dilled gravlax with mustard sauce {ffwd}


Howard is a master of gravlax. For many years, it’s been his signature appetizer for special parties. With French Fridays with Dorie’s gravlax on the schedule, we decided it was time for a throwdown challenge. I’ll admit to not doing any of the cooking. I was in charge of the shopping for this one. It’s not that I had anything against the recipe, but wanted an equally experienced touch for a better comparison of the two recipes.

I bought a large side of salmon, about 3½ pounds. We cut it in half crosswise and Howard made each half with a different recipe. The basic process for gravlax is to coat the fish with herbs and a sugar/salt curing mixture and leave it, pressed under weight (i.e. cans), in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. During its cold rest, the rub draws moisture out of the fish, curing (cold cooking) it.

The first difference between the two recipes is the flavoring. Dorie adds black and white peppercorns plus coriander seeds to the rub. Howard only adds white peppercorns to his dry mixture, though he rubs the fish with some aromatic liquor first. This time he used Pernod, but aquavit is good too. The main difference is the proportions of sugar and salt in the curing mixture and the total amount of dry rub used. Dorie uses a 3:1 ratio (yes, I’m a math geek) of salt to sugar, and the total amount of rub is just a few tablespoons. Howard uses the opposite: a 2:1 ratio of sugar to salt, and the total amount is a little over two cups.

Gravlax Throwdown: Dorie's in upper right, Howard's on bottom

Gravlax Throwdown:
Dorie’s in upper right, Howard’s on bottom

As I said, this is Howard’s signature appetizer for special parties, and we had the perfect occasion. Every year, we celebrate Christmas Eve with longtime friends who make the traditional celebratory Feast of Seven Fishes. All the guests bring contribute dishes to for the meal. This year, the game plan was to start with an abundant appetizer extravaganza accompanied by a festive punch and other drinks. We brought both styles of gravlax for a broad tasting. (I made mini-crab cakes.) Later in the evening, we sat at the table to enjoy a delicious Niçoise salad, followed by bourride, a French fish stew heavily laced with aioli. Dessert is an array of home-baked cookies, just the right size to fit into any empty parts of your belly. As always, it was a fantastic meal, one we look forward to all year!

Mini-Crabcakes, ready to be baked at the party

Mini-Crabcakes, ready to be baked at the party

The two styles of gravlax had similar texture and were both delicious. Howard’s “original” version gave off considerably more liquid during the curing process and was firmer than the one prepared Dorie’s way. Dorie’s version was also a little harder to slice thin, probably because it wasn’t quite as firm. We brought half of each half to the party, and there was very little leftover. Both were quite popular with everyone. We’ve been enjoying the salmon we kept for ourselves on bagels with cream cheese in the mornings for the past few days. What a treat!

So, what’s the verdict? I’d say that if we’d never made gravlax before, this recipe would become a standard in our repertoire. However, it isn’t different enough than Howard’s usual recipe, so that recipe won’t get displaced. The recipe is definitely a good one, so I urge you to try it if you’ve never made gravlax before.

Dorie gives a recipe for a dilly mustard sauce to accompany the fish (which I forgot to take a picture of). We didn’t do a side-by-side comparison of her sauce to our usual. Dorie’s was similar and equally delicious. Her recipe uses using much less oil that the other, so it’s healthier. While the gravlax recipe wasn’t different enough to mandate a switch in the future, her sauce is a new keeper.

You can find the recipe for both the gravlax and the sauce in Dorie Greenspan’s book Around My French Table. It’s also on-line at Epicurious. You can also read about other Dorista bloggers’ gravlax by following their links here.

In case this is my last post of the year (though that isn’t my plan), I wish you all a Happy New Year! May the year ahead be filled with love and laughter, and of course, good food! I’m looking forward to sharing many more kitchen adventures in 2014.


Posted on 27 December 2013, in Fish, French Fridays with Dorie and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. Oooh, I like the sound of rubbing the salmon with alcohol. I have never had gravlax before, so I loved this. Happy New Year Betsy.

  2. As a non salmon eater, I was impressed with the ease of preparation of this one :) If I’m not going to eat something I like it to be easy and quick to make! Happy New Year XO

  3. Betsy, I want to come to your house for Christmas Eve!!! What an amazing feast. And I love that you did a gravlax comparison. I made some this summer…and Dorie’s was definitely better. Happy New Year, my friend!!! xo

  4. Sounds like a fun feast. I’d never heard of the feast of 7 fishes before FFwD. Also a great opportunity to test the two recipes. Did Howard’s version taste saltier or sweeter than Dorie’s or was it just a texture difference? Now that I know how easy it is to make Gravlax, I will definitely be doing it again.

    • Dorie’s was sweeter, even though it had the higher salt component. The main difference was the texture, and even then, they were close. Either way, gravlax is much easier than it would seem from the wonderful end result. Yes, you should make it again and again!

  5. This was really so easy and it turned out delicious. A perfect recipe to end the year and it
    looks as though we were all in agreement on this one. Remarkable. Happy New Year
    Betsy and I am looking forward to another year of fun.

  6. Your friend is wise to have others help with the Feast of the Seven Fish… sounds like quite a meal.. I think your husband’s recipe sounds more flavorful, but I did like the texture of Dories and the sauce can be used on a lot of different dishes. Happy New Year to you Betsy.. it has been great to get to know you better.

  7. I think the aquavit rub is intriguing and authentic. I think I would like this dish no matter how it was made. happy new years! Looking forward to cooking our way through 2014 together!

  8. Hi. Looks delicious. Sounds like a lot of work but probably worth it. Happy and healthy new year. Love xxxxxx

    Sent from my iPad

  9. I thought of rubbing my salmon with vodka…I had seen a recipe using it, and it sounded like a great idea! Next time! I thought making gravlax would be more complicated then it was! Will definitely be making it again. Howard did a great job on both the gravlax. They look wonderful and so do those crab cakes, Betsy! Sounds like you had a wonderful Christmas Eve meal!
    Wishing you and Howard a very Happy and Healthy New Year! Hopefully this will be our year for a NY meet-up!

  10. This was an absolutely fantastic Post, Betsy, and I hope Dorie has an opportunity to read it. It’s early morning in Colorado and although I thought after this week I would never be hungry again, I got famished reading your explanation of your Christmas Eve Feast. What fun. What fantastic food. Your mini-crab cakes look delicious. Although I completely understand Howard’s wanting to stay with the tried and true, I know I will make Dorie’s version again. Like Kathy I would like to rub either vodka or Pernod into my salmon before curing but wonder if that would throw Dorie’s ratios off. Any thoughts on that? Like you and Howard, I am enjoying the leftover gravlax with bagels and cream cheese this week. Living large. Happy New Year 2014 to you both. It was a real treat to meet you in Seattle, Betsy, and spend some special time with you (even if it was while eating cupcakes made from tomato soup). Hopefully we will see each other in the coming year. I’m counting on that.

  11. Wow- this was so interesting ! I knew some folks had made gravlax before but it is really wonderful to get the insights of both you and the experienced Howard. Not to mention all your party taste testers. And how fun that the sauce is a keeper, while the gravlax results were so close. That meal sounds utterly amazing and I can understand why you look forward to it all year. Nana hosted her Feast of 7 Fishes this year for my family and it was just fabulous. I took photos (big help, I am …….:) and will do a blog update when things calm down. Ok, before that as it never happens. So fab to meet you this year and Happiest of New Year’s to you and Howard !!

  12. I had to skip this. Kudos for making it!

  13. Excellent post Betsy. We are not gravlax fans but I’m reconsidering that thought after reading of everyone’s success with this recipe. Very interesting to read about Howard’s expertise. When things calm down a bit I think I will try this. Your Christmas Eve tradition sounds like a great dinner party and I’m curious about your mini crab cakes. Happy New Year Betsy! And Howard too!

  14. Love that you had a throwdown between the gravlax! How fun. I think I would like to try Howard’s version. I’ve always wanted to do the Feast of the Seven Fishes. Think I just made a resolution for 2014 Christmas Eve. Happy New Year!

  15. I love seeing two recipes go up against each other. Sounds like there were two winners this time. I’ve just started curing my gravlax today and I’m looking forward to trying it this weekend. Your whole meal sounded fantastic. Happy New Year!

  16. I finally got to this, serving it at New Years Brunch, saving a bit to share with my Mom. All salmon/gravlox lovers loved it. I think it was super-fun to do a recipe challenge – and that they were both such hits!

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