The Simple Art Of Cooking: Swedish Fish Hit the Hamptons

The invitation read, “Join us for a Swedish Culinary Summer in the Hamptons.” Always ready to experience a different cuisine I happily attended. No doubt, one of my favorite recipes, gravlax, the classic Swedish cured salmon dish, would be served.

Through Labor Day, 18 of Sweden’s best and brightest chefs will prepare signature dishes at premier culinary and charity events in the Hamptons, such as the Hayground School’s Great Chefs Dinner and the James Beard Foundation’s Chef and Champagne. Swedish Culinary Summer will also host weekly intimate Chef’s Table experiences complete with cooking lessons for guests. That’s where I came in and it was fun. Along with several guests, and working with chef Karl Ljung, we experienced smoking fish on the grill, creating a quick gravlax—the juice of pre-prepared gravlax was ready for us to simply dip fresh slices of salmon into the liquid and voila!, gravlax. This was enjoyed with a spectacular gravlaxsas (mustard dill sauce). An array of spices, seeds, herbs and fruits were set out on a table for us to season our own half-filled mason jars of vodka. A pickling liquid was available for the next part of the class where we cut up all manner of vegetables—cucumbers, carrots, beet and even rhubarb and fennel. I must admit the pickled rhubarb, fennel and paper-thin slices of golden beet, sort of a gnarly-looking rutabaga, were new with deliciously refreshing tastes. The colorful array of pickled vegetables accompanied grilled steak, Scandinavian style. (We also seasoned our own steaks. Needless to say, mine was Tuscan style with rosemary, garlic and olive oil but olive oil doesn’t exist in Scandinavia and can’t remember whatever oil was given to me.)

The 15-week-long Scandinavian immersion of more than two dozen events will expose multiple audiences to an array of unfamiliar Swedish dining trends. According to chef Malin Soderstrom of the Moderna Museum in Stockholm. “I consider myself fortunate…I’ve had the honor of preparing a Nobel Dinner, and now I’m really looking forward to another honor, being the guest chef to do the dinner for the Summer Spectacular event for East Hampton’s Guild Hall. Life just keeps getting better and better.”

GRAVLAX SWEDISH STYLE
Please note that authentic Swedish gravlax recipes do not contain any liquor for the curing process. I have used 1/2 cup vodka or tequila  in a similar recipe as below for curing salmon. I tested and tasted both recipes with excellent results. The liquor, then, is an option.

Feeds a crowd!

1 side salmon filet, skin on, about 2 1/2 lbs. neatly trimmed
3/4 cup kosher salt
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon each dill and fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon lightly crushed white peppercorns
1 large bunch fresh dill, washed, spin-dried and roughly chopped
1 to 2 packages Westphalian style pumpernickel slices, sliced on the diagonal
Extra dill sprigs for garnish

1. Remove any bones from salmon with tweezers or tip of a small knife. Rinse and pat salmon dry with paper towels.

2. Combine salt and sugar with dill and fennel seeds and white pepper. Sprinkle 2 to 3 teaspoons of this mixture on the bottom of a Pyrex or other shallow glass baking dish, large enough to hold the fish. Place salmon, skin side down in the dish and rub the salt, sugar, spice mixture into the salmon flesh. Pour over the vodka if using. Cover with plastic wrap against the flesh and weight down with a heavy object. Refrigerate for a minimum of 2 days when it is ready to eat, or even up to 3 to 4 days. Turn the fish each day, basting with the liquid that develops.

3. When ready to serve, scrape the marinade from the fish, discard the dill and liquid and pat dry with paper towels. With a sharp, thin-bladed knife, cut salmon into paper thin slices on the bias as for smoked salmon.

4. For serving, place slices of gravlax on pumpernickel points, dot with gravlaxsas and garnish with sprigs of fresh dill.

GRAVLAXSAS
Serve slices of gravlax on pumpernickel points, dotted with gravlaxsas and garnished with sprigs of dill.

Mustard Dill Sauce
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon brown sugar
4 tablespoons grainy Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons Guldens mustard
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 cup safflower oil
4 tablespoons coarsely chopped dill

1. Put the two sugars, two mustards and the wine vinegar in a bowl and whisk to combine thoroughly. While whisking, gradually add the oil, drop by drop for a homogenous result. Can be prepared ahead and refrigerated in a suitable container. Chop the dill before serving and stir into the mustard sauce. Serve slices of gravlax on pumpernickel points and garnish with sprigs of fresh dill.

1-2-3 SWEDISH PICKLING FORMULA
Attika vinegar is used in the Swedish recipe. I used distilled white vinegar and the three ingredient recipe made a superb pickling solution.

1 cup distilled white vinegar
2 cups sugar
3 cups water

Examples of vegetables you can pickle —
Cucumber, carrot, beetroots, onion, rhubarb, fennel celery, parsnip

1. Place vinegar, sugar and water in a stainless steel saucepan; stir to mix and bring to a boil. Adjust heat to a brisk simmer and boil liquid for about 5 minutes. The flavor of the liquid should have a balanced taste of sweet with sourness. Pour into a glass jar and let cool completely.

2. Thinly slice vegetables of your choice in a food processor with thin slicing blade in place or on a mandolin. For testing the recipe I chose to slice a golden beet, rhubarb stalk and fennel and placed them in a glass bowl (ceramic is fine too) and poured over the pickling liquid.

3. The vegetables were tasty within an hour of pickling but were even better the next day. Vegetables can stay refrigerated in the pickling liquid until they’re gone!

Recipes adapted from visiting Swedish chef Karl Ljung

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