Saturday, June 11, 2016

Nordic Cured Salmon with Mustard Sauce


When I share my experiences from this past year as an Internal Medicine intern, I'm often asked how I endure such long hours and cope with death and tragedy. The simple answer is that I love what I do, so the long hours don't phase me. No, I'm definitely not phased by missing my 5 year college reunion, most holidays and weddings, family vacations to Miami, Israel, the Galapagos, and the Philippines. Nope, not phased at all. 

As for the tragedies I've witnessed as a doctor, the answer is a bit heavy for a food blog. I jokingly tell people I've become desensitized. I think I'm joking at least until I look down at my workstation at 6 in the morning to see my bagel with lox that I grabbed from the Grady cafeteria. Yes, I said the Grady cafeteria. As a New York Jew, I'm a bagel and lox snoboisseur. I would never eat lox, or bagels for that matter, from a hospital cafeteria....unless I was desensitized.



While the hospital lox was a personal low point, there are many questionable dietary choices among residents. On busy call days, for example, it's common for the attending or resident to bring in snacks...some not very healthy


I've challenged that practice by bringing healthy alternatives for my co-residents, medical students, attendings, and the awesome nurses and staff at my continuity clinic. I've shared cauliflower, pomegranate, and pistachio salad served with Greek yogurt, matzo ball soup, mujaderah, and fassoulieh.  They've all been well received (and one recipe was actually mentioned in a letter of recommendation), but the dish that has gotten the most accolades is my gravlax.  So please, don't completely discredit my lox authority because of the cafeteria gaffe.  


Gravlax is a Nordic preparation of cured salmon made with sugar, salt, and lots of dill. It's traditionally served on bread with mustard sauce.  I serve mine on pumpernickel bread with salmon roe and crème fraîche. I used a recipe from Ina's Back to the Basics with a few small adjustments. 



The recipe entails taking two salmon fillets filled with the brining ingredients, and allowing them to cure in the fridge for 48 hours. The hardest part is the wait, but it's very much worth it. I love this recipe because it's more economical (and tastier) than smoked salmon from the market, which comes in expensive, small quantity packages. This recipe makes plenty to feed a family breakfast for a week or to serve on a platter for a party. It's also heart-healthy given the omega-3s, but beware if you need to follow a low sodium diet. 


Also, special thank you to Ben for saving the day when I passed out watching Top Chef before packing up the gravlax to take to work the following morning. I woke up disappointed only to find a bag in the fridge with a hand written note stating that all the ingredients were inside and ready to assemble at the hospital.  It was so thoughtful. Ben sliced the gravlax, crusted and cut the bread into little rectangles, chopped some herbs for garnish, and then packed it up into tupperware along with some crème fraîche and the jar of salmon roeCouldn't ask for a better sous chef. 

Tips/Tricks to make the perfect Nordic Cured Salmon with Mustard Sauce:
  • Fresh ingredients are essential. It's a simple recipe, so the quality of ingredients matter.
  • Unlike salmon tartare that required sashimi grade fish, the curing process of gravlax makes those extra precautions unnecessary
  • Have some heavy cans available to weigh down the salmon
  • Slicing the salmon is challenging at first, but there's plenty of fish to practice with. The less attractive pieces are still edible.
  • You can prepare the gravlax slices, mustard sauce, sliced pumpernickel in advanced, but only assemble the sandwich when ready to serve to prevent sogginess. 

Gravlax Ingredients:
  • 3 pound salmon (with skin), cut in half crosswise 
  • 1 bunch of dill
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons crushed peppercorns (white and/or red)
  • 1 tablespoon crushed fennel seeds
  • 1/4 cup vodka
  • Mustard sauce for serving (recipe below)
  • Sliced pumpernickel bread for serving
  • Salmon roe for serving (optional)
  • Sour cream or crème fraîche for serving (optional)  


Mustard Sauce Ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon ground dry mustard
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill

Nordic Cured Salmon With Mustard Sauce Recipe:
For the Gravlax:
Place one of the salmon halves in a deep dish skin side down. Pile salmon with the dill, followed by sugar, salt, peppercorns, fennel seeds, and vodka. Place the other salmon half on top, flesh side down (skin should be facing the ceiling).

Wrap "salmwich" in plastic, weigh down with heavy cans and refrigerate for 48 hours, flipping every 12. Slice and enjoy. 

For the Mustard Sauce:
Mix the dijon mustard, ground mustard, sugar, and vinegar together in a small bowl. Whisk together as you slowly add the olive oil. Stir in the dill. Keep refrigerated until ready to use. 

How to Assemble the Gravlax "Salmwich":
Take slices of pumpernickel bread and lightly coat with mustard sauce (too much sauce will overpower the salmon). Add the desired amount of salmon to each slice and then add a small spoonful of salmon roe and sour cream.


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