Edible Gifts For Christmas: Gravlax With Pickles
Salmon is a great Christmas food. We are so lucky in that there are great suppliers of salmon in this county. The Burren Smokehouse and the Connemara Smokehouse both have extraordinary products and are available in many of the supermarkets nationwide. Smoked salmon or cooked salmon make life very easy but if you feel a bit more ambitious this year, perhaps try making your own Gravlax.
All you have to do is take a fillet of salmon, cover it with a combination of sugar, salt and dill and cure it for a couple of days. What you will end up with is “gravlax”, a Nordic dish which makes a wonderful appetiser or light lunch. Combine this with pickled cucumber, fresh horseradish cream and perhaps a celery and fennel salad lightly dressed with lemon juice and olive oil and you have a starter which is light, fresh and so flavourful. In fact, perfect for Christmas day and beyond. The beauty of this is that you can scale it up or down according to the numbers – you can easily cure a half fillet of salmon or whatever quantity you require.
Another option is to use some pureed cooked beetroot and to spread this over the salmon along with the pickling ingredients. When you slice the gravlax you have this wonderful ruby red layer of colour which melts into the deep orange colour of the salmon. It looks amazing on the plate.
2 x 750g unskinned salmon fillets
1 large bunch dill, roughly chopped
100g coarse sea salt
75g white sugar
2 tablespoons crushed white peppercorns
For The Salmon
In a bowl, mix the dill with the salt, sugar and crushed peppercorns. Put one unskinned salmon fillet skin-side down on to a large sheet of cling film. Thickly cover the cut face of the salmon with the mixture. You can cover this with another salmon fillet if you like, skin-side up.
Tightly wrap the fish in 2 or 3 layers of cling film and lift it on to a large shallow tray. Place a chopping board on top of the fish and weigh it down. Refrigerate it for 2 days, turning it every 12 hours so that the briny mixture which has developed inside the parcel flavours the outside of the fish. Replace the board and weights each time.
Note: thin fillets of salmon generally take 2 days (if left longer, they can become too salty). Thicker fillets can often be left for 3 days.
Unwrap the salmon and place it on a board. Slice on a 45 degree angle with a very sharp knife into very thin slices.
Carefully lift off the slices as you cut them. Arrange on a plate and serve with pickled cucumber or pickled beetroot and a spoonful of horseradish cream.
If you don’t have fresh horseradish, simply use a spoonful of creamed horseradish from a jar. The jars will vary in intensity so add more to taste if required. I like the horseradish to be quite a pronounced flavour.
Fresh horseradish stem, very finely grated
80mls single cream
10mls white wine vinegar (use good quality)
Sprinkle of sugar
Whisk the cream to soft peaks. Add the vinegar, sugar, salt and horseradish to taste. Adjust the heat to your preference by adding more horseradish.
Sweet Cucumber Pickle
A basic pickling liquid is simply vinegar and sugar, heated until the sugar dissolves. Other flavourings are often added but they are not all essential and may be varied.
3 cucumbers, finely sliced (use a mandolin if you have one)
½ small red onion, finely sliced
2 large dill sprigs
5 black peppercorns
Juice of ½ lemon
2250ml white wine vinegar
100g granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
Put the lemon juice, white wine vinegar, sugar, peppercorns and salt into a pan, bring to a boil, stirring a little to help the sugar dissolve. Leave to cook completely.
Mix the cucumber and red onion slices gently together, and then pack into a sterilised jar, adding the dill as you go. Pour the vinegar solution over, making sure that the cucumbers are fully submerged. Cover with a lid. You should be able to add more cucumbers to the jar the following day once they subside.
250g Beetroot (Red, Candied or Golden), peeled and sliced
165mls White Wine Vinegar
Put the sugar and white wine vinegar into a saucepan and bring to the boil. Allow the pickling liquid to cool once the sugar has been completely dissolved. Peel and slice the beetroot. Once the liquid is cold, pour over the sliced beetroot and place in a sterilised jar. Store in the fridge.