Trout 'Gravadlax' with Dill and Mustard Sauce
Updated: Dec 15, 2021
"Man cyklar för lite,
man röker för mycket,
och man är fasen så liberal
när det det gäller maten och spriten.
Jag borde slutat för länge sen,
men denna sup är för liten.
Vad tjänar att hyckla,
tids nog får man cykla!"
Povel Ramel (1922-2007)
Quite why I was so determined to develop this recipe is unclear... but what is clear is that I was, as I went through many iterations to find a formula that I felt really worked, and a few friends and neighbours must be thanked for a number of taste-tests through the adventure of its development. It was a great adventure and I think the result is a good one. I shall return to the 'adventure' itself in a moment.
Certainly a big part of the reason for my enthusiasm was my growing friendship with Charlie of Charlie's Trout who was bringing his outstanding Wiltshire Avon trout, both natural and smoked, to my newest local farmers' market. He was as keen to promote his produce through recipes as I was to create them. Initially I turned to some classics as well as some twists on what might traditionally be treatments for salmon: see, for example, "Courgetti with Pistachio Pesto and Smoked Trout", "Pan-fried Trout Fillet with Sorrel Sauce" and "Smoked Trout Roulades". But I also fancied a bit of experimentation, and still do!
Initial guidance in the creation of this recipe came from one of my favourite Chefs of all time, Simon Hopkinson, in the form of a recipe from his aptly-titled book, "The Good Cook" (now, there's understatement!). From there it was simply a matter of trying out different balances of the aromatics, salt, sugar and pepper. Although this process started back in the summer and has taken some time, it's fitting that we find ourselves with something to consider in a festive season when celebratory platters are very much on the menu.
Coming back to the 'adventure', two things that came to be crystallised in my mind along the way came courtesy of, and with grateful thanks to, my charming Swedish neighbour, Carl. The first is the clarity he afforded to me about the meanings of two Swedish culinary terms. A smörgåsbord is a selection of plates served, often for a celebratory event, where guests are welcomed to choose dishes of their liking to create the meal that appeals to them most for the occasion - think Greek mezze or Spanish tapas, perhaps. By contrast, a smørrebrød, is what might commonly be translated as a Scandinavian "open sandwich". I suspect one could compare these with an Italian bruschetta or even Indian papads with pickles and chutneys - bread is topped with a selection of ingredients to create a sparkling and enticing mouthful. So, with that clarity to hand, I am settled to suggest that, whereas I might have once thought this a smörgåsbord, in fact what we have here (depicted) is a platter that offers a diner their ultimate smørrebrød.
The second revelation can only be put this way: Akvavit is pretty damn strong! While I was working on this recipe, Carl was on his way back from Sweden and kindly brought back with him a couple of bottles of Akvavit (for one of the final samplings), which is a welcome accompaniment to a bit of cured fish if you're going to go about things right in the eyes and hearts of the Swedes. What began as a taste-test in my flat mid-afternoon ended in a late-night party in a neighbouring street and a certain amount of recovery the next day.
Lessons learnt, this makes for a stunning plate for a Christmas Eve or Boxing Day spread, or indeed any other festive occasion, but I wonder whether I should warn that, if you think it's going to be plain sailing to pit yourself against a 6'6" Viking and the bottle he brought round, that sailing may encounter stormy waters!
About the hardest thing to do in this recipe is the grinding of the required quantity of pepper - it takes time! And, while on the subject of the pepper, my research into the cure formula led me to find that, on balance, white is preferable, in a traditional sense, to black. Personally I have quite a penchant for white pepper, but the brand I use is particularly fragrant and seems not to be to the tastes of some. I have therefore settled on a blend of white and black pepper in the cure which seems to achieve something of a broad appeal. I don't know whether I should say this but I will: during the experimentation process I bought a supermarket 'premium' gravadlax to compare with what I had created and the supermarket stuff saw more of the liner of my bin than it did that of my stomach.
Gravadlax is typically served with a dill and mustard sauce and rye bread. But why not include a selection of condiments such as onion yoghurt, pickled cucumbers, capers, sliced red onion, sliced cucumber, sliced radishes and lemon wedges. And Akvavit... but go easy!
Trout 'Gravadlax' with Dill and Mustard Sauce
Ingredients (serves 4-6)
500g trout fillet (ideally from the tail end), skinned
160g dill, including all but the thickest ends of the stalks
70g fine sea salt
50ml gin (vodka or, especially Akvavit, can be used as an alternative)
10g freshly ground black pepper
6g freshly ground white pepper
Picked dill leaves to scatter over when serving
For the Dill and Mustard Sauce:
3 tbsp Dijon mustard
A squeeze of lemon juice, to taste
2 tsp caster sugar
2-3 tbsp sunflower, vegetable or groundnut oil
1 tbsp freshly chopped dill leaves
Salt and freshly ground white (or black) pepper
Pack the dill into a blender with the sugar, salt, gin (or alternative) and the two ground peppers. Whizz to a bright green 'slurry' to create the cure.
In a plastic container (with a tight-fitting lid) spoon a layer of the cure over the base. Place the trout fillet in the container then pour the remaining cure over the top making sure the fillet is covered. Put the lid on the container and place in the fridge for 48-72 hours, turning and recoating every 12 or so hours.
After the curing time, take the container out of the fridge and half-fill a large bowl with cold water. Line a large plate with kitchen paper. Lift the trout from the cure and rinse gently in the water to remove most, but not necessarily all, of the cure. Place on the paper-lined plate and pat dry with more kitchen paper. Wrap in cling film and store in the fridge until needed.
To make the Dill and Mustard Sauce, whisk together the mustard, lemon juice and sugar, then gradually incorporate the oil, whisking continuously until the sauce becomes of a dipping consistency. Stir in the chopped dill leaves, season to taste then cover and keep in the fridge.
When ready to serve take the cured trout and the sauce out of the fridge and slice the trout thinly at an acute angle. Lay out the slices on a presentation plate and scatter over some picked dill leaves. Allow to come to room temperature then serve with the Dill and Mustard Sauce, rye bread and any or all of the additional condiments listed in the recipe intro.
"The Good Cook", Simon Hopkinson (2011), pp. 101: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Good-Cook-Simon-Hopkinson/dp/1849902283