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FOOD & DRINK

How to make classic Swedish gravad lax

Gravad lax with mustard and dill sauce is one of Sweden’s most famous dishes. It has gradually grown in popularity in the UK, with nearly all supermarkets stocking up on it of late. John Duxbury shares his recipe with The Local.

How to make classic Swedish gravad lax
Swedish gravad lax makes an excellent starter. Photo: Magnus Carlsson/imagebank.sweden.se

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!

Summary
 
Serves 12 as a starter

Preparation 20 minutes 

Cooking — 

Total : 20 minutes

*Plus 48 hours to marinate

Tips

•  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.

•  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.

Ingredients

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

Method

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.

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

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

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!


Gravad lax is traditionally served with a mustard and dill sauce. Photo: Anders Wiklund/SCANPIX/TT

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

For members

DISCOVER SWEDEN

The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager’s dream

Although parts of Sweden are still under snow at this time of year, spring is in full swing here in Skåne in the south of Sweden. Here are The Local's top tips for what you can forage in the great outdoors this season.

The three tasty treats that make spring in Sweden a forager's dream

You might already have your go-to svampställe where you forage mushrooms in autumn, but mushrooms aren’t the only thing you can forage in Sweden. The season for fruits and berries hasn’t quite started yet, but there is a wide range of produce on offer if you know where to look.

Obviously, all of these plants grow in the wild, meaning it’s a good idea to wash them thoroughly before you use them. You should also be respectful of nature and of other would-be foragers when you’re out foraging, and make sure not to take more than your fair share to ensure there’s enough for everyone.

As with all foraged foods, only pick and eat what you know. The plants in this guide do not look similar to any poisonous plants, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry – or ask someone who knows for help.

Additionally, avoid foraging plants close to the roadside or in other areas which could be more polluted. If you haven’t tried any of these plants before, start in small doses to make sure you don’t react negatively to them.

Wild garlic plants in a park in Alnarpsparken, Skåne. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Wild garlic

These pungent green leaves are just starting to pop up in shady wooded areas, and may even hang around as late as June in some areas. Wild garlic or ramsons, known as ramslök in Swedish, smell strongly of garlic and have wide, flat, pointed leaves which grow low to the ground.

The whole plant is edible: leaves, flowers and the bulbs underground – although try not to harvest too many bulbs or the plants won’t grow back next year.

The leaves have a very strong garlic taste which gets weaker once cooked. Common recipes for wild garlic include pesto and herb butter or herbed oil, but it can generally be used instead of traditional garlic in most recipes. If you’re cooking wild garlic, add it to the dish at the last possible moment so it still retains some flavour.

You can also preserve the flower buds and seed capsules as wild garlic capers, known as ramslökskapris in Swedish, which will then keep for up to a year.

Stinging nettles. Wear gloves when harvesting these to protect yourself from their needles. Photo: Johan Nilsson/TT

Stinging nettles

Brännässlor or stinging nettles need to be cooked before eating to remove their sting, although blanching them for a couple of seconds in boiling water should do the trick. For the same reason, make sure you wear good gardening gloves when you pick them so you don’t get stung.

Nettles often grow in the same conditions as wild garlic – shady woodlands, and are often regarded as weeds.

The younger leaves are best – they can get stringy and tough as they get older.

A very traditional use for brännässlor in Sweden is nässelsoppa, a bright green soup made from blanched nettles, often topped with a boiled or poached egg.

Some Swedes may also remember eating stuvade nässlor with salmon around Easter, where the nettles are cooked with cream, butter and milk. If you can’t get hold of nettles, they can be replaced with spinach for a similar result.

You can also dry nettles and use them to make tea, or use blanched nettles to make nettle pesto.

Kirskål or ground elder, another popular foraged green for this time of year.
Photo: Jessica Gow/TT

Ground elder

Ground elder is known as kirskål in Swedish, and can be used much in the same way as spinach. It also grows in shady areas, and is an invasive species, meaning that you shouldn’t be too worried about foraging too much of it (you might even find some in your garden!).

It is quite common in parks and old gardens, but can also be found in wooded areas. The stems and older leaves can be bitter, so try to focus on foraging the tender, younger leaves.

Ground elder has been cultivated in Sweden since at least 500BC, and has been historically used as a medicinal herb and as a vegetable. This is one of the reasons it can be found in old gardens near Swedish castles or country homes, as it was grown for use in cooking.

Kirskål is available from March to September, although it is best eaten earlier in the season.

As mentioned, ground elder can replace spinach in many recipes – you could also use it for pesto, in a quiche or salad, or to make ground elder soup.

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