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Jul 16, 2009 10:59 AM

Old-school Gravlax?

Hello all,

So my roommate and I are thinking about throwing a viking-themed party, and are intrigued by what we've read about historical gravlax preparation - that the name comes, literally, from the practice of burying the fish at the high tide mark on a beach to let it cure, then retrieving it after 48 hours.

However, not surprisingly, all the recipes we can find cure in the fridge instead. Has anyone tried the burying approach, and, if so (or even, if not, if you really want) do they have any insight on how best (or at all) to do this?


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  1. i make gravlax fairly often, make sure you have something heavy to sit on top of the fish. I also add a little vodka for good measure.

    1 Reply
    1. re: baldwinwood

      Dont'cha think the sand on top would be heavy enough? adam

    2. I assume that old school method would actually work well, but I wouldn't know! I would google it and then talk to anyone who has made it traditionally, (do you know any swedes or danes? Or chefs?) and come up with an amalgam of all of the information you gather and go from there. Do let us know how you proceed!

      1. I think doing an unrefrigerated brine of fish in the summer is at the very least unwise.

        I have not seen a recipe where the complete curing is done outside of refrigeration. They usually have you rub the curing agent on (usually salt, sugar and some sort of herb and pepper) that you wrap and set out for a few hours at room (during cool months) temperature. Then you pop it in the fridge for 24 hours or so.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Sal Vanilla

          In this case, I think that being underground is supposed to be a pivotal part of the equation, as it would be quite a lot cooler than normal ambient temperatures. That's my understanding, anyway.

          1. re: trombasteve

            Exactly. Being underground in wet sand would be well insulated. Like a clambake, only in reverse.

            1. re: trombasteve

              That's underground, as, in the permafrost!

          2. OK I called my Norwegian neighbor. She said that Gravlax was cured in the earth because the temperature was low and even like a fridge. She said that even where we live (which is quite cool right now - 68), she might be hesitant to bury fish. She thought you might find the coolest spot in your yard, under a tree and dig a deep hole and stick a remote thermometer (like you use in an oven for meat). Stick the probe in the hole and leave the reader above ground. If it is at safe refrigerator temp., you are good to go. She said to make sure you have it well wrapped like in a plastic tub or bag. But chuckled at the inauthentic nature of that.

            5 Replies
            1. re: Sal Vanilla

              I don't blame her! Anyway, I still think the beach is an okay idea. I wouldn't do it here, So Cal, but OP is in Canada (I believe). Good idea to test with the remote thermometer. A lot of trouble to cure some salmon! I would do mine in my 2nd fridge.

              1. re: Sal Vanilla

                I believe that Jeffrey Steingarten tried this burying method - the OP might be able to find the recipe/article by googling. I'm pretty sure it was in Vogue a couple of years ago.

                1. re: MMRuth

                  Wow! Thanks, all, for the informative responses. I am, indeed, in Canada, and I don't anticipate doing this until late August/early September, when the cooler nights may help this process. I'll look for that article - thanks a lot!

                  1. re: trombasteve

                    Depends. How far north in Ontario are you. I lived on the west coast of Norway for 5 years and never heard of anyone doing it the "Viking stove method", but salmon is expensive and today's Norwegians are parsimonious. do, however make traditional Viking mead.

                    1. re: Passadumkeg

                      Actually, as it happens, we've already had a batch of mead fermenting and maturing for quite a while, and the mead was the genesis for the idea of the party. Having had the chance to visit Norway briefly, and seeing what food costs there, I can hardly blame Norwegians for being parsimonious!

                      Anyway, we're in Toronto, which isn't exactly cold-central, but I'll see what I can do with that thermometer approach. If we do end up trying the burying approach, we'll do a test run with a smaller test subject well before the party itself.

              2. i do it in the fridge. a 10 lb bag of rice makes a dandy weight-- weights the whole fish more evenly. i learned that trick from Jfood.