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The gravlax saga

"gravadlax is glowing pink proof that healthy eating doesn’t have to be all hairshirts and low-fat hummus." Felicity Cloake

The video that heads this post is what I found after problems I had with buying suitable pieces of salmon. And it just proves that I should have checked out Jamie before I even began on the exercise. I give it to you here, so that you can see that you don't actually need a big piece of salmon to make gravlax. You can do it with those small slices you get in the supermarket, Which this year, would have been my solution. Well sort of.

Let me start at the beginning. Gravlax has become a bit of a Christmas tradition as a starter to our big Christmas Eve dinner - along with my daughter-in-law's mother's prawns. It's the only time I get to eat prawns at home and I have to stop myself taking the lion's share. I began making gravlax a few years ago now. It sounded easy, and indeed it is. The recipe that I have mostly followed is Stephanie Alexander's. Not that there is an awful lot of variation in the process. If you check out Felicity Cloake she will take you through them - basically the only thing people squabble over is the ratio of sugar to salt, how long you leave it, and whether you add alcohol. I do. This year it's gin - and it usually is - but I have also used vodka. I also lashed out one year and did the beetroot version, because, as Felicity Cloake says, it looks so pretty. But I have to say that it didn't seem to make much difference to the taste, so I have ignored it since.

Anyway - I generally go to the Queen Vic Market to buy my slab of salmon. There is lots of choice there. And I was going to do the same this year. But then the news is all full of omicron and so I decided that, to hell with the extra cost, I would get it in the supermarket instead. Even though they only display those small pieces I reasoned that they must cut it off of a large piece. So in I go and ask for a large piece only to be told by the very helpful young lady in Coles, that it came to the shop already cut. Why was I surprised? I shouldn't have been I guess, if I had thought it through. She thought that Woolworths did the same but offered the advice that the butcher just outside Coles sometimes had salmon. A butcher? Eltham really does not have a fishmonger. Which is a huge shame because the supermarkets do not stock a very big range, and, surprisingly, to me anyway, it seems to me that most of it sourced overseas.

But back to the butcher. He did indeed have salmon, and he would cut me off a piece, although I have to say he didn't seem all that happy about it. And boy was it pricey. Another ten dollars dearer than the supermarket. Christmas is a bit like being on holiday though isn't it? You don't really pay nearly as much attention to how much things cost as you would usually. Besides this was my only apparent option - unless I went to Doncaster where there is a fishmonger, but I do not know whether they have large pieces there anyway. So we coughed up our money and bought just over a half a kilo slab, even though Stephanie insists it has to be at least a kilo.

So I took it back home and I did my thing with the gravlax - which took all of about 5 minutes, maybe ten tops, and then went to relax on the computer, which is when I came across said video. I mean you have to say that it looks pretty nice. He had a couple of little additions which were very appealing - some orange and lemon zest and crushed beetroot to accompany it. I have to say I was tempted by the beetroot, because David loves it so much, but fundamentally have run out of energy on that front. And it was too late for the orange and lemon.

Moreover it took half the time - well much less than half the time - to cure - I think he said 7 hours, and it used those small pieces that you buy in the supermarket. Now there is every reason to be suspicious - and Felicity Cloake did not include Jamie's effort in her analysis of variations, but I have to say it looked like the real deal. He held a slice up to the light and it did have that glassy look that gravlax has. Maybe I'll try it sometime for a barbecue or family gathering. Not for just David and I though, as he announced that he doesn't really like it anyway - prefers smoked fish. Oh well we can put out some smoked salmon too.

I have taken my piece out of its cure and it is now resting in the fridge wrapped in plastic wrap with just about all of the cure scraped off. It feels hard, like it should, so I'm guessing it will be fine. I might try a traditional mustard sauce this year, rather than the horseradish one that I usually do, and maybe some rye bread.

And here is a quick aside on whether it is gravlax or gravadlax which everyone seems to have taken to saying. I actually looked up the difference and found this:

"As nouns the difference between gravlax and gravadlax is that gravlax is salmon and served usually thinly sliced as an appetizer while gravadlax is gravlax." Wikiduff

Which is the most wonderful piece of nonsense. Priceless. I couldn't quite believe it when I saw it - but there it was - and nobody has another explanation. Felicity Cloake explains the origins of the word though:

"'lax' being the Middle English word for that mighty fish before the Normans came along and introduced the Latinate salmon, and 'grave', of course, persisting to this day) is a relic of the time when fish was put into holes in the ground and covered in salt to preserve it for the wild and freezing winter ahead" Felicity Cloake

My English niece is married to a man with the surname Lax - which of course means Salmon. There must be Scandinavian ancestors there somewhere.

And there's another problem. Christmas Eve is going to be a very pleasant day temperature wise, so David is planning on eating our first course outside. Which is fine, but here's the rub - as finger food. Normally we eat it with knives and forks and bread with sauce and all of that. So what to do? I really don't want to faff around with canapés and blinis. Can I discreetly get him to change his mind, and have real nibbles outside before coming in for the gravlax. I made some cheese straws today - a pesto one and one with chutney and cheese - two more jars that are blocking up the fridge hit the dust.

They could be part of the nibble selection, even though I made them as foodie gifts for the kids. I could supplement them with some really tasty and spicy sunflower seeds that I made a few weeks ago and perhaps I could do a similar nut and seed mixture. The really frustrating thing here is that I can now not find the recipe for the sunflower seeds. I'm sure it was from Ottolenghi but I just can't find it. But, as I say, I might make his nut and seed mixture instead.

I have been busy today - mostly with little things for gift bags - mostly for the grandsons. Some different ginger biscuits that look rather better than my last year's attempt - those cheese straws, some hummus - they love hummus - the straws and some lovely Parmesan biscuits from Elizabeth David, plus chocolate - there's always chocolate. I haven't the energy at the moment to package them all up in cellophane bags but then we are shortly out to dinner at our favourite Mercer's - it being our anniversary. And there will be prawns - for me anyway. And duck too. Another David no no, but the restaurant is very obliging and will provide something else.

Christmas is almost here. And so far I am relatively unpanicked. I suspect that won't be the case on Christmas Eve.


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