Salmon: the king of fish

To make gravlax, that dill-drenched Swedish appetizer, the main requirement is very fresh salmon – and a couple of bricks.

By , Correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Salmon is called the king of fish. With its steely, silver skin, as shiny as King Arthur's armor, it even looks the part. But it's the dinner table, not the Round Table, where it really makes a splash. Baked, stuffed, poached, broiled, grilled, fried, smoked – salmon can take the heat. It can take the cold as well in the form of mousse and gravlax, a traditional way of curing salmon in Sweden.

Literally, grav means grave, and lax is salmon. The Vikings wrapped salmon in seaweed and buried it for days in the cold beach sands of Scandinavia. You can get the same results in your refrigerator without getting sand in your sandals.

Although some salmon spend their lives in landlocked freshwater lakes, most are anadromous, migrating from saltwater oceans to freshwater streams to spawn. Unlike many oily fish, such as mackerel and bluefish, salmon is surprisingly mild, which may account for its popularity.

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One thing to consider when buying salmon: wild versus farm-raised. Briefly, farm-raised salmon contains more omega-3 fatty acids. That's a good thing. However, wild-caught salmon have fewer contaminants such as PCBs.

No Swedish smorgasbord would be complete without gravlax. The salmon must be impeccably fresh; never frozen. And don't skimp on the dill, that's what gives gravlax its distinct flavor. But be warned – although it's easy to prepare, it takes several days to cure.

GRAVLAX

2 pounds center-cut fresh salmon fillets, skin on, scaled, and halved
Scant 1/4 cup sugar
Scant 1/4 cup kosher or sea salt
1 tablespoon freshly ground pepper
1 large bunch fresh dill, one sprig reserved for garnish
Crisp bread, pumpernickel or rye thin-sliced party bread
Lemon wedges
Put one half of the salmon, skin side down, on a large sheet of plastic wrap; place it in a baking dish. Combine sugar, salt, and pepper. Sprinkle mixture on flesh side of both pieces of salmon. Place dill on salmon half in baking dish. Make a “sandwich” by putting the second piece on top of salmon in baking dish, skin side up. Tightly wrap plastic sheet around salmon. Refrigerate and top with heavy weight – a brick or two works well. Keep refrigerated for 3 to 4 days, turning every 12 hours or so.
MUSTARD SAUCE
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Combine mustards, sugar, and vinegar in a small bowl, slowly drizzle in oil while whisking until mixture is emulsified.
To serve gravlax, wipe dill and seasonings from salmon and pat dry. Slice salmon thinly, on the bias. Place slices on bread, top with a bit of mustard and small sprig of dill. Serve with lemon wedges.
Makes approximately 20 pieces.

SALMON POACHED IN COURT BOUILLON WITH CAPER MAYONNAISE SAUCE

Serves 4

Salmon is the most commonly poached fish. It holds its shape under the gentle simmering, and its pink color makes a wonderful presentation. Court bouillon is an acidic blend of wine or vinegar, simmered in water with an assortment of flavorful vegetables, herbs, and spices.
This entree goes well with baked potatoes or rice pilaf, and salad or steamed snow peas. It may be served hot or cooled to room temperature.
FOR THE COURT BOUILLON:

1-1/2 quarts water
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
2 sprigs parsley
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
6 whole peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan, bring to boil, reduce heat. Simmer until vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Strain and reserve to cool.
TO POACH THE SALMON

2 1-pound salmon steaks, 1-inch thick

Place salmon in a saucepan large enough to hold them comfortably.
Pour court bouillon over fish. Heat salmon to a simmer; do not allow to boil. Simmer steaks for about 10 minutes. To check for doneness, lift salmon with a wide spatula and poke with your finger. If the fish is firm with a little spring to it, it’s done.
Remove skin and bones. Divide each steak in half.
Serve with caper mayonnaise.
FOR THE MAYONNAISE:

1 large egg
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup vegetable or canola oil
1/4 cup capers, drained
Water

Combine egg, mustard, salt, pepper, and lemon juice in a food processor. Process for 10 seconds, or until smooth. With processor running, slowly drizzle in oil until mayonnaise is creamy. Add capers and process about 10 seconds, until blended. To thin the mayonnaise, add 2 to 3 tablespoons water. It should be thinner than store-bought mayonnaise. Taste, correct seasonings.

Makes about 1-1/2 cups.

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