Rye Bread Part 2 and a little Gravad Lax

Why Part 2?  Because we had to wait twenty four hours to cut the rye. This wait, hard to bear, is always recommended for high density ryebreads to allow the crumb to stabilise and settle. Visit Mellow Bakers July Breads here if you want to see how my fellow bakers got on with this one!

I am the first to say, that looks like a bit of a heavy bread,  but it surprised me and was indeed smooth and noticeably sweeter and lighter to eat than it looks.  I liked it better than the 70 % rye I made earlier in the month as far as eating went.

Banneton proved 80% rye bread

It had a nice sponginess to the texture which I put down to the soaker.  I should maybe have given the bread another 10 – 15  minutes in the oven and then the base would maybe have been a little less sticky plus a little less time on the final prove but it survived my lacksadaisical handling nevertheless. Rye is very fragile once risen, as it doesn’t have the resilient gluten network of a wheat based loaf to hold the little gas bubbles. It  collapses quite readily and doesn’t do oven spring, so you want to have it ‘just so’ when it goes in the oven.  This one hung around a bit too long, queing up for the oven and we were eating lunch!   Again these breads often do better baked in a tin or a wooden bread frame as they do in Germany.

The secret to making rye breads like these is definitely pre-fermenting most of the rye flour; I certainly can’t achieve a good flavour and texture in a high percentage rye bread without using sourdough.  It’s up to the individual whether or not to spike the bread with a little yeast, I did in this case, as I was following the formula in the book but I am not sure it was of benefit in the end and I think if I make this one again, I will leave out the yeast altogether, bake the bread in a tin, bake it for longer and maybe even hold off cutting it for a bit longer too.  Edit:  I baked it again with different flours in a Pullman.

Moving on though, here is the Gravad Lax recipe for my friend Gill the Painter who visited and trialled her new bread recipe this week and for anyone else who wants to know the traditional way of making this Swedish fish dish.

Here is the second side about to be sliced up...

This iconic Swedish dish was exotic and foreign when I was a child, and viewed with intense suspicion in England in the 1960s…

“What do you mean, the fish isn’t cooked? Do you mean it’s raw!!??”

How times have changed since the rise of sushi.

This dish though, isn’t raw in the true sense of the word; I would call it cured or dry pickled fish, as it is transformed from raw through the osmotic action of salt and sugar.

So here is the recipe for Gravad Lax (Swedish pickled salmon)  the way my mother made it. The name by the way means ‘ buried salmon’ from the Middle Ages, where the fish was salted and buried in the sand on the shore by the fishermen and left to ferment.  Surstroming is still fermented but not this salmon dish, you may be pleased to hear.

Let me say first of all my mother didn’t cook very much, preferring by far the traditional Smörgåsbord cold buffet meal that is famous in Sweden.  This is one of the few dishes she could make happily and with great pride, maybe because it didn’t involve heat. We ate it all year round, usually for birthdays and Christmas, as salmon was much more expensive in the days before fish farming took off and it was always a special treat and I think of it that way still.

You need a large fat salmon tail piece, you want two matching fillets, not one small one and one big one.  You can use other cuts, two rectangular fillets would do as well.  They should  be equal in size and shape so when they sit one on top of the other they make a neat triangular fish tail sandwich.  Buy the best and freshest salmon you can get. Make sure the skin is scaled by the fishmonger or you will have to do this yourself.

We never used to freeze the fish before making this, but now I read the advice is to flash freeze the fish before you prepare it in the same way you would do for sushi. So I did that this time and froze the fish overnight before defrosting it again.  It didn’t seem to do too much harm to the fish, maybe made the texture a little softer and the colour a little less bright.

The salmon is cured using a very simple mix of sugar, sea salt and white pepper and ideally fresh stems of dill. You can use dried dill but it is not as good. Frozen dill will work too.

For 1 kg of salmon

  • 3 tablespoons of salt – I used flaky Maldon sea salt last time, so if you are using fine sea salt then maybe reduce the amount of salt to 2 tablespoons as it is denser than flaked salt.
    3 tablespoons of white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of ground white pepper (you can use black pepper if you don’t have white but  white pepper is traditional and has a different flavour in the final cure)
  • a good sized bunch  of fresh dill

I make this in an oval dish that fits the fish fairly closely. You will also need some foil and space in the fridge, for it to sit for 2 – 4 days, so plan this before you start it.

For the weight you can either use tins of chickpeas, or tomatoes or you can, as I have done, quite effectively, wrap a house brick in foil, or balance a chopping board on top and weight that.  I leave that part up to you!


Mix together the salt, sugar and white pepper.
Take your two fillets of salmon and check they are clean, remove any small bones that may be left with tweezers,  pat dry with a piece of kitchen paper.  I have read about people notching the skin of the fish to allow the cure to penetrate, but I have never done this.

Sprinkle a third of the mixture on the base of the oval dish.

Place one of the fish fillets on top of the mixture, skin side down. Sprinkle another third of the mixture evenly over the surface of the fillet and then lay sprigs of dill on top of that, be generous with the dill. Then place the other fillet face down on top of this to make a sandwich. So skin sides on the outside of the fish sandwich. Then sprinkle the rest of the mixture on the top of that.

Take a good sized piece of foil and wrap it over the top of the fish and fit it closely around the fish to make a firm parcel.  Then place the weight on top of the fish and put the whole lot in the fridge.

That’s basically it.  Depending on how strong you like your fish cured, you can eat it anywhere from 24 hours – 5 days later. I think I like it best after 2 – 3 days.

I always take the dish out of the fridge after 24 hours and carefully unpack it and drain away any brine that has collected in the bottom of the dish, turn the fillets over and rewrap it and put it back in the fridge.

To serve:

Unpack the fish. Separate the two fillets.

Remove the dill, if you want to reduce the salt on the top surface then rinse and dry the fish before cutting it up. Then with a sharp and flexible knife cut from the point of the tail in the direction of the wider base of the triangle. You want to cut this as thinly as you can, so hold the blade at a very shallow angle, (think smoked salmon) though I have seen this served with short thick pieces too. You don’t cut through the fish skin, which is ultimately discarded.

Hold your knife at a very shallow angle..

If you don’t need to use the whole fish, I keep the skin of the first piece and place it over the uncut piece and wrap it up tightly and put it back in the fridge for the following day.

One of my better slices!

I make a simple sauce of yoghurt and mustard to go with this. Swedes make a sweet mustard sauce with sugar and red wine vinegar sauce and chop dill into that too.

Gill's pea and wasabi,Nils's juicy grainy rye, the 80 percenter, and a whey sourdough

Serve with rye bread or a selection as above, or some crispbread if that’s what you have in the house –  if you want to serve potatoes, boil some new potatoes with their skins on and throw some of your dill into the water while they are cooking. Traditional accompaniments of lemon and some black pepper if you like… it’s all pretty easy.

Psst… If you want to know more about Gill’s brand new pea and wasabi bread you can read about it here on her blog.  If you happen to be eyeing up Nils’s rye bread, you can find it here on his lovely blog.

11 thoughts on “Rye Bread Part 2 and a little Gravad Lax

  1. GillthePainter

    Good morning Joanna.
    & I can confirm your salmon is a perfect way to cure. Tender in texture too, with a sweetily refreshing zest coming in to the taste.
    Very very good indeed.

    Your dinky rye bread top left by Nils was noteable too. I had 3 pieces with your mustard yoghurt.

    What a gentle lunch we had.

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Thanks for being such a lovely guest and trying everything! Now to think what to do with those Asian flours you brought me…. Have you worked something out yet? Have a great weekend in Doncaster Gill!

  2. GillthePainter

    I’m just making my plain and peshwari sourdoughs.
    Par-cooking, so I can re-heat/finish cooking them again tomorrow evening after the Doncaster races, Joanna.

    I’ve used the maida flour 300g – to strong flour 300g in my naans.
    & I didn’t give you any, but 200g coconut flour. Same mix, but the coconut mix isn’t lifting much.
    I’ll call them peshwari chapattis!

    & we shall be having ….. ahem ……. in no particular order:
    sheek keebab skewers, chicken curry vindaloo, peshwari and plain breads, a raita, a mango chutney, lentil dahl, and onion mint bhaji, and I think that’s about it.
    Lettuce & tomatoes for the side/ garnish
    I don’t fancy steamed veg which Tony always wants, but I’ll give that a miss.

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      I’ve just wiki’d maida flour, and had a little frisson of excitement, bread head that I am. It says it is a fine wheat flour which closely resembles the notorious ‘cake flour’ maybe this is it! and the rava flour is from durum wheat, the semolina family of flours. Am I wiser now? Not sure, used for halva, dosas and upma…..

      But that food sounds per-fect. What a feast you will have :)

  3. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

    Once the fish is pickled and sliced you can also freeze it quite safely. A great thing to do if you come across one of those big bargain salmons again Celia!

  4. heidiannie

    I need to have a party to serve fish at my house- my husband gags when I even mention it. (Meat and potatoes get SO boring!) But I’m making this for Christmas lunch when I have some real food eaters at home! That salmon is lovely- and a great alternative to smoked salmon which sometimes is just a bit too smokey for my enjoyment. Thanks for the tutorial, Joanna!

  5. C

    Your rye looks great – really nice looking crumb. I’m very impressed that you managed to wait 24 hours before cutting it, such patience!

    The gravad lax tutorial is really good, although I’m not sure I’ll make it, it’s good to know where to find reliable instructions!

    I love your selection of breads – they all look amazing – I wish mine looked as good. It looks like you and Gill had a really good time together. Gill’s wasabi pea loaf sounds intruiging!

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Hello C! … on waiting to cut the bread, I have learnt the hard way and been far less patient and cut the bread, the excuse being to see if it is cooked or, worse to take a photograph and it just isn’t worth it. It is sticky and the taste isn’t there properly.

      It’s like cakes made with dried fruits or nuts, they seem to be better being left to settle down and mature.

  6. MC

    We spent quite a few summers in Norway when my kids were little and I have fond memories of gravad lax. Your tutorial is just what I needed to try and reproduce the dish at home. Beautiful photos too! And of course, this rye bread to die for… I can almost taste it just from looking at the pics.

    1. Joanna @ Zeb Bakes Post author

      Thanks for visiting MC! How lovely! I was going to amend the gravad lax a little to say that it was at its best after 4 days of pickling. The fish is firmer then and easier to slice, though a little saltier of course.

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