Ouzo Cured Salmon with Fennel and Dill


Since the Greeks enjoy many different types of cured fish, thought it would be a great idea to do a Greek spin on the traditional Scandinavian gravlax. I have to thank my chef de cuisine, John Piliouras, who is terrific at charcuterie and curing, for helping to devise what I think is a great recipe, the sweet, fatty salmon is cured with the usual sugar, salt, and dill and then “Greekified” with a strong hit of ouzo and fennel seed and pollen. The pungent sweetness of the anise flavors is the perfect foil for the fatty, succulent salmon.

If you can’t find the fennel pollen, don’t worry; it’s not essential to the perfect cure. I can tell you that this truly is “phenomenal” served with warm pita and a glass of ouzo.

Ingredients needed

  • 1 whole salmon, 10 to 12 pounds, tail and head removed, gutted, cut lengthwise in half, and boned to make 2 fillets with skin
  • 3 cups packed light brown sugar
  • 3 cups coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup cracked black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons fennel pollen
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds, toasted and crushed
  • 6 cups chopped fresh dill, including stems
  • 3 cups ouzo

How to make it

  1. Cut a piece of cheesecloth large enough to fold in half and then totally enfold the 2 fillets. Set aside.
  2. Combine the brown sugar and salt with the pepper, fennel pollen, and toasted fennel seeds in a medium mixing bowl, stirring to combine well. Set aside.
  3. Lay the salmon fillets out on a clean work surface, skin side down. Using tweezers or needle-nose pliers, carefully remove and discard any pinbones remaining in the flesh. Using a sharp knife, trim off the thin belly meat, leaving an almost perfect rectangle of fish.
  4. Place the double layer of cheesecloth on a clean work surface. Generously sprinkle the sugar-salt mixture down the center, spreading it out slightly so that the fish will lie on a comfortable bed. Lay the fillets skin side down in the center of the sugar-salt cure, with the interior edges touching. Generously coat the top of each fillet with a coating of the sugar-salt mixture. Cover with the dill and then sprinkle on the remaining sugar-salt mixture. Drizzle the fish with half of the ouzo. Place one fillet on top of the other to put the fish back together. Wrap the fish packet with the cheesecloth to enclose it. Drizzle the remaining ouzo on the cheesecloth to almost saturate it. Working carefully so that you don’t lose too much of the curing mixture, tightly wrap the packet in plastic wrap.
  5. Place the wrapped fish in a dish or on a platter large enough to hold it flat as well as to hold the liquid that may seep out as the fish cures. Place a heavy cutting board or other heavy objects on top of the fish and refrigerate for 2 days, turning every 12 hours or so.
  6. After 2 days, unwrap the fish and separate the fillets. Quickly rinse off any remaining curing mixture under cool water. Do not soak. Pat dry with paper towels. If not serving immediately, separately wrap each fillet in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve. The gravlax may be stored, refrigerated, for a week or so.
  7. When ready to serve, using a slicing knife, cut each fillet, on the bias against the skin, into very thin, skinless slices. Serve with warm pita bread and thinly sliced lemon and, of course, a glass of ouzo!

Posted in Salmon Recipes