At this time of year its all about the food!!! and drink!!! You know its beginning to feel a lot like xmas when the tree is up sparkling and twinkling in the late afternoon light.The kitchen is full of the rich aromas of the season, a hot oven baking, dark rich spices, clementines and other citrus, mulled wine, pigs in blankets, mince pies, cookies, marzipan and chocolate fragrances swirling and merging into one big cloud of joy. Its also the time of indulgence and naughty luxuries. Sometimes, just sometimes, we crave something a bit lighter. Still indulgent, just lighter. For that a gravlax is perfection personified. 

Gravlax is an invention from the far north, where at this time of year there is virtually no daylight, just a thick cloak of darkness occasionally and stunningly permeated by the Aurora Borealis. The Scandinavians are known to argue at great length over the origins of gravlax, and whether it comes from Norway, Sweden, Denmark or Finland. Who honestly knows? It depends on who you talk to. What is clear is that is decidedly Nordic in origin, of that there can be no doubt. In simple terms it is salmon cured in salt, sugar and dill. It is served all year round in northern climes, for lunch on open bread (preferably rye) and with a richly dill infused mustard sauce, plenty of lemon and cracked black pepper. Ideally it should be served with extremely ice cold Aquavit, the northern firewater. This should be kept in safely in the freezer compartment. It also goes down a treat with a glass of bubbles.

The literal translation of the word is the Scandinavian word grav - meaning grave or to be buried, or to dig - and lax - the regional word for salmon. According to Wikipedia, during the Middle Ages, gravlax was made by fishermen, who salted the salmon and lightly fermented it by burying it in the sand above the high-tide line. Today fermentation is no longer used in the production process. Instead the salmon is "buried" in a dry marinade of salt, sugar, and dill, and cured for a few days. As the salmon cures, by the action of osmosis, the moisture turns the dry cure into a highly concentrated brine, which can be used  as part of a sauce to accompany it. This same method of curing can be employed for any fatty fish, but salmon is the most commonly used.

My recipe is a variation on the basic one. I have also tried before one cured with both horseradish, and beetroot. The latter stains he flesh of the salmon a dramatic magical deep purple hue.You can also use liquid to mix in the ‘dry cure’ and for this variation I have chosen ice cold vodka and a citrus mix of lemon and clementine juice - not too much, about a shot glass of each. I have heard tell that the purists insist that gravlax should only be made with the belly part of the salmon. Me, I love it all.


INGREDIENTS

One side of salmon
Large bunch of dill leaves and stalks finely chopped 

DRY MIX 
50g coarse sea salt
80g of muscovado Sugar 
1 tbsp black pepper corns
10 juniper berries
1 tsp coriander seeds
Zest and juice  of 1 lemon
Zest and juice  of 1 clementine 
1 shot glass of Vodka

METHOD
1 Crush the peppercorns, juniper berries and coriander seeds in a mortar and pestle and add all of the rest of the Dry mix ingredients and mix together.

2 Cover the salmon evenly with the dry mix then add the dill on top, then the citrus zests.

3 Pour over the Vodka and citrus juices.

4 Cover the salmon with a flat heavy board weighed down by something heavy like  a Bible or Larousse Gastronomique and put in the fridge for a minimum of 48 hours but preferably 72. Turn the fish over every 24 hours.

5 After 2 or 3 days scrape off the mix, some people like to wash the brine completely off but i think leaving some of it there adds to the flavour.

6 Slice as thinly or thickly as you like and serve with your bread of choice, and a toping of either mustard and dill sauce or simply freshly chopped dill, black pepper, lemon juice and a large glass of something cold. 

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