Gravlax with a Twist

10 April 2006

We managed to go for a ride on the motorbike for the first time this year – the wind was still chilly and I had a super runny nose during the ride, but the sun is definitely getting stronger, we’ve waited so long for it this year.

We headed for the beach this time – there were quite a few people (and dogs) already, embracing the arrival of the spring in their own style (which, for humans at least, means enjoying fish & chips :))

We were early enough to see fishermen selling ‘today’s catch’ on the beach – all of them looked tempting but I got sea bass as I had a must-try recipe in mind.

I was intrigued by the gravlax recipe in Exploring Taste and flavour by Tom Kime – he’s worked for David Thompson as well as Rose Gray and Rick Stein and it’s clear from the recipes that he’s been influenced by lots of different cuisine. I like his little twists in each recipe – his unique approach to the classics is quite interesting.

He suggests using salmon like normal gravlax too, but I was tempted to use sea bass for this recipe and it turned out really delicious. I was just happy having the thin slices of fish on their own, but the salad I tried from another of his recipes made it even better. I loved the combination of the subtle spiciness of the fish with sweet beetroot (roasted with garlic, thyme and olive oil), fennel and bitter peppery salad leaves. I’ve always associated gravlax with sweet dill and mustard sauce, but the herb creme fraiche dressing works really well with this salad.

Be sure to use coarse salt to cure the fish, as if it’s too fine the moisture will dissolve the crystals and the fish will absorb too much salt too quickly – and of course you’ll need very fresh fish! I’m pretty sure I’ll be making this again soon, but am tempted to cure salmon with pureed beetroot also…

Johanna at lovely kokblog posted an authentic Swedish gravlax recipe a while ago (with such a sweet drawing :)) I found her advice on freezing the fillets beforehand useful.

Hopefully we can go back to the beach again soon and enjoy a big scoop of ice-cream next time…


salting mix to cure one side of salmon or two sides of sea bass
6 juniper berries
4 whole star anise
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
400g coarse sea salt
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 lemon, cut into rough chunks

to finish
freshly ground black pepper
zest of 1 lemon
handful of freshly chopped dill, chopped

Clean, scale and pinbone the fillets. Cut each fillet into 2-3 pieces of roughly the same size and thickness (it’s important that all the fish absorbs the salt at the same time).

Place all the spices for the salting mix into a food processor with 1 tablespoon of the sea salt. Pulse the mixture to break up the spices. Add the rest of the salt and the sugar with lemon, then pulse until the lemon is broken up and you have a uniform, coarse mixture.

Scatter a layer of the salt and spice mixture at least 1cm thick into a container. Place the fish pieces side by side on the salt. Scatter another 1cm layer of the salt mixture over the fish and repeat the layering until all the salt is used up and the fish is covered.

Cover with cling film and place in the fridge for 8-12 hours depending on the thickness. The fish will become quite firm and pale in colour (you can leave it longer if you like – you have to soak it longer afterwards).

Remove the fish and rinse under cold water. Soak in cold water for about an hour, changing the water every 10-15 minutes. Dry with kitchen paper.

Using a sharp knife, slice the fish diagonally as thinly as possible. Season with black pepper and scatter the lemon zest and dill over the fish.

for the dressing
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon caster sugar
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons creme fraiche
1 tablespoon chopped dill
salt and freshly ground black pepper

Place the mustard in a bowl and whisk in the olive oil until emulsified. Add the sugar, lemon juice and red wine vinegar. Mix in the creme fraiche and the dill, then season with salt and black pepper.

Food - Savoury    Places    30 comments    Permalink

  • Miam, delicious recipe Keiko! Love all the ingredients I cannot wait to try this recipe!

    And fo course, beautiful pictures of your day!

    Posted by Bea at La Tartine Gourmande | 10 April 2006 #
  • Gosh! You have very good photographer eye. As if each scene would had been setted up for you to take the shots. Envy you :)

    Posted by chez | 10 April 2006 #
  • I can see why you chose the first picture to be the attention grabber. The lighting is so hyper-real - it almost looks like a studio shot.

    I have never been to Ipswich, but from your photographs it reminds me of Whitstable.

    Posted by sam | 10 April 2006 #
  • Keiko, your gravlax is very impressive. I especially like the gin, citrus and licorice flavours in the curing mixture.

    Do you happen to know which types of fish are most suitable for this preparation? As far as I know, sea bass is much less oily/fatty than salmon, yet the cure seems to work very well for you. I’m just wondering if there’s a point at which a fish is too lean for this treatment.

    I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how much I love the shot of the hook at the top of this post. I especially like the way you’ve used a shallow depth of field.

    Posted by rob | 10 April 2006 #
  • Nice photos as usual, and beautiful recipe ! I just think you use a lot of Dijon mustard for the dressing , must be very strong !

    have a nice spring day !!!

    Posted by mercotte | 10 April 2006 #
  • Great i’m a big fan of gravlax!

    I’ll give a try to your recipe, thank you!

    (the first picture is amazing!)

    Posted by ooishigal | 10 April 2006 #
  • Hi there, thank you for all your feedback.

    Sam - Ipswich hasn’t got a beach, it’s a town called Aldeburgh - small but pretty, popular with Londoners for a weekend trip.

    Rob - I was curious too, but it worked well - although I’d say it’s different from the normal gravlax you’re familiar with. In the book, he suggests using bream or snapper too if you’d like to try firm white-fleshed fish, and sea trout or herring as well as salmon if you go for oily fish. I’d like to make it with oily fish next time, let me know when you try it.

    Mercotte - I actually used half of the suggested quantity as I’m not a big fan of mustard in general. I guess since gravlax is always served with mustard sauce, he suggests using it quite a lot and I think you should adjust to your taste!

    Ooishigal - I love it too, this white fish version was quite different though :)

    Posted by keiko | 10 April 2006 #
  • Keiko,

    The dog is just adorable in the pictures! And I love your first picture of the gravlax - the colors and details just seem to pop out of the shot!

    Posted by Anita | 10 April 2006 #
  • Your picutres are truly stunning. I love your blog.

    Visit my new blog!

    Posted by Dianka | 10 April 2006 #
  • You know Keiko I always love your photos... But this post is gorgeous, incredible. I can imagine to almost touch the subjects of the pictures, but not only this, sounds and smells are there in a tangible way.

    And the sea bass, I think i’ll dream of it. :D

    Posted by Marcela | 11 April 2006 #
  • I am a great fan of gravlax but i’m so curious about this version. The curring mix sounds very spicy, which is a good thing and it must be so good with sea bass.

    I can’t wait to try it.



    Posted by fanny | 11 April 2006 #
  • Hi Keiko,

    After you checked out my blog seemed only right to check out yours. I love your blog presentation and layout - you must have worked hard at it. Very interesting and professional. Your photos are great too, you obviously have a keen eye.

    Thanks! Juan-Luis

    Posted by Juan-Luis Sanchez | 11 April 2006 #
  • I definitely can’t wait to try this. Yummy.

    Posted by matt armendariz | 11 April 2006 #
  • Gorgeous photos as usual Keiko. The weather is certainly brightening up! This sounds a yummy twist indeed!

    Posted by mae | 11 April 2006 #
  • Hi Keiko

    Interesting that your post is about gravlax as last weekend I had the best ever at a swedish restaurant called Glas, opposite Neals Yard in Borough Market. If you ever come up to London you must go.

    Using seabass instead of salmon must create an altogether milder more delicate taste.

    BTW I love the cute dog on the beach, he looks very curious

    Posted by gastrochick | 11 April 2006 #
  • Keiko, I just love your photos! I don’t think I’ll need to make the gravlax -- I’ll just look at your picture and drool!

    Posted by cath | 13 April 2006 #
  • The sun, the beach, the water, gravlax ... it’s all too beautiful.

    Happy Spring, Keiko!

    Posted by Ivonne | 13 April 2006 #
  • omg, you sure got a long winter there. glad the sun is heating things up.

    Lovely photographs, as usual (hmmm ... may I make this my default statement everytime I post here? :P )

    Not too fond of gravlax actually as I found that most of the dressing i had so far were too strong to my liking (probably acquired taste). However, this version looks just right for me!

    Posted by slurp! | 15 April 2006 #
  • Keiko, I’ve been enjoying your travel photos in getting your recipes kind of combination to come up with your special dish. Wow...impressive shots, and now we can even imagine how enjoyful it was to get the fish that’s on the plate at the end. Love fish! I’d eat this dish anytime :-) I love very much your last couple of posts for sure for the above combination. Continue your wonderful work, Keiko...I’m so happy that you also get the most out of all this process.

    Posted by Maya | 15 April 2006 #
  • hi keiko, a beautiful photoessay/travelogue as only you can do - who else would see and capture the beauty in something as seemingly ordinary as a fishing hook? aside from admiring the gravlax, i’m of course admiring the plate ;) as you can imagine, am looking very much forward to your pictures of paris!

    Posted by Joycelyn | 15 April 2006 #
  • Hi keiko-san!!

    うー寒そう! バイクでお出かけ、とっても尊敬です。

    冬の海・・・(あれ? 冬??・笑)よい雰囲気ですねー。



    Posted by azu | 16 April 2006 #
  • I’ve just stumbled upon your blog, and I feel I (like everyone else who has posted here) must tell you what a wonderful photographer you are! These photos really take my breath away!

    Posted by Niki | 17 April 2006 #
  • keiko, lovely and beautiful as ever.

    gravlax is indedd one of my favourites. cant say that i would ever make it though. too much of a hassel and it takes to long to cock.

    we had 4 lovely days of easter here, with plenty of rest, tomorrow is working day and i can tell you that i am not looking forward to it.


    Posted by blimp | 17 April 2006 #
  • your beach photos are really travel-magazine quality - enough to make me want to look for a little sun and sand myself - I’ve never had a tremendous liking for raw fish but the picture of your gravlax is again very pleasing to the senses!

    Posted by eatzycath | 17 April 2006 #
  • Keiko - someone said it a while ago already, but your pictures truly should be used by the English tourism authorities!!

    Very interesting recipe as well.

    Posted by pille | 18 April 2006 #
  • hi keiko... crazy on my end and it has been a while that i drop by, but this post is just amazing! and the photos, wow, i can’t stop gazing at them, they’re absolutely superb!

    Posted by Lil | 18 April 2006 #
  • Hi Keiko

    Wondefull pictures again. It’s time i post something on my blog, it’s been so busy, and it’s still busy. "shame"



    Posted by Shanna | 18 April 2006 #
  • If I am not mistaken your blog was recently named in ’Olive’ - con gratulations. Lovely pictures and recipes, as always.

    Posted by Andreea | 19 April 2006 #
  • Hi there, thank you for all your kind notes and I’m sorry for being slow in getting back.

    Marcela - I think your fish dishes look always fabulous!

    Gastrochick - I’d like to try the restaurant next time I go to Borough market, thanks for letting me know.

    Maya - I’m sure you can get wonderful varieties of fish where you live :)

    Blimp - glad you are doing well, maybe you can teach me how to make authentic gravlax one day ;)

    Andreea - thank you for your kind words.

    Posted by keiko | 9 May 2006 #
  • I was introduced to your page by my friend. Beautiful pictures! It takes my breath away!

    Posted by Yuyu | 31 December 2008 #

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