With Hanukkah, Christmas and New Years Eve all falling within the same week during this past holiday season, Canuck and I really got into the spirit of things. It was the day before Christmas Eve and I was able to buy the last tiny 2-foot tree at Whole Foods (directly from their display, might I add) and I decorated it with our combined seven ornaments and some battery operated rainbow LED light as Canuck made massive batches of candy cane cookies (his family recipe) and rugelach. The next day, we drove the single hour – hardly enough time to listen to the entire Hamilton Mixtape – over the mountain to my parents home in Woodland; a welcome change from flying six hours to New York in a middle seat on an overpacked red eye.
As we passed through the bottom of Lake Berryessa, it dawned on me that this would be the first time in my unreligious lifetime that I would be celebrating the first night of Hanukkah with my dear grandmother, Mema. I knew we would be lighting her beautiful peacock-like menorah, a piece that I’ve admired for years. So much so, that I claimed it “mine” when she began packing up her home in San Diego, preparing for a move to Davis to be closer to her family. What I didn’t know is that she intended to give it to me this year, as long as I continued the tradition of lighting the candle and saying the blessing each night of Hanukkah – or, joining Canuck when he said the blessing each night as I tended to the candles.
To round out the holiday season, we decided to celebrate New Years Eve by throwing a fancy dinner party – the first of many dinner parties in our new home. And since New Years Eve landed on the eighth and final night of Hanukkah, I thought it would be appropriate to make gravlax for the first course. Naturally, Canuck made deliciously crispy latkes to pair with the gravlax, and also secured a tin of white sturgeon caviar that he served on homemade potato chips with crème fraîche.
I ended up eating so much food during the first course (along with the delicious appetizers that our friends brought) that I barely had enough room in my stomach for the main course: leg of lamb with Moroccan couscous, crispy roasted potatoes, and green leaf salad with apples, aged gouda, dried cranberries and roasted walnuts. Canuck – being a professionally trained chef and the best boyfriend ever – took the lead on almost everything, but I was responsible for the salad (my specialty), cocktails, and the gravlax. Since I only had three jobs, I took each one of them very seriously, especially the gravlax.
Gravlax – a Nordic dish of raw salmon cured with salt, sugar and dill – is very easy to make and costs a lot less than store-bought lox. And when done right, it’s a luxurious treat that will impress any guest. The whole process involves a few quality ingredients, about a four day wait, and a really, really sharp knife. The only real variables are the ratio of salt to sugar, the curing time and any additional flavors you choose to add to the curing mixture.
Since it was my first go at this seemingly simple dish, and this was an important occasion (the long awaited end of 2016!), I wanted to insure that I made the best version of Gravlax, using the most gratifying combination of variables. To do so, I went to Serious Eats – a trusted source of Canuck’s – and found a recipe that was developed by Daniel Glitzer after a bit of testing. I was ready to go.
Gravlax With Caraway & Coriander (serves 10+)
- 1 (2-pound) skin-on, sushi-grade salmon fillet, pin bones removed by fishmonger
- 1 tsp caraway seeds
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- 4 TB of kosher salt, plus more for washing salmon
- 1 TB sugar
- ½ tsp ground white pepper
- 1 or 2 large bunches of dill
- 3 TB distilled white vinegar
- 2 TB roughly chopped dill fronds
- 5 TB Dijon mustard
- 1 TB sugar
- ¼ cup vegetable oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a mini food processor, combine vinegar with dill, mustard and sugar, and blend until dill is very finely chopped. Add oil and blend until a smooth sauce is formed. Season with salt and pepper.
Start with a short salt water bath: fill a large bowl with cold water and add enough salt to make it taste like the sea. Add the salmon and set aside for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, toast caraway and coriander seeds in a skillet over high heat, stirring constantly for about 1 minute. Transfer to a spice grinder or mortar and pestle and grind finely. In a small bowl, stir together salt, sugar, ground caraway and coriander seeds, and white pepper until thoroughly combined.
Remove the salmon from bath and pat dry with paper towels. On a clean work surface, turn salmon skin side up and sprinkle about half of salt mixture all over, rubbing in with fingers. Arrange half the dill all over the bottom of a baking dish large enough to hold salmon (and wide enough to fit a weight, like a pot of water). Set salmon skin side down on the bed of dill and rub remaining salt mixture all over top and sides of salmon. Top with remaining dill and cover with plastic, then top with a weight. I used a smaller baking dish with a pot of water on top, but you can also use canned beans or anything heavy. Place in the refrigerator.
After chilling for one day, remove from the fridge and carefully unpack the salmon, reserving the dill. Place the salmon back in, skin-side up. Repack with the dill, cover with new plastic and set the weight back on top. Refrigerate for another 2-3 days, until the salmon is firm and sufficiently cured, then unpack the salmon and remove the dill. Gravlax can be kept refrigerated tightly wrapped in plastic for approximately 5 days after curing.
When ready to serve, remove the salmon from the fridge and place on a clean, heavy cutting board. Using a very sharp slicing knife, thinly cut gravlax on the bias. Glitzer suggests serving the Gravlax on pumpernickel bread with dollops of mustard-dill sauce (recipe above) and bits of dill. I used the last bits of leftover gravlax to try it this way a few days after New Years, and it did not disappoint. But it didn’t hold a candle (no pun intended) to the pairing of gravlax and latkes that we had on New Years Eve. Topped off with some mustard-dill sauce (a little goes a long way), and you have the most delicious mouthful of Jewishness that ever occurred. And, although not Kosher at all, the caviar certainly didn’t hurt.