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Gravlax with Mustard-Dill Sauce

Salmon cured with spices and vodka or aquavit, a Scandinavian caraway-flavored spirit, makes an elegant brunch dish. Serve with thin slices of toasted rye bread or good-quality crackers.

Ingredients:

For the gravlax: 

  • 2 same-sized salmon fillets, each 1 1/2 lb., with skin 
  • 6 lemons 
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar  
  • 1/2 cup coarse salt  
  • 3 Tbs. cracked peppercorns 
  • 3 Tbs. coriander seeds, lightly crushed 
  • 3 Tbs. vodka or aquavit 
  •   

For the mustard-dill sauce: 

  • 1/3 cup Dijon mustard 
  • 3 Tbs. firmly packed light brown sugar 
  • 2 Tbs. cider vinegar 
  • 1/3 cup sunflower oil 
  • 3 Tbs. finely chopped fresh dill 

  • Lemon slices for garnish

Directions:

To make the gravlax, trim any fat from the salmon. Run your fingers gently over the fish to check for small bones, and remove any with sturdy tweezers or small needle-nosed pliers. Finely grate the zest from the 6 lemons, then cut the lemons into thin slices and discard any seeds.

In a bowl, stir together the lemon zest, granulated sugar, salt, peppercorns and coriander seeds. Rub the vodka over the flesh side of the salmon fillets. Coat the flesh of the fillets with the peppercorn mixture.

Place 1 fillet, flesh side up, in a nonreactive dish just large enough to hold it. Cover the fillet with a layer of lemon slices, then top with the remaining fillet, flesh side down. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and top with a piece of cardboard cut slightly smaller than the dish. Weight the salmon evenly with heavy cans of food. Refrigerate for 48 hours, turning the fillets 4 to 6 times and draining away any accumulated liquid. The heavy weight and the salt will force the liquid out of the fish, leaving it firm and easy to slice.

To make the sauce, in a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, brown sugar and vinegar until smooth. Add the sunflower oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly until the sauce is emulsified. Stir in the dill. The sauce can be prepared up to 3 days ahead, covered tightly and stored in the refrigerator. Before serving, whisk the sauce well and transfer to a small serving bowl.

Uncover the salmon and scrape off the lemon slices and most of the peppercorn mixture. Using a thin, sharp knife, cut the salmon on the diagonal into very thin slices. Lift the slices from the skin and arrange on a serving platter. The salmon may be sliced up to 6 hours ahead and refrigerated, tightly covered, until serving. Garnish with lemon slices and serve with the sauce. Serves 10 to 12.

Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Breakfast and Brunch, by Georgeanne Brennan, Elinor Klivans, Jordan Mackay and Charles Pierce (Oxmoor House, 2007).