The Salt Cure

Making good food is mostly about salt.

Great chefs have an inborn intelligence for this, and in each seemingly careless sprinkle or pour is a measure of their animal instinct. Mortals like you and me have to be more careful with our seasoning. Because salt is pure taste–it’s the only thing that can make food taste more like itself–and it’s the foundation on which everything good and holy and savory is built.

Take the salt cure. Curing meat and fish is a timeless thing, born once of necessity and sustained now by the unassailable logic of pleasure. I can think of nothing I’d rather eat than a fatty, paper-thin slice of prosciutto or lox with a hunk of good bread. Better than sex? Maybe. Sometimes. It’s enough to make my day, anyway. This food is magic. Maybe it’s the raw, luxurious texture, maybe the seductive chemistry of salt and fat, that can explain my gut-deep hunger for it. Maybe explaining a hunger is beside the point.  

I can be very stupid sometimes. Not often. But something huge flew right over my head. When I learned I could make gravlox in my own fridge, I wanted to smack myself for not doing it sooner. Because this homemade stuff is sublime, the best I’ve ever had, the best you’ve ever had. And like most good things it couldn’t have been simpler: salmon, salt and sugar are the necessities. Everything else is icing. We like icing.

When the first morsel of salmon fat hit my tongue–a jagged, slippery piece harvested from near the skin–my life instantly sprouted another indispensable luxury. The list grows long and the soul grows fat. But I’m not sure I care. If I have to, I’ll atone for this pleasure with some corresponding deprivation. Or maybe not. Maybe some pleasures are guiltless.

Try to feel guilty while you eat this. Seriously, try.


It’s just too good.

Salt-Cured Salmon (Gravlox)

Unlike lox, gravlox is only cured, not smoked. I thought I preferred smoked salmon until I had this, a purer flavor, a texture more…melty.

– 1 lb skin-on boneless salmon filet
– 1 tbsp kosher salt
– 1 tbsp sugar
– Ground black pepper
– Handful dill weed

Before I get into it, a quick note on food safety: the recipes I looked at suggested that you either buy frozen salmon, or else freeze the filet after purchasing to kill any parasites. I skipped this step. I bought super-fresh, beautiful fish from Whole Foods and freezing it seemed wrong. I have this theory that being afraid of your food will make you sick. It’s a good theory, but science is science and what I’m talking about is something else. I make no suggestions, and leave it up to you.

Combine salt, sugar, and pepper in a small bowl. Lay salmon filet skin side down on a large sheet of plastic wrap. Inspect the fish for any bones, and if you find any, remove them in whatever way seems best (needle nose pliers will do the job). Spread the salt mixture over the flesh of the fish in an even layer. Top with a generous handful of dill weed.

Wrap the filet tightly in plastic wrap. Use a another sheet if necessary. Place bundle into a dish to catch liquid runoff and refrigerate, turning occasionally, for 48 hours. Brush off excess salt and dry with a paper towel. Slice very thinly on a bias and serve over good bread, with chives or capers or thinly sliced onions. The luxurious bits by the skin are the spoils of the cook.

10 thoughts on “The Salt Cure

  1. Pam in GA says:

    I have been so afraid to try this because every recipe I have seen required a huge piece of salmon. Now I plan to run to Whole Foods and get me some salmon and dill and make gravlox! Yours looks too delicious!

  2. sippitysup says:

    This is just plain good writing. It’s good information thoughtfully presented. I am a huge proponent of properly seasoned food. Properly seasoned food. Of course seasoned does not always mean salt sometimes it means acid. I always look at it this way acid is the structure behind flavor and salt is the paint that highlights the good structure. GREG

  3. Angela Mears says:

    Ed, I wish, dearly, that I could cure ham… Serrano ham is my favorite… but I believe you need a cool, dark, humidity-controlled place for that, so until I get my house in Napa with the big wine cellar, I think it’ll have to wait.

    So glad you tried the salmon! I made it again for my graduation brunch, and it was a hit.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s