Wednesday 21 March 2012

Gin-Cured Gravadlax with Crisped Capers

Here's the first in a series of recipes I've developed for Woolworths' revamped cookery-inspiration platform The Pantrywhich has just been launched to tie in with their food sponsorship of the much-anticipated first series of Master Chef South Africa.

Gin-Cured Gravadlax with Crisped Capers
I'm excited to have been asked to be one of four official Woolies food bloggers for this reality TV series, and I hope you'll enjoy the recipes I'll be presenting once a fortnight over the next few months. (Note: I have been paid by Woolworths for these recipes: see footnote.)

This is a different version of my Gravadlax Tartare, using chives in the curing mix in place of the ubiquitous dill.

The chives give the salmon a delicate oniony note, but you of course can use dill, or any other herb you fancy.

It’s my guess that many of the cooks who didn’t make it through the first round of MasterChef auditions were marked down by the judges because their recipes lacked the interesting flavours so essential in a dish that is to be presented chilled. Putting together a cold dish with sensational tastes and textures is not as effortless as it may seem: with a hot dish, you at least have belly-comforting warmth on your side, so you can get away with less-than-thrilling flavours. Cold dishes, on the other hand, tend to numb the tastebuds slightly, so their flavours (and especially their seasoning) need to be a little more assertive.

This clean-tasting Scandinavian dish of cured fresh salmon is very easy to make at home in your fridge over the course of a day or so. Serve it plainly sliced with brown bread, butter and lemon wedges, or add a few interesting accompaniments, as I have done in the recipe below. You can slice this into thin leaves, or chop it finely as you would a salmon tartare, and serve it in a mound. Top-grade fresh salmon is expensive, granted, but there’s no need to buy whole fillets: this works just as well with two small salmon steaks if you’re serving four people.

Gravadlax is usually made with fresh dill, and sometimes vodka, but I use French chives because my family don’t like the aniseed character of dill, and gin because I love its distinctive juniper-berry taste (and, okay, because there’s always a bottle of it in my cupboard, and not always a full one, I might add).

Gin-Cured Salmon Gravadlax with Crisped Capers

2 fillets fresh salmon, skin on, weighing about 700 g
4 t (20 ml) coarse or flaky sea salt
1 T (15 ml) black peppercorns
4 t (20 ml) white granulated sugar
a large bunch of French chives (or fresh dill)
1 t (5 ml) finely grated fresh lemon zest
4 T (60 ml) dry gin

To serve:
3 T (45 ml) small capers, rinsed and drained
sunflower oil for frying the capers
fresh herb sprigs
8 bottled caperberries (optional)
a little olive oil
milled black pepper
½ cup (125 ml) home-made mayonnaise or crème fraîche
lemon wedges

Remove the pin bones from the salmon and cut away the dark blood-line. Place a fillet, skin-side down, on a large sheet of clingfilm. Using a mortar and pestle, grind the salt, peppercorns and sugar to a coarse powder and sprinkle it all over the salmon fillet. Finely chop half the bunch of chives (or dill, if you’re using it) and spread over the fillet. Sprinkle with the lemon zest and 2 tablespoons of gin. Place the other salmon piece flesh-side down on top.

Wrap the parcel tightly in clingfilm and weigh down.
Wrap the parcel tightly in clingfilm and, using a toothpick, prick the packet in a few places, top and bottom, so the liquid can drain away.  Place in a shallow dish and put a weight (a brick is ideal, or use tins from the cupboard) on top.

Refrigerate for 12 hours, then turn the parcel over, weigh it down again, and cure for a further 12 hours. Unwrap the parcel, remove the chives and wipe off the curing spices. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons of gin over the lower fillet, cover the remaining chopped fresh chives, replace the top fillet, wrap in new clingfilm and refrigerate, under a weight, for another 12 hours (up to 36).

To serve, remove the chives and curing spices and pat the fish dry with kitchen paper. Using a very sharp knife held parallel to the fish, cut delicate leaves. (Alternatively, you can strip away the skin and finely chop the flesh to serve it tartare-style, in a mound).  Don't add any lemon juice, as this will 'cook' the fish. Arrange the gravadlax slices on a platter and cover with clingfilm.

Pat the capers quite dry on kitchen paper and heat the oil in a frying pan. When the oil is very hot, drop them, a few at a time, into the hot oil and fry until they open up like the petals of a flower and are very crisp. Drain on kitchen paper and cool completely.

Scatter the fried capers over the salmon slices and add the herb sprigs and drained caperberries. Sprinkle with a little olive oil and grind over plenty of black pepper.  Serve the crème fraiche or mayonnaise in a separate bowl, or dollop it over the top.  Pass around a dish of lemon wedges and a basket of fresh, soft brown bread.

Serves 6-8 as a starter. 

Cook's Notes
  • You can prepare your gravadlax up to 3 days in advance, but slice it no more than an hour before you serve it, and keep the slices covered with clingfilm. 
  • For best results, buy the best-quality salmon you can afford. Second-rate or less-than-fresh salmon has an inferior texture that won’t hold up to the curing process. 
  • Ring the changes by adding some interesting flavours to the curing mix: crushed juniper berries, pink peppercorns, coriander seeds, rum, whisky, grated raw beetroot, and so on. 
  • How about a Thai-spiced gravadlax? Add lemongrass, ginger, lime zest, fresh coriander and a few drops of fish sauce to the curing paste (but don’t add any garlic, which will trample all over the delicate flavour of the salmon). 


When Woolies invited me to be one of their official bloggers on their new My Pantry platform, I had to wring my hands while I considered the implications. I've never allowed any branding or advertising on this site (and the little banner on the top right of this page marks my first departure from this policy).  On the other hand, this was an opportunity I could not resist: the chance to hook on to what I believe will become one of the most successful reality TV series ever aired in South Africa.  My hand-wringing went on for hours about a minute and half, and then I said yes, because I'm proud to associate this blog with both Woolworths and the MasterChef franchise.

Print Friendly and PDFPrint Friendly


Anonymous said...

Jane-Ann, that looks DELICIOUS!! Do you think I can try it with trout?

Jane-Anne said...

Thanks Ilse! Yes, it would work with good-quality trout, as long as it is very fresh, and unsmoked.