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Gravlax and Limpa in a Fisherman’s Creel

For centuries the Swedish have preserved salmon using large quantities of fresh dill and heavy pine planks to compress the fish while it is curing. The result is called gravlax. A really good gravlax is similar to smoked salmon in texture and color, but the taste is much fresher and the texture is firmer. It is virtually impossible to buy top-quality gravlax in the U.S. Wild salmon is very expensive, but it has the firm, dense consistency essential to success with this recipe. You will also need a lot of fresh dill; long-branched bunches are usually available at upscale gourmet supermarkets. This recipe makes two large fillets, enough to justify keeping one for yourself, if you like; the gift, when packaged as described below, includes one fillet. Swedish limpa is a fine-textured light rye bread that is traditionally flavored with orange zest. But I think lemon makes the limpa pair better with the gravlax. See below for video demonstration.

overall prep time: 48 to 72 hours
active prep time
: 2 hours
moderately easy
expensive
do not freeze or ship
can be doubled or tripled
shelf life
: 2 weeks refrigerated and tightly wrapped for gravlax; 4 days for bread (but it’s best within 48 hours)
makes
: about 5 pounds gravlax and 2 generous loaves limpa bread

Recipe: Gravlax and Limpa in a Fisherman’s Creel

Ingredients

For the gravlax:

  • 30 full branches (8 to 10 inches long) fresh dill, about 1 large bunch
  • 2 center-cut skin-on wild salmon fillets, about 2½ pounds each
  • ¾ cup granulated sugar
  • 5 tablespoons turbinado sugar
  • 1 cup coarse sea salt
  • 3 tablespoons dried dill leaves

For the limpa bread:

  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ⅓ cup water
  • 1 package active dry yeast
  • ⅓ cup dark brown sugar
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 1 medium lemon
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • ¼ cup (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 cups rye flour, plus 2 tablespoons for the baking sheet
  • 2 cups unbleached allpurpose flour, plus up to ¼ cup for kneading the dough
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 egg white beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • ¼ cup fennel, rye, or anise seeds

Instructions

  1. To make the gravlax, wash the dill branches and tie them in two or three bundles by the woody stems. Hang the bundles upside down to dry outside or over a sink.
  2. Lay the salmon fillets, skin side down, on a large sheet of wax paper. Slowly run your index finger against the grain of each fillet, checking for any small bones, which, if found, should be removed with a small pair of kitchen pliers.
  3. Stir together the granulated and turbinado sugars, the salt, and the dried dill in a mixing bowl. Sprinkle a handful of this mixture evenly over the skinless side of each fillet. Vigorously rub the seasonings into the salmon. Keep adding the seasoning mixture a handful at a time and rubbing it into the fillets until they are thickly coated with seasonings. Depending on the size and texture of your salmon fillets, you may not require all the seasoning salt; any leftover seasonings can be rubbed into the skin of each fillet. Loosely cover the fillets and set them aside while preparing the fresh dill.
  4. Untie the bundles of fresh dill, and cut off and discard the woody stems at the base of each stalk; keep only the tender green stalks full of leaves. Line the bottom of a 9 x 12-inch glass or ceramic casserole dish with half of these leafy stalks. Lay one fillet, skin side down, on the dill. Cover the fillet with a thick, even layer of dill, using almost all of the remaining stalks; reserve 2 or 3 small sprigs for garnish. Lay the second fillet, skin side up, over the dill, with the thickest portion of the second fillet on top of the thinnest part of the first fillet, so that the two fillets contour to one another and form a more level layer to hold the weights. Place a similar-sized dish on top of the two salmon fillets and fill it with heavy cans or other heavy items to weight the salmon and press it into the dill. Cover the entire assemblage of pans, salmon, and weights in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 24 to 36 hours.
  5. Unwrap the dishes and remove the weighted dish. Turn the fillets over in the dill-lined dish and replace the weights. Rewrap and refrigerate the gravlax and weights for an additional 24 to 36 hours.
  6. Remove the salmon fillets from the baking dish and discard all the dill. Scrape off and discard the seasoning mixture from the fillets and wipe them clean with damp paper towels. Lay the reserved fresh sprigs of dill and thin slices of lemon at the center of each fillet and wrap the fillets very tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate the wrapped fillets until you are ready to assemble and deliver the gift.
  7. To make the limpa bread, combine the buttermilk and water in a small saucepan and gently warm the mixture over low heat until it registers 100 to 105 F on an instant-read thermometer. Pour the warm liquid into a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer. Sprinkle the yeast over the liquid and whisk until the yeast is dissolved. Add the brown sugar, lemon zest and juice, salt, and melted butter to the yeast mixture and continue to whisk until the sugar is dissolved.
  8. Add the 2 cups of rye flour to the yeast mixture and beat by hand with a wooden spoon or with the paddle attachment of the stand mixer at medium speed until you have a smooth, sticky batter. Reduce the mixer speed to low, and add the 2 cups of all-purpose flour, 1 cup at a time, beating well after each addition. Stop beating the dough once it is dry enough to pull away cleanly from the sides of the bowl.
  9. Lightly flour a work surface using a small amount of the additional flour. Turn the dough out onto the floured work surface and knead it for about 8 minutes, using more of the additional flour as needed (up to 1/4 cup) for your hands and the work surface if they become sticky. Continue to knead the dough until it is smooth and resilient, springing back to the touch. Heavily coat a large bowl with the softened butter, place the dough in the bowl, and swirl the dough several times so the entire surface of the dough is coated with butter. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and set it aside in a warm, draft-free area to rise for 2 hours, or until the dough has doubled in volume.
  10. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and divide it in half. Use a heavy rolling pin to flatten each dough portion into a thick oval and cover the ovals with a tea towel to rest for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle it with the remaining 2 tablespoons rye flour.
  11. Roll each dough oval out until it is about 1 inch thick. Fold the long sides to the center of the oval and then join the folded edges by pinching them together, forming slender baguette-shaped loaves. Transfer the loaves to the prepared pan, cover them with a tea towel, and set the pan aside in a warm, draft-free area for 45 minutes.
  12. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Make several diagonal slashes across each loaf with a very sharp paring knife. Brush the loaves with the egg white mixture and sprinkle the loaves with the seeds. Bake the breads on the center rack of the oven for 50 minutes, or until they are a deep brown and echo like ripe melons when thumped with your fingers. Cool the breads on a rack and then loosely wrap them until you are ready to assemble the gift.

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