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How to make classic Swedish gravad lax

The Local · 16 Jan 2015, 11:22

Published: 16 Jan 2015 11:22 GMT+01:00

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Gravad lax is very easy to make. Essentially some salt is rubbed into salmon to cure it and then some sugar, pepper and dill is added for flavour. The fish is weighted down in a fridge for 48 hours to force the salt and flavours into the salmon. Easy-peasy!

Serves 12 as a starter

Preparation 20 minutes 

Cooking -- 

Total : 20 minutes

*Plus 48 hours to marinate


•  Unless the fish is really fresh, it must be frozen for at least 24 hours before you begin and then left to thaw in the fridge. Alternatively, use commercially frozen salmon (it is fine to refreeze again once cured). 

•  The recipe is for 1 kg, but I've never cured 1 kg of salmon! Simply get your calculator out and multiple the ingredients by the weight of the salmon in kg. Don't worry, the amounts aren't critical.

•  Swedes often cure a whole fish. To do this, follow the recipe for each fillet, then sandwich them together, skin-side out, to reform the fish. I often do this and then put one portion in the freezer.

Photo: swedishfood.com/John Duxbury

•  If you prefer a thicker mustard and dill sauce as shown above, something more like mayonnaise, add an egg yolk with the mustard. (Mary Berry, the famous British cook who has been making gravad lax for sixty years, prefers to add egg yolk, but I prefer it without).

•  I use sea salt flakes, but you can use any salt.

•  British people tend to like it less salty than Swedes. If you think it might be too salty for you, reduce the curing time from 48 to 24 hours.

•  I've experimented with different oils and all give a slightly different taste and appearance. My favourite is sunflower oil as it is more neutral.

•  Gravad lax freezes very well. It can be frozen for up to 2 months. Part-thaw the salmon for about an hour before slicing. It is best not to freeze the sauce as it tends to curdle when thawed.


1kg (2lb) fresh salmon, filleted and boned, with skin on

100 g (1/2 cup) caster (superfine) sugar

75 g (2 1/2 oz) sea salt flakes

1 tbsp white peppercorns, crushed

100 g (4 oz) dill, including stalks

Mustard and dill sauce

4 tbsp Swedish mustard (use 3 tbsp of Dijon if you can't get Swedish)

2 tbsp caster (superfine) sugar

1 tbsp white wine vinegar or distilled malt vinegar

salt and freshly ground pepper

150 ml vegetable oil such as sunflower, rapeseed or olive oil 

3 tbsp freshly chopped dill


1. Cut some aluminium foil plenty big enough for wrapping up the salmon.

2. Rinse the salmon and pat dry with paper towels. Run your fingers over the salmon to feel for any tiny pin bones. If you find any, remove them with tweezers.

3. Mix together the salt, sugar and crushed white peppercorns.

4. Spread half the mixture over the skin side of the salmon.

5. Take a third of the dill and spread out on the aluminium foil. Place the salmon on this, skin side down.

6. Rub the remaining salt mixture over the salmon flesh working it well into the flesh with your fingers.

7. Chop the remaining dill and cover the flesh side of the salmon with it.

Photo: swedishfood.com/John Duxbury

8. If you are curing two pieces, sandwich them together, skin side out.

Story continues below…

9. Wrap the salmon up and place it in a dish. Place another dish on top of the salmon and weigh down using, for instance, a few bottles of water.

10. Place in the fridge for 48 hours, turning the salmon over every 12 hours.

Note: this is a thicker version with an egg yolk added.

11. To make the sauce, put the mustard, sugar, vinegar, salt and pepper into a food processor and mix for 20 seconds. Then, with the motor running, slowly add the oil in a steady stream.

12. Pour the mixture into a serving dish and add chopped dill. (It is better left for a day or so to mature).

13. When the salmon is cured, unwrap it and drain off the salty, sticky liquid and discard it. Scrape off most of the herbs.

14. Slice at an angle of 45°, pulling each slice away from the skin.

15. Wrap any unused gravad lax in cling film (food wrap) and store in the fridge. Use within a week or freeze (see the tips above).

Serving Suggestions

Photo: swedishfood.com/John Duxbury

Serve as a starter with the mustard and dill sauce, rye bread and, if desired, some crème fraîche and black lumpfish caviar. 

Gravad lax is often included as one of many dishes on a smörgåsbord (Swedish buffet). Include a glass of snaps if you're celebrating a special occasion!

Recipe courtesy of John Duxbury, Editor and Founder of Swedish Food

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