Subtler than smoked salmon, gravlax has a velvety texture and a delicate taste, particularly when it's scented with notes of anise and licorice the way Amy Scattergood prepared it for a story on brunches. Just take skin-on salmon fillets, spread them with equal parts sugar and kosher salt. Add some sliced fennel and a sprinkling of aquavit -- a Scandinavian spirit similar to vodka that is typically flavored with caraway. Stack the fillets, wrap them in cheesecloth, add weights on top and put the whole thing in the refrigerator. After 24 hours, turn the package over; after two days, unwrap the fish, scrape off the salt-fennel mixture and slice it very thinly on a bias. It pairs beautifully with a bowl of crème fraîche studded with toasted caraway seeds.
Total time: 30 minutes, plus curing time
Servings: 8 to 10
Note: Start the gravlax 48 hours before you want to serve it. You will need about 2 square feet of cheesecloth to wrap the gravlax. The Scandinavian liquor aquavit is available at most liquor stores.
1/4 cup black peppercorns
1/2 cup kosher salt
1/2 cup sugar
1 medium fennel bulb with fronds
2 (1-pound) skin-on salmon fillets (the tail section)
1/3 cup aquavit
1. Crush the peppercorns either with a mortar and pestle or by securing them in a thick, sealable plastic bag and hammering them with a hammer or a thick-bottomed pan. In a medium bowl, mix the salt, sugar and crushed peppercorns. Set aside.
2. Cut the fennel bulb very thinly into lengthwise slices and mince the fronds. Place a small rack in the bottom of a glass baking dish big enough to accommodate the salmon fillets.
2. Place one of the salmon fillets, skin-side down, in the middle of a piece of cheesecloth big enough to wrap securely around the fish fillets. Sprinkle half of the salt-sugar mixture on top of the fish, being sure to cover all of the salmon. Then press the sliced fennel and the minced fronds over the top of the salt-sugar mixture. Drizzle half of the aquavit over this, then cover with the rest of the salt-sugar mixture.
3. Place the second salmon fillet, skin-side up, on top of the covered first fillet, making sure that the two fillets align. Drizzle the rest of the aquavit over the top layer and tightly wrap the cheesecloth over the fillets. Cover with plastic wrap. Place a second baking dish (smaller than the first) on top of the wrapped fish and put the entire thing into the refrigerator. Weight with heavy items from your refrigerator (beer bottles, mayonnaise jars) and allow to sit for 24 hours.
4. After 24 hours, remove from the refrigerator and turn over the wrapped fish (you'll notice that brine has begun to fill the lower baking dish). Pour a little over the top of the fish, replace the weights and return to the refrigerator. (If there is a lot of brine in the bottom of the pan, pour it off; you don't want the bottom of the fish to touch it.) Allow the gravlax to sit for another 24 hours.
5. After a total of 48 hours in the refrigerator, remove the fish, unwrap, and scrape off the fennel-pepper mixture. With a very sharp knife, slice the fillets, one at a time, very thinly on a diagonal. Fan the slices out on a plate; serve with caraway crème fraîche.
Caraway crème fraîche1 tablespoon caraway seeds
1 cup crème fraîche
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
In a small sauté pan over medium heat, toast the caraway seeds until fragrant and beginning to pop, about 5 minutes. Let cool, crushing them a little with a heavy spoon or with a mortar and pestle. In a small bowl, mix the cooled caraway, crème fraîche, pepper and salt.
Each of 10 servings: 224 calories; 19 grams protein; 3 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 15 grams fat; 5 grams saturated fat; 64 mg. cholesterol; 431 mg. sodium.