Sunday, June 13, 2010

Copper River Salmon Gravlax

It’s Copper River salmon season! OK, if you’re not in or from the Pacific Northwest, that statement probably means nothing to you. If you had said it to me two years ago, I would have had no idea what you were talking about. I have now been living in Seattle since September of ’09, and I have learned, as everyone who lives here does, I believe, what Copper River salmon is and why it is such a big deal.

This is the salmon of—you guessed it—the Copper River in Alaska. The fish that swim in this river must battle a long, cold, and rough journey through it, resulting in salmon that is rich and more flavorful than any other salmon. Another reason for the craze for C.R. salmon is its brief season: it is only available from mid-May to mid-June, so there is always a scramble to get some while it lasts.
This year, I did get some. I bought myself a nice big fish and used it for several scrumptious and simple meals that Andrew and I enjoyed thoroughly. I say simple because when you have good ingredients like this salmon, you don’t need to do much with it: a basic sear and good seasonings makes for a memorable meal every time. I have a chipotle rub I like to make and use on salmon, sear it or grill it, and then serve it up with a dollop of chipotle crema. I also like salmon smeared with pesto, and then baked. To add a little variety to my salmon creations, and to make it last a little longer, I decided to use my last few pounds to make gravlax.
If you weren’t already aware of gravlax, allow me to be the first to introduce you to this delicious creation. It is salt-cured salmon that concentrates all the good flavor of salmon without cooking it and changing it from its beautiful raw state. As long as you use fresh salmon and follow the directions carefully, there is almost no risk of food borne illness, though, I must warn you, that risk always remains. It makes for a visually stunning and delicious appetizer.

Though it takes 48 hours to make gravlax, it is a very simple process, and requires little work on the part of the cook (can I say cook when there is actually no cooking involved?). The process basically consists of covering one fillet of salmon with dill, then a cure mix of salt, sugar, and cracked black pepper.
That fillet is then covered with another fillet, and then the whole thing is weighted down, put into the refrigerator, and then forgotten about for twelve hours.

After twelve hours, the salmon gets turned, and then it goes away again. The process is repeated until 48 hours has gone by when it is finally ready to eat. To serve, slice it thinly off the skin.
You can use gravlax pretty much any way you would use smoked salmon. It is delicious on bagels and cream cheese, or as an hors d’oeuvre, served on a toast round with crème fraiche. You can mix it up a little, and replace the toast round with a mini potato latke like I did here, or with a potato chip. You could use gravlax on a pizza covered with cream cheese, or in sushi.
Whatever you choose, this salmon is sure to look impressive, given its brilliant pink color, its glossy texture, and its delicate appearance when it is thinly sliced. It is perfect to make in the summer since no cooking is involved, and tastes fabulous with chilled cocktails enjoyed on a patio on a hot day!

Adapted from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, p. 59

2 fresh salmon fillets (about 3 pounds), center cut and skin on
1 large bunch fresh dill
¼ cup coarse kosher salt
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons crushed black peppercorns

Pat the salmon dry and remove any small bones. Place one fillet, skin side down, in a deep, flat-bottomed glass baking dish.

Spread the dill evenly over the fish. Combine the salt, sugar, and pepper, and sprinkle the mixture evenly over the dill. Cover with the other salmon fillet, skin side up, so that the two flesh sides face each other.

Place a piece of plastic wrap over the salmon, then put a dish over the salmon and weigh it down with heavy cans of food, or bricks, making sure the weight is evenly distributed. Refrigerate for 48 hours, turning the salmon over every 12 hours and basting with the marinade that accumulates, letting it flow between the fillets.

When the gravlax is finished, remove the fillets from the dish, separate the halves, and scrape off the dill and seasonings. Pat dry with paper towels. Refrigerate until served. To serve, place the fillets skin side down on a cutting board and thinly slice on the diagonal and off the skin.

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