Enough well worn bottles of Jack Daniels to supply a few rowdy bars line the upper cabinets. The famous cholent simmers on the stove, and the even-more-famous herring gets dished out into little bowls. This is the Weinstein kitchen on a Saturday morning. The men are downstairs singing the early afternoon prayers, and I find myself staring down at a Pyrex dish on the countertop filled with a massive hunk of salmon.
Dina-the Balabusta extraordinaire who doubles as a top midwife in Jerusalem, catches my eye. “Go ahead, try it!” And then.. “it’s Gravlax”. Say whaaaaat? “GRAVLAX”. I don’t want to be really annoying and ask, yet again, what that word is she keeps saying, so I smile and nod, my specialty when it comes to conversing with certain Israelis. “You’ve never had Gravlax before??”, she asks me incredulously. I shake my head, starting to get excited about this new food I am totally going to become obsessed with. Anything with a name that takes me two weeks to memorize is a definite winner(like Osuboko-that one took a while). Dina cuts off a slice of the fish, I place it atop a cracker, and take my first bite. WOW.
After a volley of questions, my mouth full, obviously, I find out that this, whatever it’s name is, dish, is a hunk of fresh raw salmon cured with an insanely simple 3 ingredient rub(Dina uses only sugar, salt, and dill).It takes a mere few minutes to put together, sits covered for a day and a half, and is a fraction of the price to store bought lox, it’s cousin.
So what is with this word “Gravlax”, anyway?
“Lax” is actually the Yiddish word for salmon-from which the word “lox”(smoked salmon), is derived. “Grav”, is for the literal grave in which this fish was normally buried. Picture now a walking salmon from Louis the Fish, silently tromping through the graveyard to his resting place. Well, maybe don’t. NowDays, it is common to place weights on the fish while it cures in the fridge, to help the brine soak into the flesh. That isn’t necessary though. Dina doesn’t do it, and neither have I. Maybe I’m too lazy to find that perfectly sized object that will actually put weight on the fish(granola bars are too light), and also let me close the lid on the Pyrex dish(no cans). Still haven’t found it!
I just make the rub-honestly the last time I just poured all the ingredients onto the fish, gave it a little massage, popped the lid on, and let it be. It was deee-licious! I’ve also read recipe notes- after I’ve already been to the store and only then find out I was supposed to keep the skin on, that you should, yeah, keep the skin on. Already de-skinned your fish? Works too! The time I asked my fish guy to skin the salmon it was actually so much easier to cut afterwards, and I didn’t taste a difference.
Fresh Salmon Gravlax Made by You in Five Minutes
- Fresh fillet of salmon cleaned and patted dry
- 1 Tbs. White sugar
- 1 Tbs. Coarse salt-rock salt
- 1 Tbs. whole peppercorns
- Handful of fresh dill chopped
- Crush peppercorns. Place them on a cutting board and crush with a pot or the side of a knife(pot works better for me).
- Combine sugar, coarse salt, crushed pepper, paprika and dill in a bowl. Place fish in a glass dish and massage with rub. Cover and refrigerate for a day and a half to three days before slicing.
- Scrape off the majority of the rub from the top of fish. Place on a cutting board. With a sharp knife, thinly slice and arrange on a plate. Garnish with fresh dill, lemon wedges, and crackers.