Last week, I came into possession of half of a gorgeous McFarland Springs trout. These fish are farmed, but unlike 99.9% of farmed trout in the US, they eat a completely vegetarian diet—a mixture of nut shells, corn, flax, and algae. The red algae turns their flesh a rosy color, making the raw fish look a bit like salmon. Kenny Belov, the chef and TwoXSea entrepreneur who introduced me to these fish, had been up at McFarland Springs the night before. He described wading into the spring to pull out the trout, and then dunking them into a bucket of icy water to “chill kill” them. Hours later, the fish arrived at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, which brings me back to my newly acquired fish fillet, and my overpowering urge to make gravlax.
Traditionally, gravlax are made with salmon. “Grav” stems from the Scandinavian word “grave,” so gravlax roughly means “buried salmon.” Without ever cooking the meat, you cure the flesh by leaving it in a salt-sugar mixture in the fridge for two days; the salt draws water outside of the bacterial cells. You can use other fatty fish, such as trout, and it’s easy to tailor your version to your specific tastes.
There are hundreds of gravlax recipes out there, all offering slightly different proportions of sugar to salt and different flavor profiles. If you’re feeling trepidatious about the process, I recommend reading Mark Bittman’s piece from the late ’90s called “Gravlax without fear: A stunning dish that just looks hard.”
I based my version off of this Gourmet recipe, with my own trout-oriented twists.
What You’ll Need
- Just over a pound of super fresh trout, skin on, filleted and pin-boned
- Freshly ground pepper
- 2 cups kosher salt
- 1.5 cups sugar
- 1 bunch dill, finely chopped
- the zest of two limes
- 2 tablespoons tequila
What to Do
- In a mixing bowl, combine salt, sugar, lime zest, and dill.
- Lay a piece of saran wrap on a large pan, preferably one with sides. (The pan should also be longer than the fish fillet.)
- Dump half of the salt/sugar mixture onto the saran wrap, creating a bed for the fish.
- Rinse the fish and lay on the salt/sugar bed, skin-side down. Cover the top with some freshly ground pepper.
- Spread the rest of the salt/sugar rub onto the top of the fish, covering every inch of it.
- Douse with the tequila.
- Cover with two more sheets of saran wrap that overlap by half. Seal the sides of the fish packet.
- Place a smaller pan or dish on top of the fish packet. On that, set some heavy items like cans, bags of beans, or a morter and pestle. This weight will help press the salt into the fish and draw out the juices.
- Place in the fridge. After 12 hours, remove the weight and flip the fish. Do this again every 12 hours. You should refrigerate the fish from 36-48 hours*.
- After the flesh feels sort of firm, unwrap the packet and rinse off the fish. Lay on a plate and shave off layers, combining them on a cracker with creamy cheese, sour cream, or creme fraiche and a sprinkle of chives or parsley. Also delicious on a bagel with cream cheese.
*Kenny told me that trout cures faster than salmon; since it was my first experiment I wanted to play it safe, and I let it cure for 48. The fish turned out a little salty, so I soaked my cured trout in some lukewarm water for 10 minutes and that softened the flavor. All in all, it turned out great but I think I could get away with less salt and less cure-time next round.