Gravlax salmon with dill-mustard dressing and homemade pickles

It’s Labor Day in Australia this Monday, Columbus Day in America the next. Whatever the reason for your upcoming day off, we can all agree that three-day weekends should include at least one leisurely brunch, preferably with a group of good friends.

But may I make a suggestion? This weekend, trade the coffee queue (Australia) or brunch line (America) for a morning meal with friends at home, and serve this salmon.

It is impossibly easy to make: just pile salt, sugar, and dill on a piece of salmon, chuck it in the fridge, and let the fish cure for a day or so.

Yet the fish is so rich, so different from your weekday egg/muesli/porridge that it feels special–appropriate for a holiday weekend brunch. And instead of being shooed out of a hipster café, you and your friends can linger over the meal, chatting away, nibbling on bread and sipping your coffee (or sparkling wine) for as long as you please.

The salmon and pickles must be made at least a day in advance. But that’s what makes this perfect for hosting brunch: the cooking is done by the time your friends arrive, so you’re spending time with them–not sequestered in the kitchen, flipping pancakes.

Note: You need to buy high-quality, extremely fresh, wild salmon (not farmed) for gravlax. But since you’re serving with bread, potatoes, and pickles, and since the salmon is quite rich, you need not buy a big piece. (Mine was 6 ounces and could have easily served four.) If you want to stretch things out further, I could see serving with a plate of soft-boiled, poached, or scrambled eggs.

Gravlax salmon with dill-mustard sauce and homemade pickles (serves 4)
Gravlax adapted from Mark Bittman, sauce from Bill’s Basics, pickles inspired by Cooking Light (for which I can’t find the link)

Ingredients
Salmon
6-oz filet of salmon
1/2 cup salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 of a big bunch of dill, stems and all, chopped

Pickles
4 cucumbers
a few sprigs of dill
1-2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
a pinch each of peppercorns, mustard seeds, and dill seeds
1 cup water
3/4 cup white wine vinegar
scant 3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar

Mustard-dill dressing
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons white-wine vinegar
1/2cup (125ml) light-flavoured oil (such as canola)
2 tablespoons chopped dill

To serve
4-6 waxy potatoes
good crusty bread, preferably something dark like rye, to serve

Instructions
Salmon
:
Mix together the salt, sugar and dill. Place the salmon, skin side down, on a large sheet of plastic wrap or a plate that fits the whole piece of fish. Cover the flesh side of the salmon with the salt mixture, making sure to coat it completely. (There will be lots of salt mix; just pile it on.)

Wrap the fish well with plastic wrap. If not already on a plate, place on a plate or in a dish with sides. If the temperature is below 70 degrees, and it is not too inconvenient, let it rest outside the refrigerator for about 6 hours, then refrigerate for 18 to 24 hours more. Otherwise, refrigerate immediately for about 36 hours. The salmon will release a lot of liquid during this time–this is good! That is the salmon curing. (You can see the process in the photos, above.)

Remove the salmon from the fridge. Rinse with water and pat dry. Slice on bias with a very sharp knife and serve.

Pickles:
Cut the cucumbers into spears and place in jars. (A big bowl also works if you don’t have any jars.) Divide fresh dill, garlic, peppercorns, mustard seeds, and dills seeds evenly among jars.

Bring water to a boil. Add vinegar, salt, and sugar. Stir until the salt and sugar dissolve. Pour mixture evenly among jars. Put lids on jars and place in fridge for at least 24 hours.

Note: you must keep these pickles refrigerated–they are not shelf-stable. The upshot is that this recipe isn’t an exact science, so if you don’t have one of the spices, or you prefer a saltier or less sweet pickle, adjust accordingly.

Dressing:
Whisk together the mustard, sugar, salt, and vinegar. Slowly whisk in the oil. Mix in the dill. Be surprised at how good this tastes.

Can be made in advance. Keep in fridge and whisk before serving.

Potatoes:
Boil potatoes until you can pierce them a fork. Drain, slice or halve, and serve.

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