Can you believe it's 3 weeks until Christmas? 3 weeks! And as always, it's going to creep up on us like an ill-fitting pair of skinny jeans (or worse, jeggings), especially with all the Christmas parties, weeknight catch-ups and hungover mornings in store!
If you're anything like me, you won't do any Christmas prep for the next few weeks and suddenly find yourself at a 24-hour Kmart at around 11pm on December 23rd, desperately starting to think about what to get your loved ones and what to serve for Christmas lunch...
Sound familiar? Well I've got an easy starter dish for you - a gravlax using rainbow trout (you could also use salmon), with a simple lemon and dill curing mixture. It's delicious, looks pretty impressive, and best of all, you can make it all in advance (even a few days before) and have it ready to serve on the day!
What you'll need:
1 rainbow trout (or 2 fillets)
75g caster sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1/2 bunch dill, chopped
1 Tbsp sweet paprika
4 cloves, crushed
1 bay leaf, crushed
Prep time: 20 minutes
Curing time: 3-4 hours
Step 1: Fillet and pinbone your trout. You can leave the skin on as this will help with slicing the gravlax once it's cured.
If you're not confident filleting fish or don't have a sharp, flexible knife, get your fishmonger to fillet it for you. You'll probably still need to pinbone it though - so some fish tweezers come in handy for this, although you can actually just use your fingers if you have some fingernails...
Step 2: Prepare your curing mix by mixing the sugar, salt, paprika, cloves, bay leaf, lemon zest and the dill in a bowl. You can vary the flavourings to taste - but the sugar and salt are essential for curing the fish!
For the salt component, I used a 70:30 mix of table salt and some smoke-flavoured salt that a friend recently gave me, just to give a bit of smoky flavour to the gravlax.
Step 3: Coat both sides of the trout fillets with the curing mix, making sure you cover as much of the surface area as possible. Pop them into a tray, cover with cling wrap, and place into the refrigerator for 4 hours to cure.
Step 4: Midway through the 4 hours, turn the trout over and make sure the curing mix is still in contact with the fish. You'll notice that the skin will already feel a bit leathery and the flesh will be a bit firm, which means the salt and sugar is doing its work! There'll also be a bit of liquid in the tray, which has been drawn out from the fish by the salt.
Step 5: Once the 4 hours is up, take the fillets out and rinse off the curing mix.
Note: you can leave the gravlax to cure for longer, which will impart more flavour into the flesh, but the flesh will also dry out more and not be as soft.
Step 6: With a sharp knife (I prefer a filleting knife over a chef's knife for this), slice thin ribbons of the trout off the fillet. You can use the skin as a bit of a guide or barrier to run the edge of the knife along.
Step 7: Once you've taken care of the two fillets, toss all of your thin slices of gravlax with some more dill, black pepper and lemon zest. Then you can serve it however you like - perhaps on some rye toasts with a horseradish cream and pickled beetroot, or paired with a handful of salad leaves and a dill vinaigrette, or simply as part of a platter with a zesty mustard sauce.
So there you go - something simple, fresh and pretty impressive to kick off your Christmas lunch this year! Hopefully, it'll make up for the undies and socks you bought everyone as gifts...