Learn how to easily make salmon gravlax at home! Only 15 minutes of prep and a 3-day cure in the fridge stand in between you and this Vodka Dill Cured Salmon Gravlax. This easy, yet elegant and flavorful salmon is always a hit and the perfect show-stopping dish for your next brunch or dinner party! Salt-curing is so incredibly easy and the taste is amazing – try this recipe once and you will never buy store-bought gravlax again!
Continue to read on for simple instructions, tips, tricks, step by step photos and a recipe video on how to make gravlax in your own kitchen! Looking for ways to use your homemade gravlax? Try these family favorites – Gravlax Salmon Egg Roulade, Easy Smoked Salmon Dip (healthy!), Everything Bagel Hummus and Loaded Spring Salmon Pizza!
Update: This post was originally published in June 2014. I made updates to the post below to include more information about salmon gravlax. I also added a recipe video plus step-by-step photos showing you exactly how to cure salmon at home!
Hi, friends! Get excited, because today we are going to kick it old school with some super easy-to-prepare, delicious and affordable homemade luxury food! I originally published this recipe for gravlax way back in the day. Like, this was one of the first recipes ever posted on this site. And honestly, it’s still one of my all-time favorite recipes to this day!
With Mother’s Day, al fresco dining opportunities and summer entertaining right around the corner, I thought today was the perfect time to give this post a face-lift. So, without further ado, let’s make some scrumptious salmon, shall we?
Homemade Gravlax: Overview
This gravlax, also known as show-stopping cured salmon, is nothing short of sensational!
This recipe features delicate salmon infused with a cure made of herbaceous dill, tart orange, sour lemon and mild vodka. The resulting salmon is ultra-rich, luscious and delicate in flavor with a savory, mildly herbaceous and slightly salty taste. Essentially, this salmon is elevated in flavor, elegant in appearance and oh-so-luxurious!!
Slice the gravlax thin, serve it with an array of accoutrements and prepare to WOW. Or pile it high on a cream cheese smeared bagel for a breakfast that is sure to impress! No matter how you serve it, everyone will love this cured salmon!
Bonus points – while store-bought gravlax is expensive, curing salmon at home is super economical!! I bought the one pound center-cut side of Atlantic salmon you see here for $13.99. A pound of store-bought gravlax was roughly $50. That’s a huge savings! This recipe makes luxury food affordable, my friends!
Why you’ll love this recipe:
- Easy to find ingredients: This recipe requires just five simple and affordable ingredients, plus a few pantry staples!
- Quick to prepare: This recipe only requires 10 to 15 minutes of hands on preparation! Making gravlax at home is such a fuss-free process!
- Customizable: One of the beautiful things about preparing your own gravlax is that you can control the level of saltiness and customize the flavors!
- Economical: Store-bought gravlax is ridiculously expensive!! You can make your own gravlax at home for a fraction of the cost!
- Versatile: Gravlax is perfect for everything from breakfast and brunch to healthy snacking and entertaining!
What is gravlax salmon?
Gravlax is fresh raw salmon that has been cured with mixture of salt and sugar along with other aromatics and flavoring ingredients, such as liquor, dill and citrus zest. Gravlax is a specialty of Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland.
The beginning portion of the word, ‘grav‘, comes from the Scandinavian word meaning ”to dig”, and the latter portion of the word, ‘lax‘, means ”salmon”. Essentially, gravlax means ‘buried salmon’, which refers to how gravlax was originally prepared: buried on the beach in the sand until it was fermented.
Contrary to popular belief, Gravlax and lox are not the same thing. Lox is cold-smoked salmon, while gravlax is simply cured salmon (there’s no cold-smoking involved!).
Is it raw?
Salt-curing does not cook the salmon, therefore gravlax is raw and not cooked. The salt and sugar cure serves to slightly preserve the salmon, making cooking not necessary.
What does it taste like?
Gravlax tastes like flavorful salmon sashimi with the firm texture of smoked salmon. It has a delicate, slightly salty, mildly herbaceous flavor with a firm, yet tender texture.
How is it different from smoked salmon?
While gravlax and smoked salmon are very similar in texture, they are not the same thing!
Both gravlax and smoked salmon are tender and silky with a raw-like texture that resembles sashimi. However, while smoked salmon has a smokey flavor, gravlax has a milder, more delicate flavor. The difference in flavor is due to the way each are prepared. Smoked salmon typically brined in a mixture of salt, sugar and spices before being smoked at a low temperature. Gravlax, on the other hand, is simply cured in a mixture of salt, sugar, spices and alcohol – with no smoking involved.
What ingredients do I need to cure salmon?
This gravlax recipe is so easy to prepare and only requires 5 easy-to-find ingredients plus a few pantry staples!
Ingredients for homemade gravlax
- Salmon: Fresh salmon is the key to the best gravlax, so make sure you use the freshest salmon you can get your hands on! Sushi- or sashimi-grade salmon is the preferable if you can find it. However, most major supermarkets receive deliveries of salmon two to three times a week – so if you can’t find sushi-grade, just make sure you purchase your salmon on one of the days when your supermarket has it freshly delivered. (Scroll down to read about purchasing salmon for gravlax!)
- Vodka: Alcohol is a very common ingredient in gravlax cures. While aquavit is traditionally used, I prefer the more neutral flavor of vodka. (Scroll down to read about vodka substitutes!)
- Citrus: The fresh zest from both one lemon and orange adds dimension to the salmon! Make sure you are only using the zest from the fresh citrus! Avoid adding the juice or slices of citrus as they will actually cook the fish!
- Salt: You can’t salt-cure salmon without salt! Coarse salt – either kosher or sea salt – are your best options. Never use regular table salt for salt-curing or your salmon will turn out way too salty! I prefer to use Himalayan pink sea salt and coarsely grind it myself for the best flavor, but you can use whatever coarse salt you love!
- Sugar: Aside from salt, sugar is the other main component in the cure. Granulated white sugar balances the salt and provides a touch of sweetness.
- Pepper: Freshly cracked pepper provides a subtle, yet distinct and undeniable earthiness to the cure.
- Dill: Fresh dill adds a delicious, slightly citrus flavor with subtle grassy and undertones. Dill is essential if you are looking for that classic gravlax flavor.
You can find the full list and measurement of ingredients in the printable recipe card at the bottom of the post.
Beyond the salt and sugar, which are necessary for salt-curing salt, this recipe is extremely flexible! Feel free to add, substitute or omit ingredients based on what you have on hand or prefer!
- Alcohol: Want to keep things traditional? Try using aquavit, which has a herbaceous flavor that pairs beautifully with dill. Or try substituting gin for a more botanical flavor. Alternatively, you can leave the alcohol out all together.
- Ground Pepper: Prefer a more pungent peppery flavor? You can substitute the black pepper for white pepper!
- Spices: Seeds such as caraway, coriander and fennel are all great additions if you are looking to add another dimension of flavor!
- Herbs: Fresh dill is essential if you are looking to recreate that classic gravlax flavor. However, if you aren’t a fan of dill you can try substituting fresh tarragon or fennel fronds!
Ratio of salt and sugar when salt-curing salmon
Gravlax is incredibly easy to prepare and totally customizable. The ratio of salt to sugar is a matter of personal taste. If you search the internet for homemade gravlax recipes you will find the ratios of salt to sugar vary greatly. Before you decide which ratio is best for you, it’s important to understand what purpose sugar and salt serve in a cure.
Both salt and sugar draw moisture out of the salmon through a process known as osmosis. As the moisture is drawn out of the salmon, it makes the fish less hospitable to microbial life which slightly extends the edible “shelf-life” of the salmon.
This recipe uses a 1.3:1 ratio of salt to sugar. I’ve found that a slightly salt-heavy cure produces firm gravlax with a beautiful level of saltiness that is perfectly balanced by a subtle hint of sweetness. If you prefer a sweeter tasting salmon with very little to no saltiness and a less firm, more sashimi-like texture, try swapping the amounts – using a 1.3:1 ratio of sugar to salt. While you can use equal amounts of sugar to salt (1:1 ratio), I’ve found that the result is quite bland – producing gravlax that is very flat in taste and neither salty nor sweet in flavor.
How to purchase salmon for gravlax?
Salmon is the star ingredient in gravlax; therefore, it’s of the utmost importance you purchase the best quality fish! However, shopping for sashimi-grade salmon doesn’t need to be a daunting task! Follow the simple guidelines below for selecting the best salmon for curing!
- Shop at a trusted market: First thing is first, make sure you are purchasing your fish from a clean, trusted fish market or fish monger! I don’t live in a big city with a fresh fish market, so I purchase my salmon at either Whole Foods or Fresh Market.
- Sashimi- or Sushi-grade Salmon: Purchase salmon with the label sushi- or sashimi-grade. If your market does not have any such labels on their fish, let your fishmonger know you are looking for salmon specifically designated for use in raw applications.
- Farmed Salmon: When shopping for salmon to prepare gravlax, look for “farmed” salmon, preferably Atlantic salmon or Alaskan salmon. While wild salmon is undeniably delicious, it’s best reserved for cooking since it is at a high risk for parasites. Farm-fresh salmon subsist on feed pellets made from ground fish and soy, which prevents them from eating parasite-infected prey.
- Previously frozen: Since salmon can contain parasites, make sure your fish has been previously frozen which ensures any parasites are killed – this is especially important if your market does not sell “sushi-grade” salmon!
Tips for handling raw salmon:
Now that you have the shopping for salmon down pat, make sure you follow the below tips to ensure you are properly handling your salmon.
- Keep your fish cold: Handle your salmon as you would sushi! Make sure you keep your salmon cold to prevent the growth of bacteria, parasites and viruses.
- Make sure your work surface is clean: This seems like a no-brainer, but make sure your hands, kitchen tools and work surfaces are impeccably clean!
- Check for pin bones: Before you start to cure your salmon, check the filet carefully for any pin bones. Pin bones are long, fine bones that run down the center of the salmon filet. To check for pin bones, gently press your finger down the center of the flesh, if you feel a tiny, slightly sharp object – that’s a pin bone and you will need to remove it. To remove pin bones, use tweezers or needle-nose pliers to gently pull them from the filet one at a time. Note: You can ask your fishmonger to double check your salmon and remove the pin bones for you!
How to make gravlax at home?
Salt-curing salmon at home is so incredibly easy! I promise, once you do it once you are going to be wondering why you haven’t been making it your entire life! However, there is one caveat – homemade cured salmon does require patience – like, 72 hours worth of patience – but, I swear it’s worth it!
Step by step instructions
- Dry cure: Combine the dry cure ingredients together in a small bowl.
- Assemble: Lay a large piece of plastic wrap down on a clean work surface and place a double layer of cheesecloth on top (this will act like a cocoon for the salmon).
- Layer: Sprinkle a couple tablespoons of the cure on top of the cheesecloth and place the salmon, skin side down on top of the cure.
- Add alcohol and more cure: Drizzle a bit of vodka on top of the salmon and sprinkle the remaining cure on top. Use your hands to gently rub the cure into the salmon.
- Wrap it up: Fold the cheesecloth up and over the salmon, followed by the plastic wrap to form a tight package.
- Weigh it down: Place the salmon in a baking dish and top it with a light weight – anything that is flat and heavy. You can use a heavy platter, a pan weighed down with canned goods, a bag of flour – whatever’s clever! Just weigh it down and make sure you distribute the weight evenly across the salmon. The weight helps expedite the curing process by drawing out the moisture and infusing the flavors more quickly.
- Refrigerate: Transfer the baking dish to the refrigerator to cure for 48 to 72 hours, flipping the salmon over 12 to 24 hours.
- Rinse: Remove the salmon from its wrapping, rinse it off with cool water and pat dry.
- Refrigerate again: Transfer the salmon back to the refrigerator and let dry out for one hour.
- Serve: Slice the salmon thinly on a bias and serve!
Take a bow. You are now a master at the art of curing salmon. All that’s left to do is thinly slice the salmon on a bias and chow down.
How long should I cure salmon?
Let’s talk about the patience part of salt-curing salmon at home. You can cure salmon anywhere from 24 to 72 hours. The curing time is completely dependent upon the flavor and texture you are aiming for as well as the size (thickness) of the salmon you are using.
- Light Cure: 24 hours (1 full day) in the refrigerator will lightly cure the salmon, resulting in a soft texture and very mild flavor similar to salmon sashimi. If you are in a rush you can absolutely lightly cure the salmon – just make sure you use a tail piece or very thin filet of salmon. However, if you are using a thick filet, I recommend a longer cure time for the best taste and texture.
- Medium Cure: 36 to 48 hours (1 1/2 to 2 days) in the refrigerator will yield medium salt-cured salmon. With this level of cure the delicate flavors are starting to develop and the texture is medium-firm.
- Hard Cure: 72 hours (3 full days) in the refrigerator will give you hard cured salmon. I personally recommend a hard cure for salmon. The flavors are fully infused and the texture is firm, yet silky and tender.
Pro-Tip: Tail pieces or thinner filets will cure faster than thicker, center-cut sides of salmon.
How to cure salmon step by step photos:
Tips & Tricks for the best salmon gravlax:
- Use the freshest salmon possible! Always get your fish from a trusted source, whether that be your fishmonger, a specialty store, or your local grocer, just make sure you aren’t purchasing some sketchy fish. Your salmon should smell like the ocean!
- Atlantic Salmon: If you are looking for the most luscious tasting gravlax, use Atlantic salmon. The high fat content of Atlantic salmon will yield the richest, tastiest gravlax!
- Remove the pin bones! Feel your salmon and make sure there are no pin bones in your filet. You can ask your fish monger to remove them for you if you aren’t sure.
- Not a fan of vodka? No worries – you can substitute gin or aquavit.
- Ratio: This recipe is totally flexible! If you prefer a sweeter, less salty cured salmon, switch the ratios of salt and sugar. I.e. use 4 tablespoons of sugar and 3 tablespoons of salt.
- Cure time: Make sure you let your salmon cure for at least a full 24 hours. This will produce a slightly cured salmon. I personally think 3 days is perfect, as the extra time will allow the fish to become just a bit more firm and flavorful.
How to slice gravlax?
There are three crucial keys to beautifully slicing your salmon – your knife plus the angle and thickness at which you slice.
- The knife: Make sure you use a very sharp knife when slicing your gravlax! If you use a dull knife you will tear the salmon which doesn’t make an aesthetically pleasing appearance.
- The angle: When slicing, make sure you carve the salmon at a bias! If you don’t slice at a bias or angle, your slices will come out as teeny-tiny little strips versus longer, beautiful slices.
- The thickness: Slice your salmon as thin as you possibly can! Slicing your salmon thin will help stretch the amount of servings since you will yield more slices from the entire filet. Thin slices also have a more delicate, delicious texture and make for a better appearance when serving.
Takeaway: If you have a sharp knife, carve it on a bias AND slice it thin, you will yield more slices from the entire filet of salmon. Bonus – the gravlax will look better.
Tips for serving gravlax
Looking for a new and exciting ways to serve your homemade cured salmon? Below are a few unique ideas, plus some of my family’s favorite ways to enjoy this delicious gravlax!
How to serve it?
Gravlax is typically cut into thin slices and served cold, straight from the refrigerator. You can take the gravlax out of the refrigerator about an hour before you’re ready to serve it to remove the chill slightly. However, please note that you should not let fish sit longer than two hours at room temperature!
Generally, you serve gravlax as a part of a spread for either appetizers or brunch. In Scandinavia, you traditionally serve the thin slices of gravlax with various breads or an assortment of crackers, along with butter and a mustard-dill sauce.
I tend to serve this salmon as an appetizer alongside a crudité platter with plenty of fresh vegetables, creamy dips, artisan breads and specialty crackers. Or, if I’m opting to serve gravlax for brunch, I switch out the artisan bread for bagels or toast and swap out the creamy dips for flavored cream cheeses, such as chive or vegetable. (See below for ideas on what to serve with cured salmon!)
What to serve with Gravlax?
There are infinite delicious ways to use and serve salt-cured salmon! Gravlax pairs well with everything from crackers, baguettes and bagels to eggs, potatoes, pasta and more! Below are a few of my family’s favorite serving ideas for salmon gravlax!
10 ways to use gravlax
- Bagels: Smear a bagel with your favorite cream cheese and top it with plenty of gravlax, red onions and fresh dill!
- Eggs: Toss some gravlax into your favorite egg scramble or use it in an omelette!
- Potato Hash: Fry up your favorite breakfast hash and layer some gravlax on top before serving!
- Hummus: Garnish your favorite creamy hummus with thin slices of gravlax and sprinkle on plenty of everything-but-the-bagel spice!
- Dip: Swap out the store-bought smoked salmon in your favorite salmon dip with homemade gravlax for even more flavor! (Note: Don’t add any salt to the dip since gravlax is already well-salted!)
- Crostini and Canapés: Make some toast with the most! Try topping your favorite toast points with salmon, a dollop of mascarpone cheese and a generous sprinkle of dill and capers!
- Salad: Tired of boring salads? Switch things up and add some pizzaz with thin slices of gravlax!
- Sandwich: Make a sandwich fit for a salmon lover’s dream! Pile on plenty of gravlax, leafy greens, avocado, thin slices of red onion, cucumbers and fresh sprouts! And, try using a dill mayonnaise for extra flavor!
- Pasta: Love creamy pastas? Throw some gravlax into your favorite fettuccine Alfredo for a next level pasta experience!
- Pizza: Give pizza night an elegant upgrade! Bake your favorite pizza crust with a topping of whipped cream cheese and mozzarella. Top it all off with thin slices of gravlax, avocado, arugula and shallots!
Tips for storing and freezing homemade gravlax
Food safety is important when it comes to storage! Follow the simple tips below for properly storing your salmon!
How to store cured salmon?
Proper storage is crucial for homemade gravlax! Gravlax is prone to drying out, so you must treat it as a delicate, fresh product. Tightly wrap your gravlax in plastic wrap before placing it in an airtight container and storing it in the refrigerator. Keeping your gravlax well wrapped and refrigerated will prevent your salmon from drying out.
How long will it keep?
While gravlax is cured salmon, it is only lightly cured, meaning while it does extend the shelf life of the salmon, it only does so by a little! Therefore, gravlax will go bad.
Exactly how long gravlax will last depends on a few factors.
- Salmon quality: The quality of the fish you purchase will directly affect how long your gravlax will keep. Always make sure you are purchasing fresh, sushi-grade salmon! If you are unsure of the quality, just let your fishmonger (or your trusted source for fish) know that you are planning on eating the salmon raw.
- Storage: As well, the shelf life for gravlax depends on how you store and handle the gravlax. Make sure you tightly wrap the gravlax and store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
Those two factors aside, gravlax will generally keep for 3 days after it has been cured. Do not freeze your gravlax if you made it with previously frozen salmon. And, make sure you never eat gravlax that has any sort of bad odor.
Can I freeze gravlax?
Freezing is the great way to further extend the shelf-life of your homemade gravlax! However, while you can safely freeze cured salmon, please note that freezing will dry the salmon out to some extent. To freeze your gravlax, follow the simple steps below to prevent freezer burn!
- Plastic wrap: Tightly wrap any leftover salmon in two layers of plastic wrap.
- Bag it: Transfer the salmon to a freezer-safe storage bag. Gently press the bag to remove as much as possible before sealing.
- Freeze it: Store your well-wrapped gravlax in the freezer.
- Use by: Homemade gravlax will keep well in the freezer for 2 months.
Downright delicious, luxurious, and easier than pie to prepare, this Vodka Dill Cured Salmon Gravlax NEEDS to make an appearance at your next brunch, dinner party, hors d’oeuvres night, Easter, Mother’s day… whatever. JUST DO THIS!
Cheers – to sensational salmon.
How to cure salmon at home – Gravlax recipe and video👇
How To Make Gravlax - Vodka Dill Cured Salmon
- Small Glass Mixing Bowl
- Cheese Cloth
- Plastic Wrap
- Baking Dish
- 1 Pound Center Cut Salmon (sushi-grade recommended) - Skin on & Pin Bones Removed
- 2 TBS Vodka (SEE NOTES)
- 1 Lemon - Zest
- 1 Orange - Zest
- 4 TBS Fresh Cracked Pink Himalayan Sea Salt (SEE NOTES)
- 3 TBS Granulated Sugar
- ½ tsp Fresh Cracked Pepper
- ½ Cup Fresh Dill chopped
- Combine all the DRY CURE ingredients in a small, non-reactive bowl.
- Place a piece of plastic wrap (large enough to wrap around the entire fish) on a clean work surface. Place a double layer of cheesecloth, twice the size of the salmon, on top of the plastic wrap.Sprinkle a heaping 2 tablespoons of the dry cure OVER the cheesecloth.
- Place the salmon, skin side down, on top of the dry cure. Drizzle the vodka over the fish. EVENLY, and liberally, coat the salmon with the remaining dry cure, using your hands to RUB it into the fish.
- Wrap the cheesecloth around the salmon, followed by the plastic wrap, to completely seal the fish forming a tight package.Place the wrapped salmon on a wire rack set on a heavy sheet pan (or in a baking dish). Top the salmon with a weight* evenly distributed across the salmon to expedite curing process.
- Refrigerate for a minimum of 24 hours, up to 3 days*, TURNING OVER ONCE A DAY. (If only lightly curing for 24 hours, flip the fish over at the 12 hour mark)
- Remove salmon from wrapping and rise off with cool water to remove the dry cure. Pat dry. Place the salmon back on the wire rack and place in the refrigerator (uncovered) for about an hour to air dry.
- Thinly slice the salmon on a bias and serve!
- Salmon Selection: You want to make sure you use the freshest salmon possible! Always get your fish from trusted source, whether that be your fishmonger, a specialty store, or your local grocer, just make sure you aren’t purchasing some sketchy fish. Your salmon should smell like the ocean!
- Remove Pin Bones! Also, make sure there are no pin bones in the salmon filet. You can ask your fishmonger to remove them for you if you aren’t sure.
- Vodka Substitute: If vodka isn’t your thing, you can substitute gin or aquavit.
- Salt: Make sure you are using coarsely ground salt! If you don’t have Himalayan pink sea salt, just substitute regular coarse sea salt. If you are using finely ground salt, reduce the amount of salt by 2-3 teaspoons.
- Ratio of Sugar and Salt: If you want a sweeter, less salty cured salmon, switch the ratios of salt and sugar. (i.e. use 4 tablespoons of sugar and 3 tablespoons of salt)
- Cure Time: Make sure you let your salmon cure for AT LEAST 24 hours. This will produce a slightly cured salmon. I personally think 3 days is perfect, as the extra time will allow the fish to become just a bit more firm and flavorful.
- Slicing Gravlax Salmon: When carving your gravlax use a SHARP knife, carve at a BIAS and slice it THIN. If you use a dull knife you will tear the salmon. If you don’t carve at a bias, your salmon slices will come out as teeny-tiny little strips. Breakdown - If you have a sharp knife, carve it on a bias AND slice it thin, you will yield more slices from the entire filet of salmon. Bonus – the gravlax will look better.
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