Gravlax is a Scandinavian dish: Raw salmon is cured for several days using salt, sugar and dill, then invariably served cold and thinly sliced with a sweet mustard dill sauce on either boiled potatoes or dark bread. In this version, the curing time has been reduced considerably, the fish is a thicker cut and it's seared in a hot pan until the skin is golden and crispy. The pan is then popped in the oven for a minute or two to remove the chill but not cook the flesh; it is then served immediately, which makes it kind of like sashimi with a Scandinavian twang. It pairs well with asparagus and a creamy lemon vinaigrette. The asparagus can be shaved raw and served as a salad or cooked and served warm, depending on your preference.
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1 3/4 pounds impeccably fresh centre-cut salmon fillet, skin on, scaled, pin bones removed
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup coarse salt
1 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
1 bunch fresh dill, rinsed, dried and finely sliced stalks and all
Creamy lemon vinaigrette
1 medium-sized lemon
2 tablespoons cold water
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1½ tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup mild-tasting extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup vegetable oil
2 tablespoons hot water
Salt and cayenne pepper to taste
Mix the sugar, salt, pepper and dill together in a medium-sized bowl. Place the salmon skin side down on a large sheet of plastic wrap and cover the fish completely using all the dry mixture. Lift the sides of the plastic up and wrap the fish snuggly. Place on a tray skin side down and refrigerate for 24 hours. Remove fish from the plastic and rinse briefly in cold running water to remove the salt and sugar (some dill will remain, which is fine). At this point, the salmon can be rewrapped and kept for up to two days in the fridge. (Remember that, unlike traditional gravlax, this will have a shorter shelf life due the reduced curing time.) When ready to serve, cut the salmon into required portion sizes, preheat the oven to 450 F and heat a large ovenproof frying pan over high heat. Coat the hot pan with a little oil, place salmon servings in the pan skin side down and cook until the skin is golden and crisp. Place into the oven briefly to barely warm the flesh side, remove from pan and serve skin side up on top of asparagus.
Creamy lemon vinaigrette
Remove the zest from lemon in broad strips with a vegetable peeler. Blanch the peel by bringing it to a boil in about 2 cups of water 3 separate times, changing the water each time to eliminate bitterness. In a blender, combine the zest with the cold water, juice, mustard and yolk and blend until smooth. Slowly pour in both oils to make an emulsion, then add hot water, salt and cayenne pepper. Keep at room temperature or refrigerate if using later. Return to room temperature before using.
Keith Froggett is co-owner and executive chef of Scaramouche in Toronto.