More unfriendly pregnancy foods: Gravlax

Now that I’m in full pregnancy swing, of course I’m craving all of the foods I’m not supposed to have: sushi, sausages, anything fried, and gooey unpasteurized cheeses.  I’m not sure if they’re cravings really, more like defiant stubbornness. Gravlax sliced

Recently I was inspired (read: the pictures made me salivate) by an article I read about Marcus Samuellson, chef/owner of the chic Manhattan Nordic restaurant, Aquavit.  His recipe for Gravlax (cured salmon) seemed simple enough and I had a beautiful piece of salmon and some fresh dill calling my name in the fridge.  Rather than go with Mr. Samuellson’s recipe, however, I pulled out my trusty behemoth of a cookbook, the CIA’s Professional Chef, which had a nifty Gravlax recipe that seemed more fun (see my adapted recipe below).  Mr. Samuellson’s recipe uses a simple dry cure, but the one in my CIA bible also used a wet component that included some brandy.  Can’t go wrong there.

We Jews love our smoked or cured salmon, which we lovingly call “lox” (after Gravlax presumably).  On a bagel with some schmear, on a chic blini, or by itself, lox is just plain good.  If you don’t have a smoking gun (and I don’t, yet), curing it is your next best bet.

Making the cure was easy.  The tricky part is leaving the darned thing alone in your refrigerator for 2 days while it cures, and then controlling yourself and not eating the entire slab of salmon in one sitting, which would probably give you a salt heart attack.

Once my salmon was cured, scraped, and thinly sliced, I placed it on top of mini Melba toast squares (thank you Trader Joe’s) with some creme fraiche and chives.  Simple appetizer, tasty snack, and sublimely irresistible to this pregnant lady.  Plus it’s the perfect Sunday brunch food.

Like I said before, don’t judge.  I’m a self-admitted foodaholic.  (Incidentally, the salmon I chose was fresh as could be and I’m ServSafe certified so I wasn’t worried about endangering my kidney bean with icky bacteria).  Well worth the little cheat.

Try it.  If you’re not pregnant you have nothing to feel guilty about.

Gravlax on toast

Gravlax: Cured Salmon

Serves 6
Prep time 20 minutes
Cook time 48 hours
Total time 48 hours, 20 minutes
Meal type Appetizer, Breakfast


  • 1 1/2 lb Salmon (Fresh, high quality)
  • 3 oz Kosher salt
  • 1/3 oz Cracked white peppercorns
  • 1 1/2 oz Dill (Finely chopped)
  • 8 oz Brown sugar
  • 1 oz Lemon juice
  • 1/2 oz Olive oil
  • 1/2 oz Brandy


Adapted from The Professional Chef, 8th Edition (the Culinary Institute of America's cookbook).  You can also find Marcus Samuelsson's simpler gravlax recipe here.

Because this salmon will be cured but not cooked, it's important to use fresh, high quality salmon from a reputable market.


Combine the dry ingredients (sugar, salt, pepper, dill that's been finely chopped) and mix well. In a separate bowl, whisk together the wet ingredients (lemon juice, oil, brandy).
Place salmon on a piece of cheesecloth and brush the wet mixture on both sides.
Pack the dry cure evenly on both sides of the salmon and wrap it tighty in the cheesecloth.
Place the wrapped salmon in a pan or dish, with another pan or dish on top and weigh it down. Put the assembly in the refrigerator and let it cure for 2-3 days (minimum 48 hours).
After 2 days, it will look like this.
Unwrap the salmon and scrape off the cure.
Slice salmon as thinly as possible (with a long sharp knife) on the bias and serve.
8. The cured salmon will keep in the refrigerator, covered with plastic, for 6 days. You can also freeze it.


  1. I love cured salmon and smoked salmon! Never thought of making cured salmon at home myself but your recipe is very easy to follow with step by step pictures! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Lovely recipe and great photos, I’d like to link to it on Zenspotting, would that be ok?

  3. Sure, I’d love to have this recipe appear on Zenspotting! What a great site. Thank you!

  4. Thank you Yi. I hope you try it yourself!

  5. Tamara,

    First of all, you’re gorgeous. Let’s just leave it at that.

    A bit about me: I am in the process of rebuilding a family website which had be trashed by some, literally, Turkish terrorists! It was meant to keep track of a bunch of genealogy stuff of an extended family. Never was into that before, but bumped into cousins online that I knew nothing about, and that started a journey of discovery. Anyway, the former site had space for a family cookbook, but no-one took the time to write things down. So, with the rebuild, I am going WordPress and hoping a cookbook plugin will make it easier for the relatives. My theory is that, while we may know nothing about our family beyond a few generations, it is likely that some recipes have been handed down for a dozen generations! Maybe more. That chicken soup recipe might be a link to my 6 greats grandma, for all I know.

    And, also being Jewish, but having “dug up” family from Cuba to Mexico to NYC to Israel, Russia, etc…I am curious about the possible blends of traditional Eastern European cooking with the local styles where each branch of the family ended up. Hence the idea of the family cookbook, not just Jewish cooking but regional variations on a theme, if you will. And, looking for the best plugin, I bumped into your site. Please go to mine and browse around…but the recipes are not up yet.

    Back to Lox…and I should say that, descending from a teacher/scientist and an artist, I am not afraid to make anything myself, from pickles, to Worcestershire Sauce, to spice rubs & blends, to pickles and…GravLox. My comments are several on the royal food, cured salmon. Yes, the fish should be fresh, and wild is a consideration as opposed to penned or pond-raised. But I would not say it must be “high-quality” in terms of cost or species. I’ve made it with king & Sockeye (certainly the best species for grilling, poaching, etc), but I have made it from cheap Silver(bright) salmon also. The color is different, but after that cure pulls the liquid from the fish to firm it up, and saturates it with salt, sugar and dill flavor…sorry, I can’t tell the difference, to be honest.

    And, we are talking about the difference between 4 & 12 dollars a pound. In addition…gosh, Tamara, how could you make just a pound and a half of gravlox, which probably lost a half pound of liquid while curing? Keeps 6 days in the refrigerator? Maybe 12 hours! And, I’m sorry, it looked like you had a filet, with no skin? I think the skin adds something. I always buy a whole side, boneless, but skin on. Then cut it in half and cure it with the two halves together, skin-side out. With that much fish we are talking about, say, a cup of kosher salt and a cup & a half of brown sugar plus a whole bunch of dill, like one might buy at a produce outlet. I don’t know, could be a cup when chopped coursely.

    As for the cure, of course the salt is the workhorse…changing the fish protein, pulling out the liquid, seasoning it. The sugar & dill are flavorings. I have a problem with the lemon in your cure from the CIA. I like the lemon, but for taste, not in a cure. There’s a difference between brines, cures & marinades (with an acid component). My suggestion is that you leave out the lemon juice and sprinkle some on when serving it. Acids do the same thing as heat, they hydrolyze protein…cook it, just more slowly. Smoked salmon is not cooked. It is cold smoked at a temperature probably not exceeding 90 degrees. Gravlox should not be cooked either, so I have an issue with the acid.

    Here’s couple of things to try: Want the taste of lemon to penetrate the fish while curing? Try sprinkling on lemon zest onto the fish…the non-skin sides, before coating it with the salt/sugar mixtures. And, with fish that has skin, just put all the dill on the inside. The flavor will spread just fine even if little or no dill is put on the skin side…though the whole fish, inside and out, must have the salt/sugar on it.

    Next, consider this: You do not need to smoke fish to get that great loz flavor. As I jokingly say…I don’t smoke fish: I can’t find a pipe that’s big enough! But, this works just fine. Remember, smoking doesn’t cook the fish. Lox is brined for perhaps a half hour in salt/sugar water and then cold-smoked, which only flavors the fish, dries it a bit, and the creosote compounds in the smoke are somewhat of a preservative.

    Here’s my secret to a great combination of lox & gravlax in one. Easy, and no smoking: Make a mixture of 1 T Maple Syrup, 1 T Lemon Extract, 1 tsp Rum Flavoring, 2 T Liquid Smoke (Mesquite? Mmmmm). Salt the fish lightly, and put in the refrigerator for an hour or so, covered with plastic wrap, to pull out a bit of liquid. Take the fish out of the ‘fridge, rinse it off and dry it. Let it sit for perhaps a half hour, and dry it again with paper towels. Then, brush on that mixture, let sit for 15 minutes or so, paint it on again, and then do the normal gravlax sandwich: plastic wrap, salt/sugar, 1 piece of fish, skin-side down, salt/sugar, the dill, more skin/sugar, the second piece of fish flesh-side down, the rest of the salt/sugar…wrap it, weight it as you said. I would turn it every 12 hours and, with a whole side of fish, it could set in the ‘fridge for an extra day.

    Sorry for rambling on…but, I am obviously a lox & gravlax fanatic! And, yes, I probably spelled it gravlax & gravlox. I believe either is correct. Best wishes………


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