Gravadlax and Rye Bread

Gravadlax is something I have wanted to try for a while. I love the taste and texture of smoked salmon, but unless somebody I know buys a smoking house, or I disable all the smoke alarms in the house, I’m not making smoked salmon at home anytime soon. Consequently, gravadlax, as cured salmon, provides a nice compromise, with a similar texture and depth of flavour to smoked salmon.

I went to Denmark recently, where preserved fish is a cultural phenomenon, so I had plenty of fish while I was there. On return I wanted to try to cook a few bits of Nordic cuisine myself, so I felt it was time to try making gravadlax myself. Particularly, I wanted to create a ‘smørrebrød’, the Danish open sandwich (see picture below). Seen everywhere in Denmark, the open sandwich is a slice of (usually rye) bread, topped with egg, prawn, ham, steak, etc.- whatever leftovers you have from last night’s dinner. I thought I could combine making of the gravalax and having a go at some rye bread, to then assembling them into my own open sandwich.

Gravadlax (laks is Danish for salmon) is created by mildly curing salmon. The fish is covered by a spice mix of salt and sugar, which is absorbed into the fish over a period of time, and draws moisture from the fish. The curing process here is not one that will preserve the salmon for long, but just enough to allow flavour to develop, and a slight fermentation. The environment created is undesirable for bacteria, with acid and salt, which is why the fish is preserved for a short while. There is a huge amount of dill used- the recipe I have calls for 300g- but it’s only flavouring in the dish. If you are using dill from a garden, make sure you wash it properly, as bacteria from the dirt can get in. I really like the dill flavour, though, and it really works with the salmon, so don’t worry about it.

To finish off the smørrebrød, there was the mustard and dill sauce (see below) and egg from a friend’s chickens, but most importantly, there is the rye bread. In Denmark I had a lot of rye bread- not usually my favourite, given how dry it is. But the flavour and texture of the Danish rye bread makes you see why it is such a big deal over there- I heard it said that each man has his own opinions on rye bread, and that arguments can form over different styles. So on the way back, I had to pick up some rye flour to try some myself. As it turns out, the basic version is very easy to make. The flour does not have a lot of gluten in it, so does not rise very well, not surprising when you consider how heavy rye bread is. Consequently, once you have mixed the ingredients together, there is not much left to do. The heavy bread the rye flour made provided a solid base for the smørrebrød, and a background for the flavours, so to speak.

But what surprised me most is how straightforward this all was to make. The gravadlax is very easy to do at home; it is almost the same as marinading the salmon in spices and dill. Similarly, the rye bread was the least difficult bread I’ve made, as it doesn’t need much managing to get to rise the correct amount. Overall, given it can be prepared in advance, if you are organised gravadlax, or the whole open sandwich, will make a very fun dinner party starter.


I used an entire side of salmon here, knowing that the leftovers would make delicious sandwiches. However, I ended up cutting them up into fillets anyway, so you could just use a couple of fillets instead. The quantities are for a whole side, scale down if you want less gravadlax. The recipe is taken from The Scandinavian Kitchen.

1 side salmon (skin on, ideally)
300g dill, chopped
4tsp course sea salt
2tsp sugar
2tsp ground black pepper

1. Make the gravadlax.  Mix the salt, sugar, and pepper together. Chop the salmon into fillets. In a large tray (big enough to put all the salmon in), spread half of the dill on the bottom of the dish. Place the fish on top, then cover with the spice mix, then the rest of the dill. Cover with cling film, and put something heavy on top (I used books). Leave for 48 hours in the fridge, turning once if possible (I didn’t).
2. Create the slices. Take the gravalax out of the dill/spice mix, and scrape it off. Using a filleting knife, cut into slices.

Mustard and Dill Sauce

This is the traditional accompaniment. I found it a little hot and overwhelming (partly because I got hold of some nice mustard), but the flavours worked together well.

100ml Dijon mustard
50ml double cream
50g dill
1tsp cider vinegar
4tsp dark brown sugar

1. Make the sauce. Just mix all the ingredients together!

Simple Rye Bread

The recipe is adapted from one from The River Cottage Bread Handbook. I brought rye flour back from Denmark, I am not sure about its availability in the UK.

500g rye flour
300ml warm water
1.5tsp salt
1.5tsp dried active yeast
20ml olive oil

1. Make the dough. Mix all the ingredients together. Knead for 5 minutes, or 3 minutes in an electric mixer. Put to rise in a warm place for around 90 minutes.
2. Bake the bread. Heat the oven to 200ºC. Wait until it is up to temperature, then cook the bread for 35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Barbra & Jack Donachy
    Sep 29, 2012 @ 00:53:03

    Nicely composed photo of the finished product. We made lox last winter, which was an inspiration for making bagels. Depending on your living situation, you could check out the Little Chief smokers. They take up very little storage space, could be used on a deck or balcony, and turn out several pounds of smokehouse quality product.


  2. Robbie D
    Sep 30, 2012 @ 00:11:39

    I bought a smokehouse! But it’s in Le Havre… 😉


  3. Trackback: Chocolate Coated Lebkuchen « oxfood

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