Buried Salmon

Gravad lax is probably among the more famous Scandinavian dishes- and rightfully so.  It merits high praise indeed for its melt-in-the-mouth texture and salty-sweet flavour.  Although technically curing the fish preserves it rather than leaving it raw,  gravad lax is often referred to as Scandi Sushi.  And, sure, the texture is a bit similar, but the taste is completely different. 

Gravad actually means ‘buried’ in Swedish (and other, less important, Scandinavian languages).  And yes, that image you are now conjuring up of a bunch of Vikings standing around a hole in the ground, knives in hand, ready for their dinner to emerge from the ground, is not too far off the truth.  In the middle ages, fish was buried in sand and left to ferment before everyone tucked in.  Yummy. 

These days, gravad lax is still buried- in a mixture of salt, sugar and dill.  And I can totally understand if this whole curing raw fish thing seems a bit scary.  And I’m right there with you, I was terrified.  But if you follow some straightforward but vital tips, it is not only perfectly safe, but also ridiculously easy- and delicious.  

So here are my three rules for gravad lax: 

1. The first is to get really fresh salmon, ask your fishmonger when it was caught.  I got mine from Billingsgate Fish Market, which is luckily just a hop and a skip away from our flat.  

2. The second is a very well-rehearsed practice in Sweden, but I couldn’t find much mention of it in any of the English recipes I found on the Internet.  So here it is: when you get home, freeze the fish immediately and leave for 24 hours.  This is to kill off any parasites.  Again, yummy.  

3. And finally, once you have cured the fish and it is resting in the fridge, make sure you turn it over in its plastic bag/clingfilm a couple of times a day.

I’m also including a recipe for the traditional hovmästarsås- the maitre d’ sauce.  There are many different twists on gravad lax that play on the salty/sweet flavours by adding honey or syrups, soy, citrus, teriyaki, etc. to the accompanying sauce.   For me, though, nothing beats this classic.


Gravad Lax

You will need:

1kg salmon ( roughly 2 x 500g whole fillets with the skin still on)
50 g salt
50 g caster sugar
1 tbsp white peppercorns, crushed
bunch fresh dill

For the sauce:

1 tbsp white wine vinegar

50 g mustard (Dijon will do the trick)
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 pinch salt
1 pinch ground white pepper
100 ml sunflower oil
bunch of fresh dill, chopped


1.  To cure the salmon, first wash the fillets and pop in the freezer.  After 24 hours in the freezer, remove and allow to thaw a little.  Pat with some kitchen roll.  
2.  Mix together the sugar, salt and pepper.  Add the dill, roughly torn. 
3.  Rub the mixture into the salmon fillets and place on top of each other, skin sides facing outwards.  Place these in a large zip lock bag or wrap in cling film.   
4.  Put in the fridge for two days, turning frequently to distribute the salt/sugar mixture.  
5.  To serve, remove the dill and cut into thin slices (not including the skin).   The cured fish will be fine in the fridge for a few days.
6.  To make the sauce, mix the mustard, sugar, salt, pepper and vinegar together.  Add the oil gradually, mixing continuously until thickened.  Be careful not to add the oil to quickly or the sauce will split.  Finally, add the chopped dill and serve with the gravad lax, some rye or crisp bread, new potatoes and plenty of dill.