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This Scandinavian dish of cured salmon has underground origins in the Middle Ages.

By Adelaide Lucas
  • 20 mins preparation
  • 30 mins cooking plus curing
  • Serves 10
  • Print
Gravad lax is a dirty word. It means 'buried salmon' in Swedish. It refers to the medieval custom in Scandinavia (where the dish is more commonly called gravlax in Sweden and also gravlaks in Denmark and Norway) of burying lightly salted salmon and other types of fish in the ground or barrels covered with a bit of birch bark for either a few days (the result being similar to modern preparations of gravlax) or many months as a way of preserving fish for winter. The fermented fish produced from long-term burial was of a lovely, buttery texture, powerfully sour and, as you would imagine, quite malodorous, too.
By the 18th-century gravlax was no longer fermented, notes Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking, simply salted and weighted for one to two days. It's unclear when fresh dill became the standard pairing but McGee suggests replacing dill with pine needles for a taste of the old ways.


  • 500 gm coarse sea salt
  • 400 gm white sugar
  • 1 cup finely chopped dill
  • 60 ml gin or vodka (¼ cup)
  • 2 tbsp juniper berries, coarsely crushed
  • 1 salmon fillet, skin on and pin-boned (about 1kg)
  • To serve: Sour cream, rye bread and lemon wedges
Dill cucumbers
  • 3 Lebanese cucumbers, thinly sliced diagonally
  • 1/3 cup dill sprigs (loosely packed)
  • 110 gm white sugar (½ cup)
  • 250 ml white wine vinegar (1 cup)
  • 1 tsp yellow mustard seeds
Mustard sauce
  • 30 gm hot English mustard powder (¼ cup)
  • 110 gm caster sugar (½ cup)
  • 300 ml pouring cream
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp apple cider vinegar


  • 1
    Combine salt, sugar, dill, gin and juniper berries in a bowl. Place two sheets of plastic wrap, long enough to envelope salmon in, overlapping by half, on a work bench, spread with half of salt mixture, place salmon skin-side down on top, cover fish with remaining salt mixture, wrap tightly in plastic, then place on a large deep tray. Top with a smaller tray or board and weigh down with food cans and refrigerate for 12 hours, then remove weights, turn over, replace tray and weights and refrigerate for another 12 hours.
  • 2
    For dill cucumbers, layer cucumber and dill in a bowl. Heat sugar, vinegar, mustard seeds, ½ cup water and 1 tsp sea salt in a small saucepan over medium heat and stir until sugar dissolves, bring to the boil, then pour over cucumber and cool. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
  • 3
    For mustard sauce, combine mustard, sugar and 1 tsp sea salt in a small saucepan, add cream and whisk until smooth, place over medium heat, add olive oil and cider vinegar and whisk to combine. Bring to the boil, then reduce heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, for 15-20 minutes or until sauce is golden and thick. Cool, then store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. Makes 1 cup.
  • 4
    To serve, unwrap gravlax and wipe clean of salt mixture. Using a thin, sharp knife, thinly slice gravlax and serve with dill cucumbers, mustard sauce, sour cream, rye bread and lemon wedges passed separately.


We can think of nothing better than slices of the house-cured gravlax to accompany Bills' scrambled organic eggs. 433 Liverpool St, Darlinghurst, NSW, (02) 9360 9631.
Ocean trout fillets are cured with dill, citrus zest, cumin, coriander, fennel seeds and sumac berries. 517 Milton Rd, Toowong, Qld, (07) 3371 5251.
What better to accompany a glass of soave than a grazing plate of gravlax with dill and caper mayonnaise and chargrilled rye bread? 185 Elizabeth St, Sydney, NSW, (02) 9283 7098.
Bills Darlinghurst
Two Small Rooms
Bambini Wine RoomNote You will need to begin this recipe 1 day ahead.