants. Take a heavy, sharp chef's knife. Grip the fish by one gill and cut in -- yes, toward your fingers -- behind the fin and collar, until you hit the spine. Lift the fish by the gill about a foot, turn the knife so the blade is away from you at about a 45 degree angle down on the spine, and then simultaneously press on the knife, saw back and forth in big strokes, and pull up and back on the gill. The fillet will come off fairly clean. Turn the fish over and repeat. Remove the ribcage from each fillet by placing your fingers on the cage and attempting to cut your fingers from the opposite side of the cage -- the knife will skid off the bones and the ribcage will come out clean. Skin each fillet by gripping the tail end firmly with a towel, cutting in just to the skin, and then doing basically the same push, slice, pull, lift motion you did to remove the fillet -- be sure to keep the knife at a medium-steep angle to the skin as you do this. Now just trim anything that needs it, pull the pinbones, and you're done. Apart from the pinbones, this whole job only takes 5-10 minutes, and a lot less if you're practiced at it.

You can also do it the Japanese way, removing the head, then cutting in to the spine, over the spine, and down the back, and so on. But salmon is a funny sort of fish, and you won't lose very much if you do it the French way, nor will you get a shredded surface if your knife is good and sharp. (That's not true, by the way, of most fish -- for this reason a lot of Japanese textbooks advise using a gyuto/chef's knife for salmon and only for salmon.) That method is a good deal slower unless you're very practiced at it, but it does have the advantage of being applicable, with minor modifications, to any roundfish.
Joined Aug 25, 2009

Thank you very much for that informative post. It is all about technique and I fought my way through it.
I should of had a glove on to keep my grip but I was trying to keep up with "Dad" and it just made everything ....well you know.
I envisioned doing it all over in my head the way you described it and I can see it being done....right for the next time.
I printed out what you wrote and will have to practice is not everyday that I gut and clean a fish ( I have a fish Monger who prepares much of my cuts at a big warehouse who gets his produce fresh from the Old Port of Mtl....I tell him how many fillets and he preps )...when you wrote that it should take no less than 5-10 minutes.....I have much to learn. You sound like you can do this with your eyes closed.
I appreciate the input, alot.
Joined Oct 9, 2008

No problem. While I'm on the subject, let me just run through the basic Japanese method. There is some variation with fish that are peculiar in one sense or another, but the basic method is the same for all roundfish.

Scale the fish. Gut the fish and clean the cavity well. Look into the top of the cavity and see if you spot any dark, bloody patches; scrape these with the tip of the knife held sideways or backwards to prevent stabbing up into the body itself -- your object is just to oepn up the membrane that covers the blood. Then rinse the cavity thoroughly. pat the whole fish dry inside and out, and return it to the board.

Cut behind the big side fin in to the spine, holding the knife at about a 45-degree angle. Continue the cut up to the dorsal side and down below the gills, following the heavy plate of the collar. Repeat on the other side. Stand up the fish on its open gut. At the very top of the collar area there is a hard point where the two cuts almost meet. With the heel of your knife, tap down on this with some force. The head will now sag off sideways, because it is only attached to the fish by the spine. Whack again in the same place, but down to the spine -- there's nothing in the way, so a lot of force isn't necessary -- and the head will come off clean.

Lay the body on its left side, with the cavity on your right, i.e. with the tail toward you. Lift the flap and cut from the head end to the tail, holding the knife so it follows the spine, and lifting the flesh as you cut in one smooth stroke. You now have the entire spine laid clean. Repeat the same cut, but just lay the tip of the knife on top of the spine and shear along the pinbones and no further. Do it again, now using the knife tip to follow along the dorsal bones up just about to the skin of the back. Do it one last time, shearing through the skin. Remember as you make these cuts to keep the knife following the bones and to lift up and back on the flesh so it doesn't get hacked up as you go.

Flip the fish over so the dorsal fin is to your right and the cavity to the left. Make the same basic cut, following the dorsal bones and cutting down to the spine. Repeat, cutting the pinbones. Repeat, cutting through the cavity and the belly. If necessary, do it one last time to slice the skin.

Lay the fillets with the skin down and the belly to your left. One fillet has the ribcage near you. Place your left fingers on the ribcage and with the knife carefully cut just under the tips of the bones, then cut essentially down toward your hand so the edge follows the bones, and the ribcage will come out clean. For the other fillet, start by turning your knife upside-down -- edge up -- and run the tip just below the ends of the bones by pushing the knife away from you. Now repeat the same cutting method as before. (The point is that the bones are angled such that if you just make the cut directly, the knife will naturally run between the bones, so you free up the bone tips first.)

Depending on the desired results, pull the pinbones with a pliers or tweezers, or else cut on either side of the midline to produce two boneless half fillets.

If you wish to remove the skin, grip the tail end of the fillet or half-fillet, cut in at a steep angle to the skin, then turn the knife so it's almost parallel to the board, and cut out toward the head end in a slight jigsaw fashion while pulling gently and steadily with the towel.

There are some slight variations on this method to take into account the peculiarities of various fish, but the system is basically consistent across all roundfish. Note that to use this system most effectively, you're going to need a deba-hocho, which is heavy, totally inflexible, and should be sharpened like a razor. A smallish, heavy chef's knife with a very sharp edge works too, but it's important that it be as inflexible as possible.
Joined Feb 13, 2008
This is not exactly but pretty much how I fillet round fish, only I never stand the fish on its vent and pull all of the internal gill structure as part of the head. FWIW Chirs, "our mutual friend," KC does it the same way.

Anyway, for larger fish I use my 12" chef's to cut through the spine, and a 7" chef's knife for everything else. I wouldn't call my work debalicious, but it's better than you get from decent fish markets.

My generic advice is that most people are better off having a good fish-monger do their filleting. It takes a lot of practice, which means a lot of fish and a lot of money; and an edge sharper than most people are capable of creating, in order to match that good fish monger. If you want to master the process, it's a process worth mastering; but, caveat percipior: It's not a one-lesson one-try mastery.

Joined Oct 9, 2008
Depends on the fish, really. But much the same.
Agreed. Petals is a pro, if I recall correctly, so it might be worth it to him. I just thought it was fun, and Japan is definitely the place to learn -- whole fish are cheap.
Joined Aug 25, 2009

I thank you so much for the detailed specifications.....printed out.

As far as a pro goes, I am not .......I am learning everyday.

I thank you.
Joined Oct 9, 2008
De rien.

I will say that BDL is dead right about it usually being more effective to buy fish cut, but at the same time he does live in LA. Here in the Northeast, it is a good deal easier to get very fresh fish whole than to get it cut, i.e. at Asian markets. They will cut the fish for you if you like, but you pay for the pre-cut weight, so all you gain is convenience -- and they don't always do the cleanest job. When I have the time, I just ask them to scale the fish (which is messy and irritating) and do the rest myself. With non-fatty fish, this also gives me great stock makings. It also lets me pretend that there was some good reason to buy a $120 deba-hocho in Kyoto. :lol:
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