Last week the Ewing excitedly called me up from work to tell me about the latest 'bargain' she had picked up from the market. Now, it would be churlish of me to complain about the amount of money she manages to spend every week, as I always get a loaf of Hoxton Rye Levain from the Flour Power Bakery (and sometimes some cherry pie, too) as well as the odd bit of bleu des Basque or bag of English cherries, but it certainly ain't cheap.
This time, however, she really had bagged a bit of a deal; twelve quid for a whole salmon? It would be churlish to complain. After getting the fishmonger to gut and fillet it, we ended up with two sides of fish and a bag with the head and bones. The bones and one side went into the freezer, the second side divided into half; one piece to grill and eat with baby new potatoes, wobbly mayonnaise and asparagus, the other to be buried in a bed of salt and sugar to cure over the weekend.
I've made gravlax before, and it's simplicity itself. I'm not quite sure why I don't do it more often as there is nothing better than surreptitiously slicing a few pieces of cured fish, a la Nigella, every time you go to the fridge. In fact, the only downside I can think of is that you have to wait a couple of days until your salmon is ready to sampled. This turned out to be serendipitous timing - it would be ready just in time for a Midsummer feast.
While there are subtle variations to the main theme (raw beetroot can be added to the cure to give the fish a deep, magenta colour) the main ingredients are salt, sugar, pepper and copious amounts of dill. This time I also added a generous splash of aquavit, bought back from a trip to Denmark, for a real Scandinavian edge.
Three days gently bobbing in it's briny bath and the salmon was ready to sample. Perfect enjoyed on an, all too rare, warm June evening, complete with a heap of pickled cucumber and capers to cut through the salmons oily richness. The salt of the fish also goes perfectly with a spoonful of sweet dill mustard sauce (I got mine from IKEA, but most supermarkets seem to stock it now) and a few slices of buttered rye bread. And don't forget the icy schnapps chaser. Glad midsommar och skål!
Aquavit-cured Salmon, Cucumber & Capers
A piece of salmon, approx 500g, boned and trimmed
1/2 cup sea salt
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1tsp Crushed black pepper
Bunch of fresh dill, finely chopped
1 tsp aquavit
1 Cucumber, peeled
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tsp caster sugar
1 tsp salt
1 heaped tsp of brined capers
Freshly ground black pepper
-Mix together the salt sugar pepper and dill and sprinkle a small amount of the mixture on a large piece of cling film.
-Place the salmon, skin down, on the curing mixture and cover the flesh with the rest of the mix.
-Wrap the fish tightly in the cling film and place on a plate. Place another plate on top of the fish, weight down with two or three tin cans, and put in the fridge.
-Turn the fish every approx 12 hours, draining off any brine that forms. Depending on the thickness of the fish it should be ready between 24-48 hours, although you can leave it for three or four days.
-Unwrap the fish and gently rinse the cure off, leaving thin layer of dill on the flesh. Pat dry with paper towels.
To make the cucumber salad
-Halve long strips from the cucumber, discarding the seeds, and place in a bowl with the vinegar, salt and sugar. Leave in the fridge for an hour or so to lightly pickle.
-Drain the liquid from the cucumber, add the capers and black pepper to taste.
Slice the fish very thinly and serve with the pickled cucumber, dill sauce, and rye bread or crackers.