This month, experts predict that more than 1.5 million libidinous salmon will sprint up the Columbia River in Oregon’s largest run since 1938. It’s a tradition: every fall, Oregon’s chinook (a.k.a. king) salmon fight their way back upstream after years of gorging in the Pacific—like a bear preparing for hibernation—to breed on their home turf. How to savor this year’s plentiful catch? One of the best ways to enjoy the fatty, melt-in-your-mouth freshness of salmon is to tackle your own gravlax. At Holdfast, the modernist pop-up dinner series at KitchenCru, chef Will Preisch mixes the young tips of native pine trees—the Nordic precursor to dill—into a simple cure that boosts the flavor of his salmon with a pine-scented, citrusy kick. It’s a centuries-old technique that’s truly off the hook
(About 30 servings)
1 cup kosher salt
2 cups white sugar
¾ cup loosely packed pine tips or dill*
1½ tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp gin
1 lemon, sliced very thin
5–7 lb chinook or coho salmon fillet, 1 inch thick
DEBONE: Place fillet skin side down and run your finger lengthwise down the thickest part of the fish to find the pin bones. Using fish tweezers (in a pinch, pliers work), gently remove the pin bones, pulling in the direction the bones naturally point to avoid breaking them, and discard.
PREP: Pulse first five ingredients in a food processor until they reach the consistency of wet sand. Place a layer of cheesecloth on a sheet tray or pan and spread one-third of the mixture in the shape of the salmon fillet.
COVER: Place salmon, skin side down, on top of mixture. Pack remaining cure on top of the salmon. Lay the lemon slices evenly over the cure-covered fillet. Fold ends of the cheesecloth over the top of the fillet to secure lemons.
CURE: Place salmon in the refrigerator and let cure for three days, or until the thickest section of the fillet is firm to the touch. Unwrap fillet, quickly rinse under cold water to remove the cure, and pat dry. Slice thinly and serve with bagels, on pumpernickel bread, or in a salad. Gravlax will last for a week in the refrigerator in plastic wrap.
*Preisch hunts for his own pine tips in the woods, gently snagging the pale green ends of Douglas fir and spruce branches. Home cooks can find pine tips at Springwater Farm’s booth at the PSU and Hillsdale Farmers Markets when in season.