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Cookbooks, Norway, Timeless Recipes

Norwegian Gravlax Salad: Lessons in austerity

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At 17, I was a bonafide Norwegian fish monger. Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite the fishmonger my ancestors would be proud of. There was no hawking of my wares from a gently swaying boat along the harbor to hungry housewives. Instead, I mostly sold to tourists who mostly bought small opened faced sandwiches, and sometimes gave me a hard time for selling whale.

In my booth, there were no foul-mouthed sailors staring out to sea to ensure their safe voyage back home. I sold fish with Santiago from Uruguay, always drinking mate, Eduardo from Barcelona, always smoking and sometimes singing “Singing in the Rain” with me when the weather was really terrible — which was most of the time. Out of 15 employees, there was one other Norwegian.

No, I was perhaps not the bonafide fish monger I had hoped to be. I looked the part perfectly with my oljebukse and sydvest, but even today I am the only person in my family who can’t gut a fish.

In fact, the only thing I really learned on the fish market was how to filet fish to fit on a sandwich perfectly. So, I learned the knife should always follow the salmon’s contours, creating the thinnest most delicious slices of gravlax possible.

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By now, most of us have heard of Noma. Magnus Nilsson is touring America with his cookbook The Nordic Cookbook. In the last month he has showed up in the New York Times, Sauveur’s instagram, and we musn’t forget his feature in The Mind of a Chef. Then there is the cookbook North which tells the story of each of the restaurant’s Icelandic purveyors.

Needless to say, New Nordic has a huge following. As someone who has fought excessively with her Norwegian grandmother about what is delicious and disgusting food, this has always been a surprise to me. That is until last week my favorite podcast dedicated an entire episode to Nordic cuisine.

While talking about her new book Fire and Ice, Darra Goldstein said this phrase: Nordic cuisine is known for its “creativity fostered by austerity.” That’s when it snapped for me…..

“Creativity fostered by austerity”

Within 30 seconds of the Norwegian national anthem. Norwegians have already called their country  “rugged” and “weathered.” The weather is cold. It rains a lot and the soil isn’t great… Amazingly, most Norwegians I have met don’t seem to mind. For Norwegians, dark winters and rainy days are something to be enjoyed not something to suffer through until better weather comes along. They have learned to adapt and love every type of climate and embraced the diversity of their land.

Perhaps that is part of the appeal of New Nordic cuisine as well. There is a certain amazement as to how a country that has been presented with supposedly so little can create such amazingly delicious dishes. This at least is what I was left with the last time I visited Norway.

This blog has been drowning in slow-cooked wine stews, stuffed seafood, and other complex dinner partyesque meals. It wasn’t until I made this salad I realized just how rewarding “austerity” can be.

This salad is simple, mustardy, and about the most delicious salad I have made in a long time.
And exactly what I needed to prepare myself for the long winter ahead of me.

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Gravlax
This will need to be made a few days before making the salad. Raw salmon will need to cure for 3 days.

Ingredients:
1 pound of the middle piece of a salmon, halved so each meat piece can lie on top of the other
2 teaspoons whole white pepper corn
2 tablespoons salt
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 a head of dill

  1. Cut holes into the salmon’s skin to ensure it cures on both sides
  2. Dry the salmon with a paper towel
  3. Mix salt, sugar and crushed white pepper corns together.
  4. Add salmon flesh side up and rub it with the sugar, salt and crushed pepper mixture. Add 1/4 of the head of dill.
  5. Add the other salmon filet with the skin facing up. Add the rest of the sugar, salt and crushed pepper and dill mixture.
  6. Cover with cellophane and add some type of weight (roughly equivalent to 1 lb.)
  7. Leave the salmon at room temperature for a few hours then transfer to the refrigerator.
  8. Turn the fish 1-2/day. After 3 days it should be finished.

Notes:

  • If Salmon has not previously been frozen, it is important to freeze the meat for 24 hrs to ensure that all parasites die.
  • Remember that you can always freeze gravlax so you can always make a lot and save some for later
  • This is the traditional Norwegian but Jamie’s gravlax recipe and Jacque Pepin’s gravlax look pretty good too

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Gravlax Salad

A head of mizuna (or any other mustardy green)
1/2 head chopped parsley
10 radishes, chopped into sticks
1/4 Parsnip, grated
10 slices of Gravlax
1/4 head dill

Dressing

1-2 tbsp sweet mustard
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 white pepper
2-3 tbsp finely chopped dill

Mix salad and dressing together.

 

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