One of the greatest things about living in the Pacific Northwest is, well, the Pacific Ocean – and all the things that come with proximity to it. Wild food is abundant in all shape, sizes, and forms. From a massive elk to the tiniest huckleberry, the PNW provides. Perhaps it is Chinook salmon, though, that uniquely identifies as our most infamous regional fare.
I was blessed very recently when my husband was invited fishing on the Columbia River, near the mouth into the Pacific. There were a number of nervous texts exchanged in the early morning hours as their poles were decidedly, stubbornly still. The bites were few and far between. Alas, I finally received this wonderful picture message early afternoon.
Although federally speaking Chinook salmon are considered a threatened species, in my state, Oregon, they are not. Conservation efforts for Lower Columbia Chinook salmon have maintained the sustainability of the fishery with the introduction of hatchery salmon. These fish are released into the wild, preserving the personal and commercial fishery, and, more importantly, the native species. In the wake of the recently FDA approval of GMO Atlantic salmon for human consumption, I feel very fortunate to live in a state that has preserved the status of its native fish, while also encouraging the fishery in such a way. As such, a wild caught treat like salmon makes me most especially grateful.
Upon my husband’s arrival home, half of one delicious fillet was promptly consumed for dinner. I prepared the other fillet into two large sections for the freezer, leaving me with the slightly smaller tail end of the first fillet. My plan: a cold cured salmon, otherwise known as gravlax, of course.
Just to be perfectly clear here – cold cured salmon, or gravlax, is not technically cooked. It is salt cured. But to cover all the bases here is your raw and undercook foods disclosure:
Consuming raw or undercooked meats, poultry, seafood, shellfish, or eggs may increase your risk of foodborne illness, especially if you have certain medical conditions.
That said, cold cured salmon is a real treat and a fairly simple process. It is one of my favorite treats, but a treat it usually remains due to the rather premium price a few mere ounces of the stuff sells for. Making cold cured salmon at home allows me to tailor the flavors to my preference. This particular recipe is considered gravlax as it includes herbs and spices to the seasoning blend. In addition to sugar, salt, and pepper, I include hickory smoked salt, coriander seeds and fennel seeds to my curing rub.
The results are nothing short of spectacularly impressive – shiny, almost translucent slices of moist, briny salmon with notes of citrus, anise, and smoke. Perfect for spiraling atop cream cheese on a bagel, substituting in for a PNW inspired eggs Benedict, or creating an amazing spread – cold cured salmon is a rich and flavorful treat that boasts the beauty of this favorite NW fare. Want a beverage pairing? Try this ginger coriander ale!
Cold Cured Salmon (Gravlax)
Cold cured salmon, otherwise known as gravlax, is an easy and delicious treat that you can make at home with freshly caught salmon!
- 1.5-2 lb salmon fillet skin on
- 1/3 cup organic sugar
- 2 tablespoons sea salt or Himalayan salt
- 1 tablespoon hickory smoked salt
- 1 tablespoon black pepper crushed
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds crushed
- 1 tablespoon fennel seeds crushed
Rinse and pat dry salmon fillet. Remove any pin bones with dedicated, clean needle nose pliers.
Combine sugar, salt, and seasonings in a bowl until thoroughly combined.
Lay out two layers of plastic wrap, slightly overlapped. Season the skin side of the salmon with half the seasoning blend. Place skin side down on plastic wrap. With the remaining seasoning blend, coat the entire surface of the salmon including sides.
Loosely, but completely wrap the coated salmon. The salmon should be well covered, but with room to drain away fluids leached out during the curing process. Place on a rimmed baking sheet. You will need to place a weight on the fish like a cast iron pan, or I have found half of a wrapped watermelon to be an effective weight too. Refrigerate.
Cold cure the salmon for 3-5 days depending on the thickness of fillet, flipping and drained fluids daily. The salmon is done when it somewhat translucent, darkened, and fairly firm to the touch.
When curing is complete, rinse the fillet adequately, removing all traces of seasoning blend. Pat dry. With a very sharp knife, cut a portion for immediate use if desired, wrapping the rest in double layers of plastic to freeze for later use.
To serve, use a very sharp fillet knife to carefully slice the cold cured salmon, cutting away the skin as you go. Gravlax will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, and in the freezer for a year.