Smoking Seafood —A Gravlax Tale

We share with you a simple and simply fantastic recipe for delicate, deliciously flavorful gravlax. Perfect to top your latkes or for any special occasion. 

When my mother’s sister Clara moved to Los Angeles from Paris, my uncle Menasse had the opportunity to become a partner in a very successful fish wholesale business. 

His new partners were a father and son team Jacques and Phillip Levy, who started the business in the early 80’s. They started out buying fish from Korean wholesalers in downtown Los Angeles and they used a refrigerated rental van to go door to door, plying their seafood wares. 

Coming from Algeria and then France, they spoke very little English, so they naturally found it much easier to work with French restaurateurs. The head chef at Ma Maison just happened to be Wolfgang Puck and he became their first and best client. Their strong work ethic meant that they landed the European clientele at the high-end restaurants in town. 

When my uncle joined the business, the company specialized in Mediterranean seafood. Soon after, they began importing fish from all around the world. My cousins Simy and Felix also joined the firm as sales representatives, waking up at 3 o’clock in the morning, every single day. 

Happily, the business partnership resulted in a merger of the two families, when my beautiful cousin Simy married Philippe in 1997. 

In 2005, they sold their fish warehouse to Santa Monica Seafood, another family-owned business. Philippe stayed on as a sales manager. And Santa Monica Seafood has grown and expanded to become the largest fish processor and distribution company in the United States.

Luckily for my family, this has meant that we’ve always had access to the best, freshest fish. At every birthday party, family gathering and Jewish holiday, I would always have the biggest side of salmon. I’ve poached and grilled and fried and baked fish so many times. But I’ve never made gravlax. 

When Sharon and I hosted the Nosher Shannon Sarna from @Jewishfood at a cooking demonstration at Beth Jacob, we made her recipe for gravlax. I was pleasantly surprised by how easy gravlax is to make and by the delicious flavor of the finished product.

The very Ashkenazi Jewish “appetizing” food, lox (from the Yiddish word laks) is usually made from a fillet of the salmon belly and cured in a salty brine. 

The very Ashkenazi Jewish “appetizing” food, lox (from the Yiddish word laks) is usually made from a fillet of the salmon belly and cured in a salty brine. Smoked salmon (the best, most buttery smoked salmon is from Scotland) uses smoke to cure the fish. Hot smoked salmon results in a thicker flaky texture, while cold smoked salmon has a smooth melted texture.

The gravlax technique involves curing the fish using salt and sugar. You can add fresh herbs like dill and lots of lemon zest. Adding grated beets gives the fish a slight tinge of appealing reddish purple. Just make sure you use the finest, freshest salmon (sushi grade is optimal).

We share with you a simple and simply fantastic recipe for delicate, deliciously flavorful gravlax. Perfect to top your latkes or for any special occasion. 

– Rachel


2 lb center cut, skin on salmon
1 cup kosher salt
1 cup sugar
1 small beet, grated
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 bunch fresh dill, roughly chopped
¼ cup vodka or gin

  • Use a large baking sheet that has a thick lip around the edges, to collect any juices that may seep during the curing process.
  • Line it with 4 separate long layers of plastic cling wrap.
  • In a large bowl, mix the salt, sugar, grated beet, lemon zest, orange zest, dill and alcohol.
  • Place a thin layer of the salt mixture in the center of the plastic lined baking sheet. Then place the salmon skin side down on top of the mixture.
  • Cover the salmon with the remainder of the mix. Wrap the plastic tightly around the salmon.
  • Refrigerate the wrapped salmon for 4 to 6 days, until the salmon cures and is firm.
  • Scrape the salt mixture off the salmon. Rinse under running water, then dry with paper towel.
  • The salmon gravlax should be thinly sliced on a diagonal before serving.
    Gravlax should be stored in a tightly closed container in the refrigerator and consumed within 4 days.

Rachel Sheff and Sharon Gomperts have been friends since high school. They love cooking and sharing recipes. They have collaborated on Sephardic Educational Center projects and community cooking classes. Follow them on Instagram @sephardicspicegirls and on Facebook at Sephardic Spice SEC Food.

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