Welcome to Super Food Nerds, a column written in alternating installments by Rupa (Food and Beverage Editor, Culinary Staff) and Jonathan (Research Librarian, same place). Each installment will be dedicated to a particular topic – how to DIY something you don’t normally DIY, how to perfect a dish usually taken for granted, plus best techniques, underlying chemistries and a handful of inexplicable preferences. Basically, if they can overthink it, they’re on it.
Cured fish is basically my favorite food. Smoked eel, pickled herring, kippered whitefish, weird dried squid snacks you eat in Russian saunas — I’m all about it. But it’s expensive, and I’m on a budget, so I wanted to see if I could make it myself.
There are a few ways to go about curing fish: brining and cold-smoking (at a temperature of about 100 degrees F), like most smoked salmon you see sold with bagels; brining and hot-smoking (so it’s flaky and rich, mostly done with trout); and gravlax, a dry salt cure, which gets you the silky texture of cold-smoke without the smoking part.
Gravlax is a traditional Scandinavian way of curing fish — it translates literally to “buried salmon,” since the fish used to be buried in the ground to cure. Now the fish gets buried in the dry salt-sugar cure, and since it’s the quickest, easiest way to get the fish from zero to my mouth, that’s the method I picked.