Once again it’s that time of year when the snow is falling, the stores are full, and kids everywhere are trying to put on their best well-behaved acts in hope that dividends will be paid under the tree. Yes, it’s the holiday season once again and with that season, come some specialty seafood items to the ultimate destination for seafood in Old Saybrook – Atlantic Seafood Market. While we’ve done posts on specialty fish in the past, this post will focus on three of our biggest stars for this year’s holiday season: baccala, smoked eel, and gravlax. (We’ll explain what that last one is a bit later on.)
Let’s start out with an Italian favorite that goes by the name of baccala. While we introduced you to baccala in our Feast of Seven Fishes article, we’ll explain it a little bit further here.
Baccala is made from dried, salted cod that is stored up in slabs and is a fixture on the holiday dinner table of many Italian families. Due to being preserved in salt, baccala keeps very well and has been being prepared and consumed for centuries.4 When cooked, baccala has a chewy and and firm texture yet possesses a very mild flavor that is not “fishy” at all. While baccala is most popular among people of Italian ancestry, most of it that is consumed in the United States is imported from Norway.4
Prior to being served, bacala must be soaked to wash out excess salts and to regain moisture. Once it has been properly hydrated, it can be prepared in a multitude of ways, but before cooking it is very important to remove all of the bones.
Another specialty item that will be headlining here at Atlantic Seafood this December is smoked eel. While some may balk at eating what is seen as a rather unusual food source, eel is undeniably delicious and versatile in the kitchen. In terms of taste and texture, eel has the consistency of a dense whitefish and has a flavor somewhere in between albacore tuna and particularly sweet mussels.
Frequently found in sushi bars, eel can also be used for soups, soup stocks, coated with flour and cornmeal for a fried treat, smoked (our personal favorite), or just eaten plain by itself. When the time comes for consumption, eel is almost always cut up into 1-2 inch pieces, as this makes for easy eating due to its bony structure. Eel also possesses many health benefits, including being rich in Vitamins A, D, E, B1, B2, and B12, as well as being a food that is low in sodium, helps to lower blood pressure, and helps to reduce the risk of arthritis.3 In addition to all of this, eel meat is also high in Omega 3 fatty acids which provide benefits to the brain, eyes, and even preventing Type 2 Diabetes. Below is a picture of some eels cooked by way of smoking.
As promised, we’ll now introduce you to gravlax. Gravlax is a favorite seafood snack in Scandinavia and Northern Europe and goes by many different names in different countries. While known as gravlax by the Swedes, it is called “gravad laks” in Denmark, “gravlaks” in Norway, “graavilohi” in Finland, “graflax” in Iceland, and “graavilohe” in Estonia. No matter what language you refer to it in, it translates to “buried salmon” or “salmon of the grave”. Despite this rather morbid moniker, gravlax is a delicious treat with much less sordid origins than its name would imply.
Gravlax started out back in the medieval days when Nordic fishermen would catch salmon and bring them back to land. After this they would promptly bury it in its “grave” under the sand during high tide so it could partially ferment. Put the Swedish word “grav” which means grave, together with the Swedish word “lax” meaning salmon, you get a delicious holiday treat known as gravlax.2 While it is no longer fermented, gravlax is still bursting with flavor. It is normally cured with salt, dill, and sugar and served on potatoes or bread, though crackers and bagel chips may also be used.2
Below is a recipe from The Splendid Table for Gravlax with Fresh Dill Mustard
Ingredients (for salmon) : 1 tsp whole coriander seeds, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 cup of coarsely chopped fresh dill, 1 tbsp black peppercorn, 1/3 cup coarse salt, and 1.5 lbs of fresh salmon fillets1
Ingredients (for mustard sauce) : 1 small minced garlic clove, 3 tbsp minced onions, 1/2 cup coarse-grain dark mustard, 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar, 3 tbsp canola oil, 2 tbsp sugar, 1/3 cup chopped fresh dill, and salt and pepper if desired.1
1. Two to three days before you prepare the mustard sauce, you should prepare and cure the salmon. Start out by placing the coriander in a small frying pan and cook over medium heat for 3 minutes, continually shaking the pan. Remove the coriander and place it in a spice grinder along with the peppercorns and crush. After crushing, add in the salt and sugar mix.
2. In a very shallow glass or china pan, spread out half of the the chopped dill and half of the coriander/peppercorn/salt/sugar mixture. Then put the fillets skin side down and cover them with the 2nd half of the mixtures. Once this has been done, place a pot or cake pan down on top of the fish and weight it down heavily. Refrigerate the fillets and remember to turn them over once every 12 hours.
3. After the salmon has had time to cure, you can begin to prepare the mustard sauce. To do this, blend the ingredients together and refrigerate if it will not immediately be ready for serving.
4. Scrape the dill and other spices from the fillets and place them on a flat surface, skin side down. Then slice the fillets across the grain, freeing each slice completely from the skin. After this, you may space all of the slices evenly out on a platter.
5. Spread a light layer of the mustard sauce on a piece of bread, toast, cucumber slice, cracker, or bagel chip and then place a piece of the now-cured salmon on top.
6. Garnish with fresh dill sprigs, lemon juice, and salt and pepper, to taste.1
Salmon Gravlax with Fresh Dill
The Splendid Table, 2012
2. Author Unknown
What is Gravlax?
The Wise Geek
3. Author Unknown
Health Benefits of Eel
YGOY Health Community, December 4, 2010
4. Phillips, Kyle
Baccala – Unexpected Delight from Salt Cod
About.com Italian Food