Not too long ago I watched an episode of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown that was filmed in Copenhagen and I found myself glued to the seat fascinated by what I was watching on the screen. My mother’s side of the family is Danish — and I don’t mean mostly Danish with a little bit of “other” thrown in. I mean, “one hundred percent my ancestors wore breastplates and rode in boats to raid your shores” Danish.

Copenhagen, and Denmark in general, have always been on my bucket list of places to visit, mainly because I want to know more about where my family is from. It never occurred to me to go because of the food. But, as I sat there watching this show, it was a revelation. Because, more often than not, when I think of Scandinavian food I am transported back to the nights my grandmother would make red cabbage. (The smell when we entered the house was horrendous. But, Gam and Mom loved it.) Other times it makes me think of the herring in cream sauce we sell here at the store. Apparently, it’s delicious. I…just…can’t…even. I’ll sell it but I don’t have to eat it.

What I was seeing on the tv screen, however, was something completely different. And, it made me hungry. To be fair, Smørrebrød is not new and, in fact, it makes a perfect lunch. But, watching the chef create classic Scandinavian dishes in a way that made the old ways new again was energizing. His emphasis on ingredients that could be grown and used sustainably was icing on the cake. Now, he did use moss that he gathered off the trees in his backyard.(Foraging is big in Denmark.) Not sure I’m ready to go there yet. But, it did get me fired up about my garden again.

If you look really closely, on the menus of the nicer restaurants around us you will notice more and more chefs creating dishes with Scandinavian influences. (Akvavit comes to mind.) I started noticing it before my virtual trip to Copenhagen and even more so since. If those sixty minutes have done anything they have made me seek those places and recipes out.

In the meantime, as I thumb through some recent cookbook purchases, I am content to make myself a little bit of Smørrebrød for snacking. And, if it includes a little homemade Gravlax, so much the better….

Adapted from The Spruce
Gravlax is salmon that has been cold-cured with sugar, salt, and fresh dill. Modern gravlax has a fresh, delicate flavor and is delicious served either as an elegant appetizer or as a topping for smørrebrød (open-faced sandwiches).

1 3 1/2- to 4-pound sushi-grade salmon fillet (either with or without the skin)
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup salt
1 teaspoon dill seeds
1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
2 bunches of fresh dill (be generous with the dill. It what gives gravlax its flavor)

Prepare the fillet
If you are unable to purchase sushi-grade salmon, you will need to kill any microorganisms on the raw fish. You can purchase commercially-frozen salmon, or freeze your fresh gravlax for at least 7 days*. Then you can begin to cold-cure your salmon.

Rinse the fish and pat dry. Remove any pin bones with tweezers or needle-nosed pliers.

Cut the fillet in half.

Combine the sugar and salt, and cover each side of both fillets with the mixture.

Wash and roughly chop the two bunches of dill, including the stems. Sprinkle the flesh side of each fillet half with the dill seeds and ground pepper.

Next, place one fillet half, flesh side up, in a dish just large enough to hold it. Place the chopped dill on top of this fillet, then cover with the second half, flesh side down. You are basically making a big raw fish-and-dill sandwich.

Place a small pan or plate inside the edges of the dish, on top of the plastic wrap-covered salmon. Weight the plate lightly with some canned items.

Cure the salmon
Refrigerate the weighted gravlax for at least 2 days, and up to a week.

Every 12 hours, turn the fish “sandwich” over in the brining liquid that has accumulated in the bottom of the pan to make certain both parts are evenly marinated. Re-cover with the plastic wrap and the weighted pan and return to the refrigerator.

Remove the gravlax from the refrigerator. Scrape off most of the dill and seasonings; pat dry with paper towels.

*If you are not using either sushi-grade fish or commercially frozen fish, this is the point where you will need to wrap the gravlax well in plastic and place it in a -10º F freezer for 7 days. Allow the fish to thaw before slicing.

Slice the gravlax
Using a sharp knife, cut the cured gravlax into paper-thin slices. If your fillet has the skin on, pull each slice away from the skin.

To serve
Layer the gravlax slices on crispbread or deli rye bread. Traditionally it is accompanied by sweet dill mustard sauce. Gravlax also pairs well with capers and finely chopped onions on an open-faced sandwich.

Gravlax can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week and in the freezer for up to a month.

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