For my money rich tasting, sweet/salt gravlax beats out smoked salmon in the luxurious treat department. The lagniappes here are that gravlax is far less expensive than smoked salmon, and a little goes a long way.
There are a few things to know: pristine fresh salmon is a must for this dish (look for fillets with no signs of splitting, mushiness or liquid collected in the package).
It's wise to check a few things before buying your fish. Check seafoodwatch.org for the best sources for salmon that is not endangered, but rather is environmentally sound. Go to the Environmental Defense Fund site for contamination information. At the moment (summer 2012) wild Alaskan salmon is a prime choice on both counts.
Cook to Cook: Before coating the salmon with the spice mixture, be sure it is free of bones. Remove any you find using tweezers.
The Salmon (do 2 to 3 days ahead):
- 1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
- 1 generous tablespoon black peppercorns
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup coarse salt (sea salt or Kosher)
- 1-1/2 pounds center-cut fresh wild salmon fillet
- 1 tightly-packed cup of coarsely chopped fresh dill
Dill Mustard Sauce (Makes 1 cup, do up to 3 days ahead):
- 1 small garlic clove, minced
- 3 tablespoons minced onion
- 1/4 cup cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons sugar, or more to taste
- 3 tablespoons cold-pressed canola or safflower oil
- Generous 1/2 cup coarse-grain dark mustard
- 1/3 to 1/2 tightly-packed cup chopped fresh dill
- Salt and fresh-ground black pepper to taste
- 1 small loaf dense black bread such as pumpernickel, crusts trimmed slices cut into small wedges, or 2 cucumbers sliced into 1/4-inch thick rounds
- Dill sprigs
- Lemon wedges
1. Two to three days before serving, cure the salmon. In a small skillet toast the coriander seeds over medium heat until aromatic (3 minutes), shaking pan frequently. Transfer to mortar or spice grinder. Add peppercorns and crush coarsely. Mix with the sugar and salt.
2. In a shallow glass or china dish just large enough to hold the fish, spread one-half of the 1 cup of the chopped fresh dill, then half the sugar-salt mixture. Set the fillet skin side down on the mixture. Press the rest of the dill into the fish and then pack the sugar mixture over the surface. Cover with plastic wrap. Place a pot, or cake pan atop the salmon and weight it with heavy cans. Refrigerate 2 to 3 days. Every 12 hours, turn the fish, basting it with the cure.
3. While the fish cures make the mustard sauce by blending all the ingredients, seasoning to taste and refrigerating until needed. Serve it at room temperature.
4. To serve, scrape the dill and spices from both sides of the fish. Pat it dry. Keep the salmon cold. Place it on a cutting board skin side down and slice very thin, on a slant, across the grain, freeing each slice from the skin. Fan the slices out on a platter and keep cool.
5. Garnish them with dill sprigs, wedges of lemon and cucumber rounds if using them. If you're using the bread, pile it in a basket. Have the mustard sauce in a bowl with a spoon.
6. To eat, spread just a thin film of mustard on a cucumber slice or piece of bread, top with the salmon and squeeze a little lemon over the fish.