Gravlaks is rooted in a traditional Scandinavian technique for preserving fish, derived from two Swedish words gravad (buried) lax (salmon).
Researchers believe that first versions were made either in Sweden or Norway in the 14th century, when fishermen discovered that burying fresh-caught fish in the cold ground, usually along with pine needles, caused fermentation, thus preserving the fish for up to one year.
Swedes then turned to salt and sugar in an attempt to avoid “smelly” salmon that was preserved by burying.
Later, the invention of refrigeration facilitated the production of gravlaks. By the beginning of the 20th century (1920’s), Scandinavian immigrants started making garvlaks in the pacific northwest of the U.S.A commercially.
In 1950’s the popularity of gravlaks increased, especially in hotels featuring smorgasbords, or buffets or brunches.
You can produce gravlaks at home (See sidebar)
The salt draws moisture and water-soluble proteins out of the cells of the fish allowing flavouring ingredients to penetrate the flesh. Salt also makes the flesh firm and preserves it.
Over centuries, many versions of gravlax were invented and modern chefs are continuing to experiment through the use of new techniques Some use weights to press, others do not, but weight compresses cells and facilitates the penetration of salt. Others use alcoholic beverages like aquavit or linie aquavit.
Using alcohol or tequila or gin produces a more flavourful marinated salmon. You can also use Pernod, or orange zest, in addition to obligatory dill.
Here is a recipe;
2Tbps white peppercorns
1 Tbsp caraway seeds
1Tbsp fennel seeds
2/3-cup kosher salt
900 grams (2 lbs.) salmon filet skin-on
1-cup dill springs
Optional 4 Tbsp liquor
In a food processor pulse peppercorns, fennel, and caraway until coarsely Broken. Combine with salt and sugar.
On plastic wrap spread half of the mixture and place salmon skin-on side down. Sprinkle remaining mixture on the filet and cover with dill. Now you can sprinkle 4 Tbsp of aquavit or Pernod or tequila or gin, if desired. Wrap tightly and sue another sheet of plastic wrap to seal well.
Refrigerate for two to three days, then unwrap, rinse with cold water and pat dry.
Cover with fresh dill and press dill on fish.
The filet should feel firm to the touch.
Using a carving knife, slice thinly and serve with mustard-dill sauce, or mayonnaise with dill, or mild mustard and knackabrod.
NOTE: Wrap remaining fish in plastic; wrap tightly and refrigerate for up to two weeks if desired.