It’s summer (sort of) here in the Pacific Northwest. I’m going to keep this quick and offer Gravad Lax – home cured salmon – as an option for when you are tired of the grill.
For me this happens maybe once each summer – usually during a heat wave when it’s too hot to stand around flipping burgers in front of a red-hot pile of charcoal. Instead of singeing your eyebrows off in 90 degree heat by the Weber while your guests are sitting over there drinking cold beer, your dinner is already done, so you can be sitting in the sun with a beer too. You see, you salt the fish two days before you eat it, allowing it to cure in the refrigerator. About half an hour before you want to eat, pull the salmon from the cold of the fridge and shave the thinnest translucent slices possible from the fish. The salt will have pulled all the moisture out and the color will be vividly red. The cool salty-silky salmon is a welcome change from peppery charred filets you might expect on a hot June night. Even though it’s not exactly hot here in Seattle.
I like to imagine serving gravad lax in the long bright evenings you get in Stockholm at midsummer, but without the mosquitoes. We didn’t have mosquitoes last week but since this is Seattle in June, we had rain, rain, rain. No sultry summer evening in the garden for us! Still, we had a fantastic time with friends. With the salmon, we served rhubarb cocktails. I’m including both recipes. Happy summer!
The Stockholm – serves 1
- 1/2 ounce aquavit
- 1/2 ounce cointreau
- 1 1/2 ounces rhubarb puree (recipe follows)
- dash of orange bitters
- Prosecco to top up
- a piece of orange peel, cut wide with a sharp vegetable peeler
Rhubarb puree – makes enough for many cocktails
- 4 stalks rhubarb, rinsed and sliced into 1/2″ slices
- 3-4 tbsp sugar
- juice of one lime
- Preheat the oven to 400.
- Toss all ingredients together in a small baking dish (for instance, an 8″x8″ square pan or a gratin). Cover tightly with aluminum foil.
- Bake in the oven for about 1/2 an hour until the fruit is completely soft.
- Push the rhubarb through a fine mesh sieve with a wooden spoon or, if you are feeling completely lazy, puree in the food processor. (if you opt for the food processor, the puree will be somewhat fibrous)
- Refrigerate until cold and proceed.
Assembling the cocktail:
- In a tall cold champagne flute stir together the aquavit, cointreau, rhubarb puree and the bitters.
- Top up with chilly Prosecco and float a wide piece of orange peel to finish.
This is now my favorite summer cocktail. That St. Germaine that I sometimes rave about would potentially be an excellent substitute for the Cointreau if you happen to have any lying around.
Gravad Lax – serves 6-8 as a generous appetizer
Allow 4 days to complete the recipe. Note that there is a total of 15 minutes easy work though.
- 2 pounds salmon (I used Copper River sockeye)
- 2 teaspoons peppercorns (I used mixed), lightly crushed
- 4 tablespoons kosher salt (not fancy kosher sea salt & not sea salt, just regular old kosher)
- 2-4 tablespoons sugar (I used 3)
- About a cup of rinsed, coarsely chopped dill
- lemon wedges, finely minced onion, chopped chives, crème fraiche, cucumber slices, coarse sea salt, thinly sliced dark rye bread to serve
- Day 1-2: Freeze the salmon for 48 hours to kill any parasites.
- Day 3: First, cut the salmon fillet in half across the short dimension. If you pull any pin bones with needle nosed pliers, you will make slicing and serving a lot easier.
- Stir the peppercorns, salt and sugar together in a small bowl.
- In a rimmed baking dish (to catch any salt that doesn’t adhere) rub about a third of the salt mixture on the flesh side of each piece of salmon.
- Sandwich the salted fish, flesh sides together, with the rest of the salt mixture and the dill in the middle. The thick part of one piece should top the thin part of the other. Place in a gallon-sized Ziploc bag, carefully sealed, in the bottom of the refrigerator for 2 days. I would put the bag in a baking dish. Turn the bag a couple of times a day.
- Day 5: After 2 days, drain any liquid and scrape off the salt mixture and dill and place in the freezer for half an hour (you don’t HAVE to put it in the freezer but it sure makes slicing it very thin a lot easier)
- Gravad lax keeps for at least a week, drained of all the accumulated liquid, in the refrigerator. Well wrapped, it keeps for 3 months in the freezer.
- Serve with crème fraiche, chopped chives or minced red onion, lemon wedges, maybe a few cucumber slices and if you are feeling ambitious (I recommend this) some excellent homemade rye bread with fennel seeds. (If you haven’t tried rye without caraway seeds, you haven’t lived. You won’t be disappointed I promise – send me a comment if you want the recipe!) Otherwise some of those rye cocktail squares or German style pumpernickel would be fine.
I like to make a big platter with everything, piling up the gravad lax and all the condiments in heaps. Little teaspoons can scoop up the crème fraiche and onions. Everyone can build little sandwiches according to their own taste. A little bite of sandwich, a taste of the cocktail, and around it goes. What a nice party! A more organized person than I am would at least provide cocktail napkins. Oh well.