Introduction

Curing fish (e.g gravad laks) is a very attractive way of preparing raw fish. Almost every fish fillet can be cured, high fat as well as low fat fish.  The principle of curing is drawing out moist from the fish, and impregnating the meat with the herb and curing mixture flavors.  The moisture is drawn out because the curing mixture can dissolve in water and thereby creates a high osmotic pressure. Thus the outer part of the fish is somewhat preserved against spoilage. Often after curing for a few days, one can see that the cure impregnated the fillet perhaps 1/4 inch.

When making fish sauce, fatty fish is exposed to lots of salt or brine, thus also drawing out moist from the fish. In this case the fish is covered by brine and the process takes place at room temperature for a long time. Anchovies and sardines are salt cured with excess salt and at temperatures around 20 C. Often some of their liver or guts is still present, which helps to develop aroma.

Curing fish

For curing fish, we do not like the fish meat degrading enzymes become very active , so we use refrigerator temperature, unless we use vast amounts of salt such as with salt cured anchovies. For the curing mix we use salt and usually also some sugar with some herbs and spices. Sugar can mask the salty taste, but also can help to draw out moist. In our gravad mackerel recipe we use a load of sugar, which becomes actually hard like a brick almost.

When curing white fish, we usually use salt and sugar in equal weight amounts. Placing a weight on the fish helps to draw out moisture. the taste of the cured fish will change over time. The longer the exposure to the curing mix, the more concentrated the fish meat will become. You can observe that mackerel fillets lose water and weight and become thinner after exposure for several days to the curing mix.

As for the herbs, you can vary these a lot. Standard is dill weed and in some cases also juniper berries. But you can vary a lot more. Think of using mint leaves or other green herbs, fennel fronds, fennel seeds, even tea leaves. By all means use your imagination.

The art of  curing fish (e.g. gravad laks)

Always use deep frozen fish fillets to ensure that worms and other parasites have been killed. A week at -20 C or a day at -32 C, will suffice.

Most cures are done after two full days. I have followed the curing of mackerel fillets for 6 days. In this particular curing recipe we used 8-10 times more sugar than salt. After 6 days the fish meat tasted more sweet, but also drier as the fish had lost a lot of moist. For a more creamy taste, the two-three days cure was optimum.

I usually turn the pressed fish fillets after one day and place a weight back on. Liquids I drain and discard after one day. When the fish fillets are done and there is still much sugar or salt sticking to the meat, you can consider a quick rinse under cold water, followed by drying with the kitchen towel. Mackerel fillets allow after the cure to be skinned. This will allow for the fillet (after de-boning) to be cut through the inner skin, which is also nice for decoration. If you do not remove the skin, you should not slice through the skin when slicing up the fish.

Cured, sliced fish should be stored cold, best is on ice.

You can check recipes for cured grouper, gravad mackerel, cured Patagonian toothfish , salt cured anchovy , salt cured mackerel, pickled mackerel or for gravad laks here below.

Other than that serve it on toast or better even, blini, on a bed of creme fraiche or double cream and consider to top it with some caviar.

Special equipment

a sharp cooks knife

some weight

curing fish (e.g. gravad laks) ©️ Nel Brouwer-van den Bergh

Curing fish: Gravad laks.

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Course: Appetizer, Breakfast, Dinner, Lunch, Side Dish
Cuisine: Scandinavian
Keyword: curing, dill weed, juniper berries, salt curing, sugar curing
Prep Time: 2 days
Total Time: 2 days

Ingredients

Curing ingredients

  • 2 oz salt
  • 2 oz sugar
  • 1 bunch dill weed
  • 30 juniper berries
  • 1 lb, 2 oz (500 g) salmon fillet (each 1/2 lb 1 oz), skin on

Instructions

Curing the salmon fillets

  • After assuring the fillets are parasite free (eg after deep freezing at -20 C for a week or at -32 C for a day), wash them with cold water and pat them dry
  • Make the mixture of the salt and sugar
  • Wash the dill weed and pat it dry
  • Flatten the juniper berries with the flat side of your cooks knife
  • Place a third of the curing mixture, together with some dill stems and some dill weed on the bottom of a stone or glass container
  • Place one fillet skin side down on the bottom of the container
  • Cover the meat side of the fillet with one third of the curing mixture and part of the dill weeds
  • Place the second salmon fillet meat side down on the other fillet, cover with the remainder of the curing mixture
  • Cover with food wrap and place in the refrigerator with a weight on
  • After one day, turn the fillet 'sandwich' and place the weight back on
  • After the second full day, take the cure off the fillets and cut thin slices with a sharp knife over the diagonal. Do not cut through the skin, but give one cut parallel to the skin so the slices do not contain any skin.
  • Serve on toast or blini with some sour cream of creme fraiche and top it with a dill leave or some caviar.

Notes

Method: no heat treatment
Food allergy & intolerance information: fish

Remarks

1. A cure of 48 hr is sufficient, even for thicker pieces. Turn at the least once in between. Weighting helps to draw out moist and improve contact between the fillets.

2. Pacific salmon is often wild and contains less fat than a wild or farmed atlantic salmon. Both yield nice results.  To be certain, also here freeze the fillets for a week first at -20 C.

3. You can use other curing herbs: fennel fronds, ground dill and fennel seeds. You can even think of using dry tea leaves! But always use the right amount of salt and sugar.