Easy cured salmon

Cured salmon makes me act like such a nerd. Not a food nerd though – a history nerd. Like people for thousands upon thousands of years – I'm talking the Mesopotamians to Southeast Texas' Karankawa Indians – I am asking you to use salt to dry out a piece of fish or meat. 

Cured salmon goes by another name: gravlax. Though, you should keep in mind that cured salmon is not the same thing as smoked salmon (lox), which is, in fact, cooked by low-temperature smoking. Curing is not a way of cooking so much as it is preserving. The "grav" in gravlax means "to dig a grave" in Swedish because the salmon used to be covered in a cure and buried in the cold ground before eating.

There are ways to cure more quickly - however, these, in my humble, aren't as safe if you're not using (expensive) sushi-grade fish and they do keep that raw fish texture. With the cure blend below, you'll transform a 1-pound raw fillet of salmon to a ruddy red and firm piece of gravlax – that is 100 percent safe to consume.

You should feel comfortable omitting flavors you don't like in the recipe below, and adding other spices, herbs or a splash of liquor you might enjoy. The key is to keep the salt and sugar in proportion to one another to ensure an even and effective cure. The traditional Scandinavian gravlax, for instance, simple uses salt, sugar and dill with a splash of Aquavit.

I encourage experimentation; since this is a 24- to 48-hour cure, keep in mind you'll be able to taste each and every flavor that contribute so don't go overboard on any particular taste if you can help it.

This recipe makes 4-6 portions of cured salmon if served with bread or bagels, over salad or alongside scrambled eggs.

What you need

1 lb salmon fillet

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup coarse salt

1/2 tsp pink peppercorns, crushed

1/2 tsp coriander seeds, crushed

Zest of 1 lemon

4 sprigs fresh dill (optional)

4 sprigs fresh thyme (optional)

How to do it

In a small mixing bowl, combine salt, sugar, peppercorns, coriander seeds and lemon zest with a fork.

On a baking sheet or large dish, lay out two 12-inch pieces of plastic wrap so that they cross perpendicularly.

Spread 1/3 of the salt mixture over the center of the plastic wrap in the shape of the salmon.

Lay the salmon skin-side down over the salt mixture, then spread the rest of the salt mixture over the top of the salmon evenly. Do not neglect edges of the salmon.

Place the herbs across the surface of the salmon.

Wrap the plastic wrap around the salmon. There must not be anymore portion of the salmon exposed; use additional plastic wrap if needed to cover any exposed pieces of the salmon.

Place salmon in the refrigerator and chill overnight, but no more than 48 hours.

Remove salmon from plastic wrap and rinse in cool water, removing any excess herbs or spices. Pat dry with paper towels.

Slice thinly and serve with bagels and cream cheese, atop a salad of summer vegetables or over scrambled eggs.

Store in tightly wrapped plastic wrap in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.