cured salmon

A few months ago we welcomed a meat curing fridge to our small family of appliances. We may not own a fridge, washer, or dryer, but we now have a mini fridge set aside specifically for the preservation of meats. Comforting, I know.

cured salmon

Citrus cure: Drizzled with lemon and orange juice, placed on a bed of salt and sugar

Of all the homemade bacon and duck prosciutto that’s been (literally) hanging out in the corner, this cured salmon was the only project I truly participated in. And it was I who reaped the majority of the benefits: In salads, arranged neatly on toast, and eaten with my fingers—tender, fall-apart layer by tender, fall-apart layer.

how to make DIY cured salmon

The crucial weighting step.

Cured salmon goes by many names: Gravlax, lox, smoked salmon, Nova lox, and more. ( If you care to do more digging, I recommend these posts on the topic from Huff Po and theKitchn.) I’m really only here to tell you that even if you don’t have a culinary bone in your body, you can make this. It doesn’t even require heat. It’s frugal, full of Omega-3’s, and convenient to have on hand when you’re craving salt and protein after a hard workout.

DIY cured salmon

Fennel cure: Buried in fennel, salt, and sugar.

What we made is pretty well agreed upon as gravlax. The word comes from the Scandinavian word grav, which literally means “grave” in Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish, and and or laks, which means “salmon.” Thus, “buried salmon.” Man, I love etymology.

DIY cured salmon procedure.

Mark lifting the fillet from the grave.

As instructed by Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn, authors of our household bible Charcuterie, simply procure a piece of “very fresh, preferably wild salmon with brightly colored, firm flesh that smells clean and appealing,” bury it in your choice of “optional flavors and seasonings,” wait a few days, and voila. Seriously people, that’s it.

DIY cured salmon

Fennel cure: The finished product.

how to make DIY cured salmon

Citrus cure: Finished and sliced.

Easier than I ever imagined, I’ll definitely be doing this on a regular basis. Below is the recipe for a fennel-cured fish, but as the authors suggest, you can let your imagination and tastes run wild.*

cured salmon spinach salad

Gravlax on spinach salad for lunch.

DIY cured salmon

Or sliced on Suzie’s multigrain crackers spread with labne.

Fennel-Cured Salmon

4 ounces/125 grams sugar (about ½ cup)

6 ounces/180 grams light brown sugar (about 1 packed cup)

6 ounces/175 grams kosher salt (about 3/4 cup)

One 2- to 3-pound/1- to 1.5 kilogram salmon fillet in one piece, no thicker than 1½ inches/3.5 centimeters, skin on, pinbones removed

1/4 cup/60 milliliters Pernod

1 fennel bulb, with stalks and leaves, thinly sliced

½ cup/65 grams fennel seeds, toasted

2 Tbsp/20 grams white peppercorns, toasted (heat gently in a small, dry skillet until they begin to release their fragrance, a few minutes) and cracked

  1. Mix the sugars and salt well. Sprinkle half of the mixture over the bottom of a nonreactive pan or baking dish just large enough to hold the salmon. Pan size is important, because the fish will release a lot of liquid, forming a highly seasoned brine in which it will cure, and you want the brine to cover as much of the fish as possible. (If you don’t have a  pan the right size, you can use aluminum foil to wrap the fillet in an enclosed package. The salt won’t have enough time to react with the foil.)
  2. Place the salmon on the salt mixture. Sprinkle both sides of the fish with the Pernod, then cover with the remaining salt mixture. Layer the sliced fennel over the top, followed by the fennel seeds and white peppercorns. Cover with plastic wrap (or enclose completely in the foil.)
  3. Place a pan on top of the salmon and weight it: A few canned goods will do the trick, as will a brick–try to use 4 to 8 pounds/2 to 5 kilograms. (The idea is to speed up water loss from the salmon by pressing it out, so the more evenly the fish is pressed, the better.) Refrigerate for 48 hours, redistributing the cure ingredients as necessary over the salmon once about midway through the curing. The salmon should be firm to the touch at the thickest part when fully cured. If it still feels raw and squishy, cover and leave in the cure for 24 more hours.
  4. When the salmon is fully cured, discard the fennel and spices, rinse it well under cool water, and pat it dry. To store it, wrap in butcher’s paper or parchment paper and refrigerate. The salmon will keep for 3 weeks in the refrigerator. Rewrap in fresh paper if the paper becomes too wet.
  5. There are many ways to serve the cured salmon, but it’s commonly sliced translucently thin. This requires a good slicing knife and some practice, but it makes a big difference in flavor and texture.

*Citrus flavors make for a very bright, fresh cure, and you can try pastrami spices (black pepper and coriander), dill, or horseradish. General guidelines would be the zest of two lemons and two oranges and a squeeze of juice from each; an even coating of pepper and coriander; a generous bunch of dill; or a half cup or so of grated fresh horseradish.

4 thoughts on “cured salmon

  1. October 2, 2013 at 9:10 am

    Love the recipe; so simple. Thanks for sharing

    1. Jen
      October 2, 2013 at 10:58 am

      Thanks Leslie! The book is amazing … if you’re a meat person.

  2. November 10, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    I’m a little late on this post but I was hoping you could illuminate me as to when it’s fully done :) Was your gravlax still salty even in the middle section after the curing process? I’ve had a problem in the past with overcuring my salmon so turns out rubbery. To remedy that, yesterday I cut the cure time down to 20 hours (for a 1.5 pound salmon (it was fully packed in salt/sugar mix, though a different recipe than yours). When I started slicing it — and eating some as I went — I noticed the middle section wasn’t raw looking but it was not as salty as the pieces near the end. So I guess my question to you is, was the saltiness of your finished result uniform throughout? And also, what was the texture of the salmon once you sliced it up? Mine looked similar to sushi though the outside was firm. I’m wondering now if I should slice the rest up a tad thicker and throw them in a sugar/salt brine. I’ve read you can quick cure them for 3 minutes that way! Thanks for any light you can shed, from a fellow hippy triathlete :)

    1. The Hippie
      November 12, 2014 at 6:46 am

      Hi Kelly, thanks for stopping by! It takes a bit of experimentation to figure out how long you want to let the fish cure for. My husband likes it “rubbery,” or in his termed, “candied,” whereas I like it a little more “rare” inside. The thicker, middle section for me is always more “rare.” I always rinse mine off fully. And I wouldn’t say the finished product is salty, really. Each batch turns out slightly different, but if you check periodically, you should be able to stop the cure when it’s how you like it. Also, the quality of the fish will affect the finished product too. Hope that helps! Good luck!