I don't know when it became a Mabbott family tradition to cure our own salmon for home-made Gravadlax to eat on Christmas morning, but it's one that has stuck, despite none of us having any Scandinavian roots whatsoever. Usually served with a Bloody Mary for the able-bodied in the family - half of us have an alcohol allergy. Could you guess it's not me...? - at around brunch time, it is one of the things I most look forward to at Christmas.
If you're unsure of what gravadlax is, it is cured salmon, made using just sugar, salt and dill most traditionally. Often other ingredients are added to enhance this, such as gin, juniper berries, or beetroot for a prettily stained purple colour. Often served with a sweet mustard and dill sauce, in our house we've never bothered, opting just for wafer-thin slices over buttered bread with a squeeze of lemon. Dad has always worked to a 50 / 50 sugar to salt cure, for 5 days. The cure is mixed up and spread over the large fillet of salmon and down the sides, then topped with masses of dill, and sandwiched with another identically shaped piece. This is wrapped well in cling film, then foil and placed in the fridge with something heavy on top to weigh it down. It then needs to be turned and drained of any residual juice every day. It's best to use the freshest salmon you can find - sushi-grade from the fishmonger, if possible.
It's funny that you just go home for Christmas and expect all your comforts and traditions to be in place. I didn't think anything of it that my parents had emigrated to Spain this year, until with horror at the supermarket I stared dumb-struck at the lack of dill. And then at the market. And then at another supermarket. We were going to have to improvise.
Firstly, what does dill taste of? It's a bit aniseed-y - tarragon would have been perfect. There is no tarragon in Spain. In fact, the only fresh herbs we could find were mint, basil, chives or coriander. So we looked to spices to make up the dill flavour, and then we threw all caution to the wind and decided on a new take.
I'm just going to give you what I used here, as all of it is very dependent on how large your fillets of salmon will be: ours were about 6 inches long. You will just have to eyeball it and remember that it's much better to have too much than not enough. That's a life philosophy, that.
Fennel & Pink Peppercorn 'Gravadlax'
Makes the cure
3 tbsp fennel seeds
2 tbsp pink peppercorns
6 tbsp sea salt flakes
7 tbsp caster sugar
Zest of 1 lime
A large bush of coriander stalks and leaves, chopped finely
In a pestle and mortar, pound the fennel seeds, lime zest and the pink peppercorns roughly.
In a large bowl, add the salt, sugar, and fennel seed mixture and mix well. Add the coriander and mix again.
Lay out a sheet of cling film and place the cleaned, boneless salmon fillet (skin on) on the cling film skin side down. Spread the cure all over the fillet and on the sides. My dad also sits the salmon on some cure but given it's got the skin on and you don't eat it, I've never seen the point. I don't argue this though.
Place the other salmon fillet flesh side down on top to sandwich the two together and wang any remaining cure around it and down the sides. Wrap tightly with clingfilm, then with foil and place in a baking dish or casserole dish that fits it snugly. Weigh down with a heavy object, like a bag of rice, and place in the fridge. Turn daily, draining any juice out, for 3 to 5 days. Many recipes do 3 days - we've always done 5.
To eat, remove foil and cling film, brush off the cure from the fillets with a piece of kitchen roll, and slice very thinly. You can serve with mustard sauce if you like.