Salmon - one of my favorite, versatile fishes to eat. I adore raw salmon as carpaccio or sushi, pan seared salmon with sea salt and pepper, delicately poached salmon with whole grain mustard sauce, barbequed salmon with a tangy glaze...and then there is salmon gravlax.
The term gravlax comes from an old Scandinavian way of preserving salmon by lightly salting it and burying it in the ground, normally near the sea line, where it would ferment/"cure" the fish to last through the long winters. Nowadays, we don't necessarily follow these old traditions - rather today's gravlax is generally made with a mixture of sugar, salt, spices, and herbs that is packed over the salmon to withdraw the moisture and add flavor. The end product is a sweet, briny slice of salmon, similar in texture to smoked salmon, that is perfect with salads and appetizers, or just on its own. I used to make my own gravlax a lot for catered parties as it is a fantastic and dramatic alternative to smoked salmon or lox.
Recently, Fellow Foodie and I were in Las Vegas and had the opportunity to dine at Aureole (by Charlie Palmer) - on the menu was "Beet Cured Salmon Gravlax", of which we were eagerly curious to try. When it arrived, all we could say was ""WOW". The beet juice had perfectly tinted the edges of the salmon slices a bright rosy red color, and the flavor was so subtely salmon with the essence of beets and a bit of sugar and salt. We thought this dish was so sublimely simple, we had to give it a go at home.
After researching a few recipes, we collaborated and came up with our own, which is as close as we could get to the wonderful dish we had at Aureole.
- 2 pounds of salmon, with skin
- 1/2 C sugar
- 1/3 C kosher salt
- 1 medium sized red beet, washed clean and grated (no need to peel)
- 1 medium sized orange, grated
- 1 tbsp whole black peppercorns, crushed
You can cure the whole piece of fish whole, but I prefer to cut mine down the middle.
Next up, in a small bowl, mix together the sugar, salt, and grated orange peel with the crushed peppercorns.
Add the grated beets to the sugar-salt mixture and stir well to combine all ingredients. The sugar and salt will begin to "melt" with the liquid from the beets - this is fine.
Place half of the salmon, skin side DOWN, in a baking dish. Cover with half of the salt-sugar-beet mixture.
Place other side of salmon FLESH SIDE DOWN on top of the other piece of salmon and cover with remaining beet mixture, making sure every part of the salmon is covered.
Cover dish with plastic wrap, and place salmon in the refrigerator for at least 12 hours, but preferably 24 hours.
When the salmon is ready, remove it from the sugar-salt-beet mixture and wipe off any extra mix. The salmon will feel stiff, perhaps a bit leathery - this is from the cure. The salt draws out the moisture in the salmon, replacing it with the flavor of the sugar and orange zest. And, when you begin to slice it, the salmon should look just like this:
Beautifully bright red on the outside, and perfectly orange still on the inside!
Thinly slice the salmon into about 1/8" thick slices, carefully carving towards the skin. Make sure to use a well sharpened knife.
Many slices of the salmon didn't make it to our plates as we could not stop snacking on our creation! But, with the slices that we did manage to keep around, we decided to plate in a circular form, almost "mimicking" the look of carpaccio.
Next up, we took some wild baby arugula, some of my Basic Vinaigrette, and gave it a good toss with some sea salt and pepper.
Plated with a knob of burrata cheese, this was one of the yummiest salads/appetizer plates.
The color from the beets contrasting with the orange from the salmon was beautiful - and oh-so delicious. You could taste a hint of beet flavor but most importantly the salmon was perfectly balanced with the salt, sugar, and orange zest flavors that came through with every bite. The peppery arugula, paired with the citrus and shallots from the vinaigrette, were fantastic with the creaminess of the salmon and the burrata cheese. Drizzled with a little Meyer Lemon Olive Oil, this salmon was heavenly. And, beyond being delicious, this salmon was easy and fun to make.