Whisky Gravlax (Cold Cured Salmon)

This whisky gravlax is an easy recipe for cold cured salmon using the classic salt, sugar and herb mixture and smoky whisky as the secret ingredient.

Whisky Gravlax | CaliGirl Cooking

You heard me right. Whisky. Gravlax.

So here’s the deal. I LOVE smoked salmon, and it has been on my “To Do” list to make for quite some time now. Now that we’re back from our honeymoon and I’m settling a bit more into being self-employed and working from home, I figured it was finally time to man up and try my hand at making the darn thing!

Small side note: Does anyone else find themselves with grand ambitions to try their hand at something new and somewhat challenging “someday”? I have to admit I’m so guilty of this, so I try to make a conscious effort to actually TRY these new things at some point because, you know what? Usually they’re wayyyyy easier to make than I ever imagined! So, do yourself a favor and make yourself a “Cooking Projects for a Rainy Day” Pinterest board (yep, I have one, and you can follow it here) and start checking some things off your list. If I can do it, so can you. We’re going to conquer our kitchen fears and hesitations together!

Whisky Gravlax | CaliGirl Cooking

But back to my mission to make homemade smoked salmon and my final decision to make Whisky Gravlax instead. There was one small hiccup in my grand smoked salmon plans: This gal doesn’t own a smoker. Nope, CaliGirl Cooking has not ventured into that world yet (although my husband would probably love me even more if I did 😉 But was I going to let that stop me? No way, Jose. After further researching my non-smoker options on the web, I realized that what I really needed to be making in my particular situation was gravlax. It turns out, “gravlax” was traditionally buried (“grav” as in grave in the ground) under a bed of salt, sugar and herbs. While I wouldn’t be burying my salmon in the ground, I could definitely handle packing it under layers and layers of a sugary-salty-herb mixture.

I also wanted to make a fairly quick version of the dish (at least in smoked or “cured” salmon terms), which meant 24-36 hours MAX. Luckily, I came across this recipe for gravlax that The Minimalist wrote for The New York Times way back in 1998 that I largely based the recipe you’ll find here off of (after my first failed attempt, that is…I think I had about two days’ worth of my sodium intake in my one-ounce taste of that first batch….ick…you live, you learn!)

So, I had the base to my gravlax recipe, but I was still anxious for at least a little bit of that “smoky” taste you get from real smoked salmon. I noticed that a lot of the classic gravlax recipes use a tiny amount of vodka, so in order to get my smoke on, I decided to snag some of the hubby’s super-smoky whisky (in this case I used Ardbeg 10-Year) and use that instead of the vodka. I can’t drink the darn stuff (it feels too much like I’ve just smoked an entire cigar) but I could certainly use it to flavor up my gravlax a little bit…Whisky Gravlax was born!

Whisky Gravlax | CaliGirl Cooking

Onwards I went. I got a lovely two-pound piece of salmon filet (the guy at the seafood counter only looked at me slightly funny when I came in for a two-pound filet two days in a row) and drizzled on a couple of tablespoons of the smoky whisky. I then proceeded to pack the filet in a heavy coating of sugar, salt and dried dill and wrap it up as tightly as I could in saran wrap to sit overnight in the refrigerator. It still leaked all over the place and I was faced with massive cleanup the next morning. (This was after I found maggots in our trash can…..GROSS! And had already spent a good half hour cleaning those up and hosing the entire can down…Yes, it was one of those mornings…And I hadn’t even had my coffee yet!)

Note to those of you out there anxious to try this recipe: Just put your saran-wrapped salmon filet in a shallow baking dish when you put it in the refrigerator and you’ll be golden. No messy whisky-smelling fish juice for you to clean up the next day. You’re welcome.

Whisky Gravlax | CaliGirl Cooking

I’m happy to report that my second attempt at homemade Whisky Gravlax was a success! And really not hard at all. Seriously. We’re talking less than 15 minutes of prep, set it and forget it overnight in the refrigerator, and the next morning you better run out and get fresh bagels and cream cheese because you’re GOING to want to dig into this Whisky Gravlax as soon as you pull it out and rinse off its sugar-salt-dill coating.

Now what are you waiting for? You only have one more day to go out and buy your salmon before you can have this deliciousness ready to go for an easy, lazy Saturday morning breakfast! Oh, and don’t forget the mimosas 🙂

Whisky Gravlax | CaliGirl Cooking

Whisky Gravlax (Cold Cured Salmon)
Prep Time
15 mins
Cook Time
1 d
Total Time
1 d 15 mins
An easy recipe for cold cured salmon using the classic salt, sugar and herb mixture and smoky whisky as the secret ingredient.
Course: Appetizer, Breakfast, Main Course
Cuisine: Norwegian
Keyword: appetizer, breakfast, brunch, hors d'oeuvres, lunch, salmon
Servings: 10 servings
Author: CaliGirl Cooking
  • 2 pounds salmon filet
  • 2 tablespoons whisky as smoky as you can find, I used Ardbeg 10-Year
  • 1 cup kosher salt
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons dried dill or one bunch of fresh dill
  1. Place salmon filet skin side down on a large piece of plastic wrap. Drizzle whisky evenly over salmon filet.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine salt, sugar and dill. Pour over salmon filet and pack it on as much as you can (there will be A LOT of this mixture, and you’ll want to be sure to use it all!)
  3. Wrap filet in plastic wrap and place in a shallow baking dish in the refrigerator for 24-36 hours.
  4. Remove filet from the refrigerator and rinse off the excess sugar-salt-dill mixture. Slice thinly to serve.
Recipe Notes

Wine Pairing Note: This Whisky Gravlax would pair perfectly with a lightly oaked chardonnay. The smoky flavor from the whisky will balance nicely with the soft buttery-ness of the oak, and salmon is a natural pairing for all chardonnay. BUT, if you’re serving the smoked salmon for breakfast, there’s no better way to pair this dish than with a mimosa!


Whisky Gravlax (Cold Cured Salmon) | CaliGirlCooking.com

Oh heyyyyyyy…

3 thoughts on “Whisky Gravlax (Cold Cured Salmon)

  1. Inexperienced at cold-curing, so this may be a dumb question, but how do I know if it’s safe to eat after the 24-38hr period? I just opened the Saran Wrap (thanks for the baking pan pointer, mess avoided!) but now I’m not sure if it’s good to go or not. Any advice?

    1. Hi Jen! Nearly all seafood is good to go after going through the curing process for 24 hours, as long as it is done properly. My best advice to make sure the salmon is safe to eat is to purchase it from a reputable supplier and make sure it doesn’t have any sort of “off” smells or look off-colored. If you want to be EXTRA safe, many websites I’ve seen recommend freezing the salmon first, before curing. This is by no means necessary if you follow my first two pointers, but is certainly an option. Hope this helps!

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