Understandably, salmon is EVERYWHERE in Norway – smoked, raw, marinated, baked, poached, grilled – you name it.
On the Hurtigruten, Frank and I took a class to learn how to cure salmon, which is just treating it with spices and some type of spirit. It then “cooks” itself and is safe to eat.
First, they poured each student a small glass of aquavit, Norwegian’s favorite schnapps, made from potatoes.
The story goes that an Arctic expedition filled their stores with potatoes. After the Arctic, they headed south to Australia, where the potatoes all spoiled and fermented. They tried the result – and discovered it was good. They experimented and traditionally add anise and cinnamon.
To have a proper aquavit, it must be kept in barrels on a ship and cross the Equator twice (called Linie). [NOTE: This must be true. Frank and I bought a cheaper bottle at the airport to sample, and it was terrible – but this version was excellent.]
Then, on to the salmon. The chef explained that there is a misconception that wild salmon is far superior to farm-raised salmon and while that is true in some places, Norway has a very high standard for its farms. The salmon must be kept in open water and all is very regulated, so he would trust Norwegian farm-raised salmon, particularly where he knows the farmer.
Here’s a picture of a salmon farm we passed:
In the old days, Norwegians cured the salmon in the sand (gravel), which is why it is called gravlaks. We cured OUR salmon with a sugar/salt mixture, dill, and half the aquavit (we drank the other half).
Then we carefully bagged and added our names.
The chef will store in the ship’s coolers and turn for us every 12 hours (must cure at least 48 hours). When we leave, we can take our salmon with us.
We picked up our salmon on the way off the ship and carefully carried with us to our Bergen apartment for tonight’s dinner.
I decided to prepare it two ways.
I cut off a piece of each of our salmon steaks to leave “as is” – the traditional gravlaks so we could try each other’s concoction – served with honey mustard.
And then I seared the rest of the steaks in a little olive oil – again cutting in half so we could try each other’s recipes. Very simple.
Delicious! Frank declared it the best salmon he has ever had – and also the best meal so far in Norway.
Here’s the recipe to cure salmon:
To sear it:
Salt and pepper both sides (unless already cured)
Heat a small amount of olive oil in nonstick pan on medium-high.
Add salmon skin side up and cook – without touching – for 4 minutes or until nice crispy sear on bottom side
Flip and lower heat to medium
Cook 4 minutes without touching
(If have heavy pan, may need to sear longer or at higher heat.)