When Ben Krauss, a colleague of mine and a legendary purveyor of hot takes*** about food, texted me this picture of homemade cured salmon, I told him I was impressed—but I didn’t think this dish was something I could make, because, as we’ve established in this newsletter, I can’t even peel a carrot without the scene turning as bloody as a yard party in Parasite.
Turns out, I was half right in my pessimism: The first time I tried to make gravlax, I misread Ben’s texts, cut the fish before refrigerating it, and ended up making a jerky even Sasquatch wouldn’t dare try to masticate. But then, I made the dish again, this time following Ben’s instructions, and I can confirm this is one of the easiest things in the world to whip up.
***A few sample food takes from Ben: 1) You always need to ask for an extra slice of American cheese on a Big Mac, because the ratio of one slice of cheese to three buns is madness, get it together McDonalds; 2) “Pick your protein” is the culinary world’s worst phrase—restaurants used to be rewarded for thoughtfully designing dishes before the Fast Casual Industrial Complex invaded our lives; 3) The most popular fruit in America is the orange, and the most popular dessert in America is pie—so why is orange pie completely unheard of?
Ben’s gravlax recipe takes 10 minutes of active time and you don’t even have to cook anything, so you have to be *uniquely* incompetent to fuck it up. When you’re done, you’ll have a dish that looks like a $30 plate of sashimi but, in fact, costs around $2 to make. And it’s really, really good.
More on gravlax from Ben:
If you’ve never heard of gravlax, here’s what it is: Imagine if smoked salmon... wasn’t. Instead, it’s cured. That’s what Scandinavians have done forever. In fact, the root of the word is “grave” because it was originally buried underground to preserve the daily catch. Thing is, you don’t need a grim beachside Norwegian funeral pyre to make it, just some basic shit. About 10 bucks worth of salmon makes 4-5 servings of the size you see in the picture above. It’s relatively idiot-proof. And it’s amazing.
Also, don’t listen to Sammy. Use dill.
Gravlax is a good way to make avocado toast a real meal and not a deeply depressing snack. It’s also excellent on bagels and cream cheese, obviously.
The title of Sturgeon King is taken. Shout out Barney Greengrass. But the gravlax belt is as yet unclaimed. This is your chance to make it yours.
If you whip up the below recipe, send me pictures, and I’ll feature you in an upcoming edition of Cooking in Quarantine.
Here are the simple instructions for how to make Ben’s gravlax. I didn’t write this like a recipe. I wrote it like something normal, non-chef humans could understand:
Buy the biggest piece of salmon you can find.
Cut off its skin. Save it. (This is the Chekhov’s gun of the recipe.)
Rinse the skinless salmon with gin (or, in a pinch, vodka).
Cover it all over with a mixture of sugar, salt, lemon peel, and whatever spices you fuck with most—white pepper, black pepper, allspice, star anise, Sichuan peppercorn, you name it. I don’t care what you use, just use a lot of it. Traditionally, you are also supposed to cover the whole thing in chopped dill. (My opinion is that dill, like celery, has coasted into an undeserved place in the Canon of Crops.)
Put it in a sealed glass dish or your biggest thing of Tupperware; throw it in the fridge.
Check on it, like, 12 hours later. You’ll see the moisture has escaped the salmon and transformed into a sauce-type-thing that lives in the bottom of your dish. Baste the salmon with that shit. Put it back in the fridge.
Go to sleep; why have you been up this long?
When you wake up, check on it again. In all likelihood, it’s ready. (But you can also leave it for up to 48 hours, depending on your preference.)
Before cutting the salmon, make a sauce: A few tablespoons of dijon or whole-grain mustard, and then a tablespoon each of sugar, lemon juice (or, if you have it, yuzu juice), a small glug of neutral oil, and, to class it up, instant espresso powder. I also added soy sauce, because I put soy sauce in everything.
Toast your bread; cut off the crust for extra sexiness. Butter it!
Take the salmon out of the fridge, slice off a few pieces of it.
Plate it as though you’re serving it on a date. As Eric Adjepong told me, the best way to make a meal feel special at home is to do something out of the ordinary.
Make a perfect bite: Salmon, sauce, toast, perhaps a squeeze of a lemon. Eat it.
Do the dishes.
Eat this meal as many times as you want until you’ve finished all the salmon. It should last a week or two.
Pro-Tip: Somewhere between these steps, take the salmon skin you cut off, salt it, and fry it in a pan with oil. You can eat it plain. You can eat it with lemon or soy sauce. Or you could quickly boil some mirin, and sugar, and soy sauce, simmer that mixture for a couple minutes, and use that makeshift kabayaki sauce as a dip for the salmon skin. (Folks, what you just witnessed was Chekhov’s gun being fired in the third act.)
Official Allium Rankings
I tweeted out mine last night and it caused an UPROAR.
Here’s a sample of some of the *kinder* responses:
Tell me why I’m wrong @sammykoppelman.
Text Eric Bolyard for Cooking Tips on Sunday
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(This isn’t sponsored content; I just think it’s cool.)
I’M MATCHING $200 IN DONATIONS TO FEED AMERICA TODAY
I don’t think any of us who have the privilege of debating what to eat have even the slightest understanding of how many people are contemplating how to eat without paychecks. The lines at food banks are getting longer, not shorter, even as more and more people are afraid to volunteer. This has created a crisis; and every dollar really does count.
So if you can, find your local food bank at Feeding America, send me a confirmation of your donation, and I’ll send you a receipt matching it.
...at long last subscribed to the newsletter due to public shaming. Incidentally, I made his boiled chicken and chicken soup recipes this week. They were so fucking delicious. Will be writing about it soon.
Until next time...