Family tradition
Homemade Gravlax? It is a fun and simple dish that will be the highlight of your holiday party. Salt- and sugar-cured salmon, in just a few days, is transformed into something memorable.

Family tradition

‘I was more than a little worried: This was a lot of fish. A few days later, the gravlax was the centerpiece of the party.’

BELLOWS FALLS — I received a gift of home-cured gravlax - salmon - every year at Christmastime from my mother-in-law, Pat, my husband's father's second wife. (Got that?)

The first time she gave it to us, I was truly impressed. I had never had homemade gravlax before, and it was one of the best things I had ever tasted! My husband and I ate heartily for the next few days, and I greedily consumed more than my fair share.

Pat owned and was chef at some high-end restaurants in our local ski areas (Three Clock Inn in South Londonderry, The Buttery in Manchester), and everything she taught me to make became one of my kitchen standards.

I didn't try making this recipe by myself until after she died, but the memories were there in the kitchen with me, and I took a deep breath.

It's not as hard as you think. In fact, it's really pretty easy!

A few years ago, I thought I'd give her recipe a try before my annual holiday party. I got the biggest salmon sides I could order, and when I took them out of their box, these giant pieces of fish looked daunting indeed.

I was more than a little worried: This was a lot of fish, but I followed the directions and tried to recall my memory of making it with Pat many years before. A few days later, the gravlax was the centerpiece of the party, and I couldn't have been more delighted (or surprised).

The next time I made it, I added my own twist by playing with the herbs (you still want a lot of dill here), and even added some crushed blackberries from the freezer to enhance the color.

I now make it every year and get requests from not only family but several friends as well.

You really can't go wrong with this recipe. It is forgiving and can be tailored to your own preference: If you want it sweeter or saltier, you can adjust the proportions of sugar and salt accordingly. Plan on this gravlax keeping after its cure, for around 5 days.

It is one of those magic recipes, and it always reminds me of this kind woman!

For a large amount to serve at a party and give away to friends, make the whole recipe. For a smaller gathering, just ask your fishmonger for a 1{1/2}-lb. filet of salmon, thick cut.

Pat Read's Holiday Gravlax

Yes, this recipe is called “Holiday Gravlax,” but you can make it any time.

The first step? Take a deep breath.

Then, when getting your salmon, ask your fishmonger for the freshest possible. Emphasize that this needs to be sushi fresh.

Trim off the thin parts of the tail and belly of:

¶2 1{1/2}-to-3-lb. salmon sides

Reserve the trimmings for supper; you want the remaining filets that you will cure to be uniformly thick. Check each filet for bones, rubbing your fingers across the top, removing any you find with tweezers.

In a large bowl, mix:

¶1 cup sugar

¶I cup salt

¶1 cup dill, finely minced

Divide mixture in half and rub each filet with half the mixture.

Sprinkle each filet liberally with:

¶{1/3} cup cognac (you may need a bit more)

Line a large baking sheet or roasting pan with plastic wrap. Place the first filet in the pan, skin side down.

You can have some fun and spread evenly over the bottom filet:

¶1 cup blackberries, crushed

Add a first coating of dill, trying to cover the surface evenly:

¶{1/2} cup dill, finely minced

Sprinkle evenly over all:

¶{1/4} cup lime zest, grated

Use only the zest. You do not want to place actual pieces of lime on the fish; it will “cook” it like a ceviche, leaving funny little circles. I know from experience!

Add a second round of dill:

¶{1/2} cup dill, finely minced

Gently position the second filet, flesh side down, on top of the first. Double-wrap the two filets as tightly as possible, then on top of the wrapped fish, place a second baking sheet. Weigh it down with a couple of 28-ounce cans of tomatoes, bricks, or another similarly heavy substantial object. Refrigerate.

The next day, remove the weights and invert the wrapped fish bundle. Drain the pan of the moisture that will have accumulated. Replace the tray and weights.

Repeat the next day.

On the third day, remove the salmon and rinse off excess salt. Pat dry with a paper towel.

You are ready to enjoy your gravlax!

Use a really sharp knife and slice a filet at an angle, skimming across the skin on the bottom. Don't cut through the skin; this is easier than you think. It should cut like butter!

Serve on slices of baguette or favorite bread or crackers, topped with whatever accompaniments you desire. It's great with a Horseradish and Dill Crème Fraîche (recipe follows), capers, minced scallions, and lots of black pepper. You can also serve it with a mustard sauce, or just a little cream cheese, or mayonnaise and chopped onion.

Fear not! It really is easy.

Horseradish and Dill Crème Fraîche

In a medium bowl, mix:

¶1 cup crème fraîche

¶1 Tbsp. prepared horseradish

¶1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

¶2 Tbsp. dill, finely minced

¶Salt and pepper to taste

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