Cured Bluefish, Gravlax Style
Gravlax is a glorious creation: wild salmon, firey orange-red to begin with, is cured with salt, sugar and herbs. The meat firms and achieves a kind of translucence, and the color deepens. A thin perfect slice of gravlax on a dense dark slice of rye, with a dab of sour cream and maybe a caper or two is a wonderful moment in food.
"Gravblue" is the poor cousin of the lordly gravlax, and since I caught bluefish, not salmon (pretty rare in these waters), I'm making gravblue, not gravlax. And though I love gravlax, I'm pretty happy with the very tasty gravblue. Bluefish has oily, dense grey-brown flesh, similar except for the color to salmon, which is what led me to try the gravlax method with it in the first place, and so the method is basically the same.
Visual appeal aside, there are a number of satisfying ways to serve gravblue. It works well as a canapé, in thin curled slices on dark bread with a dab of sour cream and some capers. It's also superb in a sandwich, as pictured, with red onions and mustard (and thin-sliced dill pickles, if you like), or served in thin slices with some scrambled eggs and a bagel, again with sour cream and onions.
As mentioned, the method for gravblue is the same as for gravlax: a salt and sugar mixture is spread over the fish, herbs, pepper and and onions added, and other flavorings as desired. The fish is wrapped, weighted and kept under refrigeration for 48 - 72 hours, with a turning and basting every 12 hours.
Brett, over at In Praise of Sardines, made some beautiful gravlax from wild king salmon a couple of weeks ago and posted a thoughtful essay about the preparation and about his dislike of dill, in gravlax and in general, and in the comments section folks were pretty much all jumping on the I-hate-dill bandwagon. Not me: I love dill, especially with cured or smoked fish, so it's dill for me in this recipe. Not that I'm not going to try some of the other flavorings Brett suggests: fennel seeds and fronds, cumin, coriander, lemongrass, etc. I just like dill, so that's what I used in the gravblue this time.
Gravblue (cured bluefish done in the gravlax manner)
2 1-1/4 lb bluefish fillets, skin on
1/4 C kosher salt
1/4 C sugar
10 sprigs fresh dill, chopped
1 medium onion, sliced thin
1 T black peppercorns, cracked
1/4 C cognac
Wash the fish and pat dry. Mix the salt and sugar and rub the mix into the fish, meat side only. Lay one of the fillets on the work surface skin side down and spread the dill, onion and cracked peppercorns. Lay the other fillet over the first one, skin side up, with the tail end over the head end of the other fillet. Wrap the fillets in plastic wrap and place in a glass baking dish large enough for the fillets to lie full length. Open the wrap enough to pour in the cognac, close the wrap tightly, and place a board or smaller glass baking dish on top of the fish and add about five pounds of weight to it. (Large cans, bags of beans or rice, etc.) Refrigerate 48 - 72 hours. Every 12 hours, open the wrap and baste the fish with the juices, then rewrap and turn over.
When the fish has cured, scrape away the remaining salt, sugar, dill and onions. To serve, slice thinly on an angle.