Gravlax, or Graved Lax, is a dish made from raw cured salmon. It is very easy to make, and very delicious to eat. I find it is best enjoyed with horseradish or mustard sauce on a slice of flavoursome bread and with a little green side salad, but whether you have it for breakfast, for elevenses, for lunch, as a starter or for your supper is up to you.
It can also be used in most dishes that call for smoked salmon, like a salmon and goats cheese quiche.
Preparation takes only 30 minutes, but you should allow four days for the curing.
Go and buy two pieces of salmon filet, with skin. You don’t need to buy a whole side, all you need is two pieces of the same size and shape.
For 1 kg of raw salmon, mix 2 tablespoons of sea salt and 2 tablespoons of sugar, 1 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper, 2 teaspoons of crushed juniper berries, 2 teaspoons of crushed allspice and a large fresh bunch of Dill, very finely chopped.
Grate one raw beetroot into the mix for extra drama.
If you feel the urge to wash any of this, be sure to dry it well with a kitchen towel or a salad spinner.
Rub the spice and herb mix onto the meat side of the fillet pieces, then pile the remaining mix evenly on one of the fillets and place the second fillet on top.
If you have a vacuum sealing machine, that’s ideal as no juices seep out, but you must be careful that the two halves stay on top each other, herbs in the middle. You must also work very fast as salt and sugar draws liquid out of the meat, which will very quickly prevent your vacuum machine from sealing the pouch.
Alternatively, wrap very firmly in cling film, then tin foil, then wrap one or two tea towels around firmly (to soak up what seeps out), then place into a reusable plastic container with a lid.
Put in the fridge and leave in peace for four days, except for one rotation each day.
When it is done, unwrap carefully, scrape off the loose herbs and spices, and cut into very thin slices.
Pretty quick and easy to prepare and very satisfying on a cold day: Poached smoked Haddock with a poached egg, served on a bed of green lentil ragout.
For the lentil ragout, finely dice a medium-sized onion, half a fennel bulb, 2 cloves of garlic and one medium sized carrot. Melt a walnut-sized piece of butter and an equivalent amount of olive oil in a pan, then fry the diced vegetables until they begin to caramelise. Add one cup of green (“french”) lentils, two cups of cold water and one chicken stock cube.
(Really, a stock cube. It helps cook the lentils much faster than you’d think.)
Add a twig of thyme or lovage, cover and let simmer very gently. This takes about 30 minutes from now.
Meanwhile, clean the undied smoked haddock but leave the skin on, cutting portions of about 220 g per person. Heat a pint of milk in a pan, add three bay leaves and half a dozen of crushed juniper berries. Check the temperature; you want the milk hot but well below the boiling point. Gently add the fish, skin side down, and simmer for 15 minutes.
Bring a saucepan of water to the boil. When it is boiling, add a generous splash of vinegar and let the temperature drop to just below the boiling point. Crack one egg per portion into a cup, then gently drop the egg into the hot water. Let them float for 5 minutes.
Sample the lentils ragout. Season to taste with salt, mustard, and balsamic vinegar or balsamic glaze.
Plate a good portion of the lentils ragout, topped with the fish, skin now removed, and a poached egg on top. Chilly oil, pumpkin oil or more balsamic vinegar make for a decorative splash.
This is a lovely meal, but as most good soups go, it is not quite a one pot wonder. It pleased the good wife last night though, what more can I ask?
Then she took photos almost more delicious than the meal itself, don’t you agree?
I prepared each element separately to do it justice: a slightly creamy soup made from crayfish bisque, Monkfish gently seared in Rosemary butter, king prawn tails seared in chilly oil and garlic, mussels steamed with shallots and white wine.
There are no carbohydrates to spoil it, so you should probably start with a bread dough to have fresh, crispy and piping hot bread to go with it. I usually make a simple plain Fougasse from 120 g flour per diner, which is great for texture and for mopping up the remaining bisque.
While the dough is proving, cut a bulb of fennel, a red onion, 3 cloves of garlic, and set aside. Dice a large handful of tomatoes and set aside.
Now prepare two large handfuls of king prawns, tiger prawns or similar variety. It is tempting to purchase the readily cleaned frozen stuff, but here it is essential to use whole prawns, defrosted if previously frozen.
Trim the head off and set aside. Skin the tail, optionally leaving the last element of skin at the very tail on. This makes eating messy but more engaged and more fun. Keep the skin with the heads, slice the top of the tail lengthwise and remove the intestines.
Heat a large pan, melt a walnut-sized piece of butter and an equal amount of olive oil. Sear the fennel, onions and garlic until they begin to caramelise, then add the prawn offcuts, heads, skin and all. Keep going at a fairly high heat, stirring occasionally, until the prawns also caramelise. Add a dried red chilly and a star anise, a pinch of salt.
(Now is the perfect time for putting the bread in the oven.)
Add the tomatoes, a glass of white wine, a glass of cold water. Turn down the heat, cover and slowly bring to a gentle simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Meanwhile, clean the Monkfish. Your fishmonger probably skinned it for you, but you must go over it again and very thoroughly remove the thin layers of skin. These skins turn hard when cooking and are the first reliable sign of quality cooking, or the absence thereof, when ordering a Monkfish-based dish in a restaurant. Discard the skins and set the fish aside.
Clean the mussels: discard the dead ones (those which are open and aren’t closing when knocked gently). Remove all dirt from the living ones by scraping off smaller barnacles, remove the bast, brush the outside under clean water.
Now drain the soup through a sieve, squeezing it thoroughly to get all the lovely juices out. Use the same pot to melt two tablespoons of butter until is beginning to turn brown, whisk in one tablespoon of white wheat flour, then slowly whisk in the strained soup. Turn the heat down to avoid it boiling again, add a generous splash of double cream and season to taste with salt. Set aside on very low heat.
Rub some stale white bread with garlic and tomato and gently fry into croutons, adding olive oil as late as possible, as little as possible.
Heat a tablespoon of butter, add a splash of olive oil, and gently sear the Monkfish. Add fresh rosemary or thyme if you can. Keep on moderate heat, turn over once in a while and spoon some of the herb-infused butter over it all the time.
Dice a small onion, perhaps a clove of garlic. Melt in some oil quickly, add the mussels and half a glass of white wine. Put the lid on, steam for 3 minutes.
Meanwhile heat a tablespoon of olive oil, add a dried red chilly or a teaspoon of chilly flakes and gently stir-fry the prawn tails while beginning to plate up:
The croutons form the centrepiece because they also make a little podium for the Monkfish, which I will cut into thick slices for serving. Add the soup, add the prawns and mussels.
Dress with spring onions, chopped parsley, cress, pea or mustard shoots.
Add a drizzle of Balsamic vinegar glaze, pumpkin oil or chilly oil for that extra professional look, although I don’t think this adds appeal on this occasion.
A household favourite: seared filet of white fish, served on a potato and mushroom ragout with Sauce Vierge.
If you’re using dried mushrooms, get them soaking at least 6 hours before the event. Use a 1:1 mix of hot water and cold milk, add the dried mushrooms, and stir occasionally. For fresh mushrooms, prefer Girolle, King Oyster or Cep.
I have also used fresh artichokes instead of mushrooms.
Steam some waxy potatoes, then drain and let cool down.
Now, prepare the Sauce Vierge, or my variation thereof – it doesn’t need to be done early, but it can be done early. Something else out of the way? So, take fresh flat parsley, a few mint leaves, and a couple of spring onions or shallots. Wash if you must, but be sure to dry well, and chop finely. Add some chopped capers (I prefer the salted, crispy type, but make sure to remove the salt without rinsing). You could also add finely chopped anchovies, or olives, or other herbs (sorrel comes to mind), depending where you want to take it. Add a sprinkle of sea salt, a tiny bit of nutmeg, a little black pepper. Mix well and set aside.
For a genuine Sauce Vierge experience, add petals of small skinned tomatoes.
Filet the fish. I usually use Sea Bream, but Red Mullet or Sea Bass are also OK. Leave the skin on, prick the remaining bones.
Heat a frying pan. Chop the potatoes into thick slices, and fry gently in a small amount of butter and olive oil. Add coarsely chopped spring onions (for a spring onion potato ragout) or finely diced red onions (for a red onion potato…), drain the mushrooms (keep the liquid!) and add the ‘shrooms. Fry and stir. Add a splash of dry white wine and a splash of the mushroom soaking liquid (multiples of this combination as necessary to keep it all nicely moist – moist, not wet!). Season to taste with salt and black pepper.
Meanwhile, heat another pan with a little 1:1 butter and olive oil. Toss the fish filets in some salted and peppered corn fine semolina. Gently sear the fillets on their skin side. Give them the time to almost cook through just from the skin side; this leaves the meat tender while crisping up the skin. Flip over for the last 30 seconds only to ensure they are cooked through.
Meanwhile, heat a ladle of olive oil (maybe 100ml) until it is very hot but not yet burning. When you see or smell smoke from the skillet, it’s too late and the oil too hot. When it’s just right, hot but not yet smoking, pour over the herb mix prepared earlier, and toss it violently to wilt the herbs while cooling down the oil. The herbs release all their oils in the process. Add a splash of lime juice or too, to taste.
Plate up, serve with a crisp white wine and enjoy.
A fairly quick and delightful summer salad. A base of new potatoes, raddish, cherry tomatoes and asparagus with a rouille dressing, hard-boiled quail eggs and kippers.
Kippers are smoked Herring from Scotland, but other smoked oily fish like Mackerele will also work well.
Clean and steam small young potatoes, skin on.
Clean and cut an assortment of raddishes into chunky pieces.
Cut the cherry tomatoes into neat halves.
Blanch some asparagus briefly, then shock in iced water so that it keeps its colur and a little crispness. We use green asparagus for a lack of options, but white asparagus would be good, too.
Add chives and a light sprinkling of fresh lemon thyme leaves.
Make a rouille: whisk four egg yolks vigerously, slowly adding olive oil until the mix emulsifies into a mayonnaise. Then add a pinch of salt, half a teaspoon of mustard, a crushed clove of garlic, a pinch of cayenne pepper and three pinches of smoked paprika powder. Add a splash of lime juice and whisk, then cool the rouille until it is time to serve.
Boil quail eggs (6 per portion). They take approximately 4 minutes to boil from room temperature into boiling water. Shock them really well in very cold water, then peel.
To assemble the salad, mix the base ingredients together with the rouille, then add the quail eggs and chunky pieces of smoked fish (kippers, mackerel). Toss lightly and enjoy.
Herring Salad is one of those dishes I never quite like when I think of it. But when it is prepared, refreshing and chilled, a feast for the eye and a variety of textures and flavours, I just cannot get enough of it. Just look at it!
And the best of all: this goes perfectly with Bretzeln. Bretzeln and Herring Salad are made for each other, but you might also enjoy it with steamed or baked potatoes.
It’s pretty simple to make, but takes some time to prepare all the ingredients:
First, the herring. I buy packs of Herring filets, marinaded in oil. Rinse the oil, pat dry, and cut into large yet bite-sized chunks. One 400g pack will give a generous portion of salad for two (two main meal portions, maybe some leftover for lunch on the following day). The following is on the basis of 400g / two to three generous portions:
Peel two sharp apples (Braeburn or Red Kidds Orange). Cut into eights, then cut those into three or four pieces each.
Consider filetting one blood orange and one grapefruit. Add the filets (maybe cut in pieces).
Remove the bitter cores from two Endive salads, cut these into large chunks.
Remove the seeds from a medium-sized salad cucumber. Feed the skin to the Guinea Pigs, and cut the remainder into pretty chunks.
Very thinly slice one large red onion.
Very thinly slice one medium-sized bulb of fennel.
Add whatever else meets your fancy. For example, diced beetroot, rings of romana peppers, salmon roe and hard-boiled quail eggs work well.
Add a generous amount of freshly chipped dill (minus the stalks!).
For the dressing, mix 150ml soured cream with a teaspoon of crushed black pepper, a splash of cider vinegar, a splash of olive oil, half a teaspoon of mustard. Mix everything together, the add some more dill tips.
This needs to rest for one hour. Perfect for making Bretzels!
A Caldeirada is a one-pot fish stew, simple yet rewarding.
Peel and cut a medium-sized onion into thin rings. Peel and crush two or three cloves of garlic. Sautee in olive oil, then add two or three large ripe tomatoes, diced. Add two or three firm and waxy potatoes per portion, peeled and cut into large chunks. Add a glass of cold water and bring to a gentle simmer.
Add half a teaspoon of ground coriander and ground cumin each, and a slightly smaller amount of turmeric, crushed black pepper and hot chilly powder. (Our German readers note we need cumin (Kreuzkuemmel), not German Cumin (Kuemmel) here.)
Also add a chicken or vegetable stock cube. Simmer gently until the potatoes are almost cooked, approximately 20 minutes. You may want to add some Chorizo or Linguica sausage, cut into thick slices after 15 minutes for deeper flavour.
Meanwhile, prepare the fish. Monkfish is an excellent choice if you’re patient enough to clean away all the skins. Red Bream, Snapper and most other whitefish will also work, or you could use seafood from the freezer if you were desperate. Cut into pretty large chunks.
Cut some stale or fresh nice bread into thick slices, rub with garlic, soak in olive oil and fry on the griddle until crisp, then cut into croutons.
When the potatoes are done, turn down the heat and wait until the Caldeirada no longer simmers, finish the seasoning, then add a handful of pitted black olives and the fish. Turn the heat off and poach for 10 to 15 minutes, then serve with the croutons and a chilled white or a fruity red wine.
This is based on a recipe published by Michel Roux Jr. It takes some time to make. We think it’s worth the extra effort, but not everyone may agree.
The idea is to serve a little crumbly tarte with a side salad. The tarte is filled with a Red Snapper Mousse and chunks of poached Mackerel, topped with a Tomato Fondue, and served with a Dill sauce. There are quite a few steps here, but none of the steps is particularly difficult, some can be done earlier, and there’s enough to do for two and a nice social cooking affair.
(By comparison, Michel uses Whiting for the mousse, puff pasty for the tarte, and serves with Beurre Blanc and a Chive butter. Other differences are in the mousse and tomato preparations.)
The steps are: make a solid vegetable stock. Poach the mackerels. Prepare the shortcrust pastry. Prepare the tomato fondue. Pre-bake the tarts. Make the fish mousse. Make the dill sauce. Assemble and bake the tarts. Prepare the plates cold with a side salad. Serve the works with a slice of white bread and a glass of wine.
The amounts in the following produce four tarts, one per diner.
Bacalhau is the Portuguese word for cod, commonly understood to mean salted and dried cod. Bacalhau is not a meal per se, but quickly transforms a humble bachelor meal into something delicious.
Well, OK, I say quickly because it takes only minutes to cook, but the preparation of salt fish takes some planning ahead. Salted cod, or Bacalhau, needs to soak in water for at least 24 hours, with fresh water and a rinse at least 3 times over that period.
As I discovered years after writing this recipe initially, the simple solution to making this a true quickie is not to use salted cod. In essence, don’t make Bacalhau. Instead we use smoked Haddock, the undied lightly smoked Haddock available from most fish counters in the UK. Just skin it and flake it into the potatoes a few minutes before adding the eggs.
It also helps to have some steamed potatoes ready, preferably young and clean ones of a waxy variety with their skin on. We often have some left-over potatoes, and this dish is just the perfect way to use them.
Heat a frying pan to moderate heat, melt a tablespoon of butter and an equal amount of olive oil. Cut the potatoes into chunky pieces and fry them gently.
After a few minutes, add a handful of cherry tomatoes, cut into halves, a handful of chopped spring onions, and flakes of soaked and rinsed Bacalhau. I use about the same volume of potatoes and fish. Add pepper, but be careful with salt, as your fish might still bring in more than enough.
Toss the mixture about for a minute, then crack two eggs over it.
I don’t want to scramble the dish, so I put a lid on for 3 minutes. This allows the egg to set through the trapped heat. Remove the lid and add a generous amount of capers. Allow some of the juices to evaporate and serve with a crisp white wine or, if the fish has a lot of salt left, a lot of water.
Simply, savoury and utterly delicious, cooked in minutes but requires some planning.
This is the perfect split between my German home cooking and my current home in England. I call it Fish and Chips, Brittany-style for the English, Sauerkraut Unn Fisch for the Germans, and Choucroute de Mer for the French-aware among us. I have heard of French people denying this meal’s authenticity, but trust me. You’ll find it in many places in Brittany. For further reference see Maison Kammerzell in Strasbourg, who has Choucroute aux Trous poissons as well as Choucroute au Saumon on the menu. So there you are.
For 4 to 5 people, you’ll need a large jar (850g?) of Sauerkraut (=Choucroute). In England, you can now get it in most Supermarkets, and in all Polish Delicatessen. You’ll also need 120 g of salmon (lightly smoked salmon pieces preferred) per person, perhaps also 100 g of white fish such as Cod or Haddock, and a couple of large prawns or scallops.
First, cut half an onion into half rings, fry with a little white fat or lard and a good handful of dry cured lardons or good quality bacon. Drain the Sauerkraut, then add with half a cup of dry white wine, 3 crushed juniper berries, 2 bay leaves, a pinch of salt. Cover and let simmer on very low heat. Time is not critical provided the heat is very low.
Heat butter in a frying pan and gently fry pieces of salmon. Sear the scallops or prawns, perhaps poach the white fish in milk.
Now finish the Sauerkraut with a generous amount of double cream. Stir this well under.
Put a nice heap of kraut on each plate, fish and seafood on top. Serves well with steamed potatoes, crispy potato wedges and, of course, with freshly baked bread.
Goes with the remainder of the dry white wine and lots of Aaaaaahs.