Citrus and Juniper Gravlax

Autumn, Savory Recipes • 17 Nov 2013

I stand perilously on the third tier of a clumsy step stool, attempting to efficaciously excavate a buried cache from beneath a dusty tower of boxes. It contains our holiday décor, which I had envisioned spending more time in our brimming Brooklyn-sized storage closet.


Once retrieved, though not without an occasional snit and a few overmilked muscles, I sit down to remove the relics of yesteryear- tenacious smudges of black soot, grimy chunks of fossilized wick. A mosaic of milky wax lines the silver edges and I flick them off adroitly with my one longish fingernail. I glance at the now-resplendent Menorah and then judiciously out the frigid glass window, murky and marbled with my son’s grubby fingerprints and musky, dank veins of condensation trapped between the glass panes. It feels amiss to prepare for the holiday season so proleptically, when the trees still maintain bashful clusters of foliage.

The colorful cluster of foliage mirrors the vigorously electric cluster of citrus splayed on my kitchen table. I’m awake early this November morning, prepping in earnest for Hanukkah brunch. I work solo as my husband entertains our son with dreidel games, stoking his inner fire with prizes of chocolate and metal coins. We have a tumbling pile of sunny lemons, emerald limes and effervescent oranges- I overpurchased so we could load up on vitamin C. The holidays always bring a few nasty bugs our way.

Back to the citrus. And the juniper. You can’t mistake the scent of juniper, which rises even above the authoritative smell of citrus. I crushed the berries a few days prior, when I assembled the salt-sugar rub for gravlax, and the stirring pine scent dominates and lingers rather relentlessly – a chalky green earthiness, a heady aroma that envisages a secluded sappy pine forest with its romantic feathery winged branches and dangerously lush sharp needles. The citrus-juniper bouquet is a rousing combination, a bit reminiscent of gin, and almost equally intoxicating.

Salt 2Salt 1

Gravlax is salt-cured fish, left to preserve over the course of a day to two days, rendering it an electric tangerine color and luxuriously tender. The salmon must be fragrantly fresh so I purchase two one pound center-filets that morning from my local fishmonger; the flesh should smell seaweed-sweet and salty like an ocean rock mellifluously massaged by bubbly ocean waves.

I use a combination of pebble-sized crystallized sea salt and granulated sugar, crushed juniper, smashed toasted white peppercorns and downy fresh dill, all traditional ingredients. Rub the mixture into the flesh of the fish until you have an even coating. In lieu of a splash of alcohol I use oily citrus zest in my cure.

Wedge the filets together, serpentine-skin on the outside, and wrap very tightly in layers of clingy plastic wrap. Wedge the whole wrapped fish into a baking dish and weigh down with large plastic-wrapped cans, a heavy baking dish or even plastic-wrapped bricks.

A bit of advice: don’t rush the curing process- I let the fish go in the refrigerator for 48 hours, which yields a potently flavorful, though stiff/drier finished-product. Make sure to check the fish for texture and flavor during the curing process. For a less salty but more juicy fish, remove the fish and wash away the salt cure after 24-36 hours.

A carefully orchestrated brunch, the salty fish the perfect foil for greasy, peanut-oil soaked latkes. Standing by the pan, hot oil spattering left and right, the smell of the fry mingling with the citrus and juniper, I stare wide-eyed at the pile of allegorical cobalt and blue candles in my midst. It is hard to conceive of our holiday in November.

Citrus and Juniper Gravlax

2 pounds center cut wild salmon fillet, skin on and pin bones removed, sliced evenly in half
1 cup sea salt or kosher salt
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 bunch roughly chopped dill, about 1/2 cup, tightly packed
2 tablespoons juniper berries, coarsely crushed
1 tablespoon white peppercorns, lightly toasted and crushed
Grated zest of 3 oranges, about 1 1/2 tablespoons
Grated zest of 3 lemons, about 1 1/4 tablespoons
Grated zest of 3 limes, about 1 tablespoon

1. Combine salt, sugar, zests, juniper, peppercorns and dill in a mixing bowl. Lay out two large sheets of plastic wrap and sprinkle a thin layer of salt mix over the plastic. Pat the salmon dry with paper towels. Place half the fish, skin side down, on top of the plastic wrap, and sprinkle with most of the salt mixture, coating it completely. Add the second piece of salmon, flesh side down, and sprinkle with the rest of the mixture.

2. Wrap the fish tightly in the plastic wrap. Put salmon in a glass baking dish and place something heavy on top it like a skillet or smaller baking dish that will cover the length of the salmon. Weigh the skillet or baking dish down with a brick wrapped in plastic or a few cans.

3. After 12 hours, turn the fish over, replacing the weights. Refrigerate for another 12-24 hours, flipping the salmon every 12 hours. The longer the gravlax cures, the drier and more flavorful it will become.

4. Unwrap salmon and separate the two pieces, using a knife if necessary. Rinse off the cure and dry the salmon thoroughly with paper towels. Slice thinly on the bias and serve with latkes, bagels or bread. Leftovers can be refrigerated and should be consumed within 3 days.

Yield: About 10- 12 servings.

2 Responses

  1. Heather

    Sound delish, Kate. I’ve been looking for some salmon recipes to make for guests. I’ll be Pinning this to save for later.

  2. Babbo

    Outrageous! Can’t wait to try it.

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