Gravlax: Cured, Not Smoked

Gravlax is a luxurious food you can easily make at home.

by Chef Golda Ewalt
The salt draws out the fish’s moisture, which helps to preserve the fish.

Americans love salmon. In fact, it tops the list of the country’s favorite seafood, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. And it has some pretty amazing health benefits. It’s loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, rich in nutrients like vitamin D and selenium, high in protein and low in saturated fat. It’s also simple to prepare: you can grill it, bake it, poach it, pan-fry it… and, of course, you can smoke or cure it. 

Gravlax is a luxurious food you can easily make at home. It is salt-cured, not smoked—the salt draws out the fish’s moisture, which helps to preserve the fish. Decreasing the moisture level also makes it less hospitable to microbial life. Greatly enhanced in flavor, the fish soaks up the essence of spices in the salt cure.

Gravlax was traditionally buried (“Grav,” as in a grave in the ground). So, it’s common to put some weight on it, such as putting it beneath a heavy pan in the fridge while it’s curing (often for two days or more). This helps the cure penetrate the fish’s flesh. Spices such as coriander, juniper berries or fennel can be added, while some people like to add spirits like vodka or the Scandinavian spirit, aquavit.

gravlax with caraway and corianderGravlax with Caraway and Coriander

1 2-pound, skin-on salmon fillet, pin bones removed*
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
½ cup kosher salt 
2 tablespoons sugar 
½ teaspoon freshly ground white or black pepper
2 large bunches dill


  1. In a skillet, toast caraway and coriander seeds over high heat, stirring constantly until fragrant, about 1 minute. Transfer to a spice grinder or mortar and pestle, and grind finely.
  2. In a small bowl, stir together salt, sugar, ground caraway and coriander seeds, and pepper until thoroughly combined.
  3. On a work surface, turn salmon skin side up and sprinkle about half of salt mixture all over, rubbing in with fingers. 
  4. Arrange half of dill all over the bottom of a baking dish large enough to hold salmon. Set salmon skin-side down on bed of dill. Rub remaining salt mixture all over top and sides of salmon, then top with remaining dill. Wrap salmon with plastic, then top with a weight (such as a smaller baking dish or plate with cans of beans on top). 
  5. Flip salmon every day to the other side. Cure for 2 to 3 days in the refrigerator. 
  6. Unpack salmon, scraping off dill and salt, and set on a work surface. Using a very sharp slicing knife, cut gravlax on a bias into thin slices. Gravlax can be kept refrigerated, tightly wrapped in plastic, for approximately 5 days after curing. PM

*I like to purchase salmon at Dixon’s in East Peoria. They typically have larger pieces of fresh salmon with the skin if you ask. Be sure to ask for the pin bones to be removed.