Summer speaks to me of marinated fish – quick, easy and fresh for those sultry days and balmy evenings. It’s always a close-run thing between ceviche and dilled salmon (aka gravad lax) – this week dilled salmon won out. The recipe comes from my brother Simon – he does it with reservoir-caught, pink-fleshed trout, of which he tends to catch a more than adequate sufficiency and can’t quite think what to do with them all. I use farmed salmon, either Scottish or Norwegian. Before you curl your lip in scorn at the very idea, remember that the very fact that farmed fish is fatter and flabbier than wild works in its favour for this particular kind of treatment: curing it with salt and sugar draws out loads of liquid, and in the process firms the fish up nicely. And of course the dill does the biz on the flavour front.
It’s almost embarrassingly easy – the kind of recipe that looks like you spent hours slaving over it, while in fact the prep time is about 10 minutes and the rest of the time the fish is quietly slumbering away in the fridge, imbibing all that gorgeous herby, salty sweetness. And the result is soooooooooooo much more subtle and interesting than smoked salmon.
What to drink with your dilled salmon? Friends (very good friends, indeed) arrived recently fresh from a tasting chez Trimbach in Ribeauvillé bearing a bottle of 2005 Riesling, Cuvée Frédéric Emile (thank you Anne!). It went into the fridge for a brief spell, then out came the cork and we poured the golden nectar, bent low over our glasses and inhaled the wondrous scent of grown-up Alsace Riesling: petrolly hints, loads of citrus fruits and minerality and – in the unmistakeably elegant Trimbach style – perfectly dry. Not sure what they’d think of this particular match up there in Scandi-land (though the Nordic countries are among Maison T’s most faithful markets) but we went into a bit of a rave about how perfectly it worked with (and at the same time cut across) the rich, oily, herby fish.
Final footnote: I have to admit that I really, really don’t care for the classic sweet, mustardy dressing that’s normally served with gravad lax. It risks sending both me and Frédéric Emile sharply into reverse, so I give it a miss, preferring to serve the salmon simply with buttered brown bread (home-made by Marc and me) or with pumpernickel. Or even, in a pinch, with some slivers of avocado and a squeeze of lime.
DILLED SALMON OR SEA TROUT
Two fillets (‘sides’) of salmon or sea trout are marinated in salt, pepper, sugar and plenty of dill. If you have only 1 fillet, either cut in half and sandwich the two halves together, or leave it whole, divide the salt/pepper/sugar/dill mixture in two parts and put half underneath the fish and half on top. Give yourself plenty of time – the fish should marinate at least 12 hours and can go for up to 5 days.
2 fillets salmon or sea trout, skin left on, about 1 kilo total weight
2 tablespoons sea salt
plenty of freshly ground white pepper
1 tablespoon sugar
4 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
- Run your finger along the fish fillets towards the tail to locate the bones and pull them all out using tweezers (tedious, but necessary)
- Mix together the salt, pepper, sugar and dill in a small bowl
- Sprinkle one-third of this salt mixture in the bottom of a dish big enough to take the fish fillets sandwiched together
- Lay one fillet in the dish, skin side down, sprinkle on another third of the salt mixture, rubbing it in well
- Top with the other fillet (as if reassembling the fish), skin side up
- Sprinkle with the remaining salt and herbs, pressing them in well
- Cover the fish with clingfilm (plastic wrap), place a board on top with a weight (e.g. a can of beans, a 1-kilo pack of rice) and refrigerate for 12 hours and up to 5 days – it will make lots of juice
- When fish is well marinated, remove weight and clingfilm and lay fillets on a board
- With a very sharp knife cut slanting slices (thick or thin, as you prefer) down to the skin
- Lift slices off the skin and arrange on plates
- Serve with brown bread or pumpernickel