Easy Homemade Gravlax: Key Ingredients = Salmon + Time

Slicing Homemade Gravlax

Slicing Homemade Gravlax

Gravlax, salmon cured in sugar and salt until it is silky smooth, is expensive to buy, but easy to make. Once the fish is filleted, it takes about 10 minutes to put gravlax together. Two or three days later, you’ll have perfectly cured fish.

I make gravlax from sea-caught wild Alaska salmon, the best tasting salmon I’ve ever had. Its great taste reflects salmon’s varied diet and the clean environment in which it grows to maturity.

Wild Alaska salmon is on the Top 10 list of “Eco-best” fish to eat because it comes from healthy, well-managed fish populations and is caught with low-impact fishing gear. In contrast, farmed salmon is on the Top 10 list of “Eco-worst” fish due to the impact of salmon farms on the environment and the elevated levels of PCBs in the fish.

We live within driving distance of waters where wild Alaska salmon congregate. By the end of summer, our freezer contains a year’s supply of fish caught by my husband and his friends. I’ve previously described how we freeze salmon and how best to thaw it.

Fresh Silver SalmonAlthough I break fish down into serving size packets to freeze, inevitably we are given at least one fish a year that has been frozen whole. The whole fish weigh between 7 and 12 pounds each, much too much salmon to eat at one time. My favorite way to use whole frozen salmon is for making gravlax.

The cure I use – sugar, salt, black peppercorns, dill, and citrus vodka – is what has worked best for me over the last 20 years. I’ve tried other combinations of ingredients, but none compare to this version. (Unless it’s my recipe for Spruce Tip Gravlax, which is also wonderful.) It’s not too salty and retains a little bit of sugar’s sweetness. Peppercorns give a mild bite, and dill provides herby freshness. Vodka pulls flavor out of the other ingredients and helps them permeate the salmon.

For many years I wrapped the salmon sides in cheesecloth after rubbing on the cure to make turning the fish easier. I forgot cheesecloth one year, and discovered salmon is easy to turn even when it isn’t wrapped, so eliminated this step as unnecessary.

Some recipes for gravlax recommend wrapping salmon in plastic wrap as it cures, which I did once and will never do again. The flavor of gravlax is best if salmon sits directly in the cure, which it can’t do when it’s wrapped in plastic.

I cure salmon under weight. This is not strictly necessary (important to know if you don’t have much room in your refrigerator). However, I prefer the firm, compressed texture of gravlax that’s been cured under weight and prefer this technique.

Salmon takes 2 to 3 days to turn into proper gravlax, depending on the variety and thickness of the salmon. The only way to know if gravlax is done is to taste it.

After 2 days, I take one salmon side out of the cure, and cut off three thin slices to see if the flavor and texture are to my liking. I cut three slices because I want to test salmon flesh that hasn’t been exposed directly to the cure. If the salmon doesn’t taste ready or is still soft, I leave it in the cure 1 more day. Salmon shouldn’t stay in the cure for more than 3 days or the gravlax will be too salty.

Some recipes say to rinse the fish after removing it from the cure. I don’t like doing this, because it negatively affects the flavor of gravlax. Instead, I remove all of dill and as many of the peppercorns as I can with my fingers. After this, I dry the gravlax with paper towels and pack it for storage, either in the refrigerator or freezer.

I love serving gravlax on toasted dark bread with cream cheese, red onions, and capers. It is also great with fresh herb salad (mixed herbs dressed lightly with olive oil and lemon) or as a side dish with stewed beans or lentil salad.

Be sure to check out the recipes mentioned in this post:


34 Responses to Easy Homemade Gravlax: Key Ingredients = Salmon + Time

  1. Laurie, I really envy your access to quality seafood product (moping).

    Gravlax, smoked salmon, ceviches (all cured seafood) and tops in my books.

  2. Laurie, I have been learning so much with you. Thanks for sharing all these wonderful tips and recipes.

  3. How lucky you are Laurie to live near such a wonderful source of wild salmon. I adore salmon, but fresh salmon is relatively expensive in Australia. Smoked salmon with cream cheese, lemon juice and capers on crusty bread is one of my favourite sandwiches.

  4. Mike of Mike's Table says:

    I know so little about seafood and found this very interesting (never heard of gravalax before). I certainly wouldn’t mind having a freezer full of fresh fish!

    But anyways, looks good!

  5. Laurie, you are soooooo lucky to be able to fish, and eat this salmon, I just had to tell you… couldn’t read the whole post, it’s 22:00 here… promise tomorrow I’ll finish, I’m really interested in the process of curing it… See you tomorrow! Good night!

  6. Gravlax sounds really good and making your own sounds like fun!

  7. And, Peter, I really envy your access to all the ethnic and farmers’ markets in Toronto!

    Cris, I’m so glad to hear that. Thank you!

    Gaye, mmmmm, I agree completely about that sandwich. It’s delicious!

    Hi Mike, if you don’t know much about seafood, I’m so happy to share a little information with you!

  8. Kevin, I do like making it, but what I like even better is eating it!

  9. I’m back. What an interesting process this Gravlax! Here we would say its been “marinated” instead of cured, or do you think marinated is something else?
    Anyway, the salmon must be glorious done this way!

  10. JennDZ - The Leftover Queen says:

    I love gravlax! Brings me back to my time in Norway where salmon prepared any way is king!

  11. Nuria, welcome back! I’d say marinated is something else. This is more like a combination between curing anchovies in salt and making ceviche – the fish does not need to be cooked further after it is done curing. To me, marinated fish still needs to be cooked.

    Jenn, yep, us Northerners love our salmon! I’d love to go to Norway some day.

  12. And salmon is one distinct reason why I love that Alaska is a state! Your salmon looks delicious.

  13. This looks amazing!!
    I love salmon fish cooked in various ways. Gravlax, I’m assuming is similar to smoked salmon(?)…correct me if I’m wrong. Anyway, I do purchase smoked salmon from the deli section of our supermarket on occasion but it can be very costly. You are very fortunate to have such an abundance of fresh salmon at your fingertips.

  14. Thanks, Lannae. You should come up and try some in person!

    Bijoux, it is similar to smoked salmon without the smoke. It’s the texture of lox. You’re right about the price, which is why I love making my own! And I know we’re lucky in that regard. But like I said to Peter, I’d sure love to shop at the stores that are available to you in Toronto.

  15. Ok, thanks Laurie!

  16. ThreeTastes says:

    Absolutely divine!

  17. Kavo Papas says:

    Unfortunately only farmed salmon ia available in Athens Greece. I am using it for several years now aftrer a recirie I found in the “Food section” of Montreal’s “Gazette”. Farmed or Wild salmon, gravlax is gravlax.!.. But I dont know what is “citrus vodka”. I never used any vodka at all. I only dry the fillets after curing for an hour or two in front of a ventilator. After drying , some times I will “paint” the fish with some liquid smoke. It is not very honest but it is a smocked salmon many times better than the commercialy smocked salmon.

  18. So glad you like it Manju!

    Kavo Papas, it’s too bad wild salmon isn’t available to you; it’s flavor is really much better. But you are right, in the absence of wild salmon, farmed will still make tasty gravlax. Citrus vodka is just lemon flavored vodka, and isn’t necessary – plain vodka is fine. I like using the vodka because it helps pull the flavor out of the black pepper and dill. Your liquid smoke idea is very clever – thanks for the tip!

  19. Hi, I had a couple of questions.
    1. Do you make your gravlax from frozen and then defrosted salmon, or do you use fresh?
    2. When you say you freeze the gravlax–can that be done even if gravlax has been made from previously frozen fish?

    I am in a bind–I’d be taking my gravlax out of the cure tonight and I want to use it for New Year’s eve dinner. I made it from frozen sockey salmon and I’m not sure if it can hold in the fridge for three more days.

    Many thanks!

  20. Anonymous – Sorry I didn’t give you a timely answer – I’ve been spending too much time celebrating the holidays. Hope your gravlax turned out wonderfully!
    As for answers:

    1. I prefer making gravlax with fresh salmon, but it also tastes great made with frozen so long as the fish has been properly protected from freezer burn.

    2. I have frozen gravlax made with previously frozen salmon with no apparent problem. When the fish has been previously frozen, I make a point of using the frozen gravlax within 1-2 months.

    3. As for holding it in the fridge for 3 days, I’m sure you discovered it held just fine. Salt is a great preservative!

  21. Elizabeth J Peterson says:

    I tried your recipe and it was fantastic! Thank you so much!!! I did it in November and I had some left early December. We ate it. Tasted even more yummy because it has gone through the aging process. WOW! Husband and I are greatly impressed with your creativity! I noted that that when I tried to wash off the curing mix-on a small piece- it really took off the nice flavor as you have said it! So, husband advised that I don’t wash it at all and to just do it as the way you had advised your readers to do it by drying off the curing mix with paper towel. And I followed through!

    Tonight, I made my second batch of GRAVLAX! Bless you! I am delighted on how easy it is to make this and how delicious it is, served over my homemade Italian rustic bread.

    Other recipes don’t use vodka. They use cognac. Others just use sugar, salt and pepper. Yours is the best!

    – Elizabeth J Peterson
    SFO, CA- USA

  22. Wonderful recipe, but just to make things clear, gravlax is not Mediterrean, its SWEDISH! As in Scandinavia, northern Europe.

  23. Elizabeth, I’m so glad you liked it! The vodka really does add to the recipe – I can’t quite imagine it with cognac. Maybe some day I’ll try it!

    Elisabeth, yes, gravlax is a mighty good Scandinavian dish.

  24. Rachel Stevens says:

    I tried the Gravlox Friday night with an arugula salad and an olive oil/lemon dressing. It was wonderful! (I used a frozen fish provided by mom and dad who live in Homer.)I did rinse it to remove all of the curing stuff, next time I will not. I was also having a hard time getting my slices thin without them turning to mush on my knife, so I partially froze the fillet then sliced. I will make again! – Rachel

  25. kitchen roach/galley roach says:

    What a wonderful recipe. But, where do you get the dark bread? Yummi!

  26. EJ Peterson says:

    I am here back again. Am making my 6th GRAVLAX! I love your recipe! I add liquid smoke and it gives that smokey flavor! Thank you again!

    -Elizabeth Peterson in San Francisco

  27. Very late to the party, but I just tried this with a jack that's been in the freezer a couple of months. It's a little too salty, but very good. Thank you, thank you!

    We tasted it after 2 1/2 days; since the sides totalled just over 2 lbs, should we have reduced the curing time?

    All our other salmon are already cut up (they were 26+ pounders) so we'll have to wait for next season to try this again, or will it work with thick, ~1 lb filets? Hmmm.

  28. Hello there,

    Glad to discover your blog!

    This is my first-ever blog response!

    I have just prepared a small batch of gravlax – its ready for the fridge. The piece of farm-raised salmon I used was store bought today at Whole Foods.

    Do you ever/or often eat gravlax that was never frozen? Do you think this is risky? I am otherwise very careful with my fish, never cooking or using anything that's old.

    I have been eaten two never frozen
    gravlax fillets in the past week with no apparent harm.

    My other question is this: I live in Rhode Island where all sorts of fish are abundant.

    Have you ever tried "salt" curing on fish species other than salmon?

    It seems this process would work equally well on other species like bluefish and mackerel?

    Your suggestions are appreciated.

    Best regards,


  29. Hi Keith! So glad to hear you've tried the gravlax – it's one of my favorite foods. And, yes, I often make it/eat it using fresh salmon (and prefer using fresh over frozen. I don't think it is risky at all if you start with fresh fish and keep it in the refrigerator while it's curing – the salt acts as a preservative and protects against bacterial growth.

    I've successfully used this technique with mackeral. Although I've never used bluefish for gravlax, I think it would be delicious given the high oil content and distinctive flavor of bluefish.

    Good luck! And, if you try it, let me know how it turns out.

  30. Anonymous says:

    Best Gravlax recipe ever. It's the citrus vodka that makes the difference.


  31. Grazie..te best gravlax recipe ever (and my wife agrees).

    The citrus vodka made all the difference.

    You are a god.

  32. BJ and bob – Thank you so much!! I'm so glad you like it!

  33. My attempt at gravlax is sitting in the refrig right now. I was motivated to try it because the supermarket here in Cape Cod was offering fresh wild Alaskan salmon (flown in daily, they say). Unfortunately, I didn’t come across your recipe till now when I was looking for serving suggestions, so it’s wrapped in saran but weighted. Also, it’s not a sandwich, just a filet which started off as 1 & a half pounds, but I did cut away the very thin part on one side. I’ve been turning it 2x eeach day. Tonight marks 48 hours at which point I will remove, unwrap, and do my best to slice it. We expected my son and his family for the week which would have made 6 of us. But, alas, it turned out only my son could come — thus three of us with a lot of salmon to consume. It’s never been frozen (if the supermarket is to be believed), so should I slice the whole thing and then freeze what we don’t use within 2 or 3 days? Or slice as needed but after 3 days put any unused salmon in the freezer? This is my first attempt at making gravlax which is why I’m asking questions that a more experienced person would already know the answers to. Many thanks.

    • Hi Merry, so glad to hear you’re making gravlax! It’s one of my favorite foods. On your question, gravlax should only be sliced just before you serve it. When I have lots, I cut the salmon side into 2 or 3 pieces and keep one piece out to slice ans serve and freeze the rest. To use frozen pieces, I defrost in refrigerator, then slice as needed. If you have any other questions, just let me know!

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