It all started with an innocent request from a customer to send them a product description of our Gravadlax that they stocked. A quick reply with brief description of our process was all that was needed but I decided to just follow that up with a bit of research on history and origins of this typically Scandinavian process of curing.
It was Patrick Gwynne-Jones of Pomegranates restaurant that claimed to have introduced the Scandi dish Gravadlax to the London restaurant scene in 1970s. This restaurant, on the corner of Dolphin Square, was a favourite louche dining den for royalty, the rich and famous of stage and screen (not a footballer in sight). Patrick was very particular about his cure which included crushed cloves and freshly ground white pepper which he claimed gave extra flavour. Gravadlax cures today are as commonplace as is the variety of flavouring and methods used, but essentially it’s still a basic sugar and salt cure with aromatics and a dash of alcohol flavouring of choice.
Gravadlax actually dates back to the Middle Ages when fishermen, to preserve their fish, would lightly salt the salmon and then bury them in the sand above the high tide line with a rock marking their location. The word 'grava’ comes from the Scandinavian word meaning to dig, and ‘lax’ or ‘laks’ was a reference to salmon. This actually resulted in a fermentation process. Today fermentation and digging in the sand on the shore line are history, the Scandi tradition though has evolved - they still ‘bury’ the fish but now traditionally in a dry salt, sugar and aromatic mixture that is left for several days to draw moisture and at the same time flavour the fish.
I was casually chatting to Richard about how little has changed in the process over the years when he surprisingly suggested most Gravadlax sold commercially is actually smoked salmon with a dill or flavoured dressing. He challenged me to see if I could find any smoke houses that make Gravadlax in ‘the traditional way’. That was a challenge, and I found three, but was shocked at how widespread the practise of using smoked fish was with many companies openly describing their product as ‘smoked gravadlax’. Call me naïve but I never knew such a thing existed and Patrick Gywnne-Jones certainly didn’t.
With Russia boycotting trade with the EU it has meant that some products designed and especially produced for the Russian market have taken a bit of a knock and nowhere is this more obvious that Norwegian farmed sea trout. Prices are now at a level that makes sea trout competitive against farmed salmon prices. We have been very impressed with taste flavour and quality of the fish and with much smaller defined fat lines they have smoked really well. Those interested in fresh or smoked don’t feel shy, give me a call, plus note to self must do a sea trout gravadlax cure.
Continuing with the Scandi theme we have done quite a bit of work over the past few months on herring cures. The ‘silver darlings’ that were responsible for providing millions of the poor in the UK with their protein intake in the 18th and early part of the 19th century are we think due for a revival in popularity. Not only are they reasonably priced and MSC accredited fish easy to access but they are good for us, high in omega-3 oils and rich in vitamin D they are also exceptionally versatile. Eaten raw, poached, fried, grilled, pickled, souced, marinated, salted or smoked the options are endless. Of course many of you will be familiar with our extra-large whole kippers or kipper fillets where we use 450 gm plus size herrings, but recently we have been developing a sweet cured rolled herring that we are now producing in commercial quantities, anyone interested in samples give me a call.
It’s been a month now since our Llangorse Eel release day and what a fantastic day we had. It was great to see customers and friends of Severn and Wye come and support the event, the sun shone and special thanks to Silla Bjjerum and Dave plus family who put on an amazing sushi feast for all of us and the boys of The Grange School, Monmouth, Jonny Rees and his son for bringing their coracles and those that felt brave enough were able to take a quick crash course in coracle manoeuvres. We have now stocked over 100,000 eels into Llangorse in the last 5 years and will soon have to start collecting data on migratory escapement to establish the worth and value we believe this project produces.