Maybe the Vikings had to invent something as luxurious as gravlax to get them through those long, dark winters. This sensuous Scandinavian delicacy was first made in the 8th century, just about the time they first started plundering and marauding. The name comes from grav, a hole dug in the ground (as in grave), and laks, meaning salmon: Scandinavia being one of nature’s great refrigerators, the fish was often buried in the cool earth to preserve it.
On the tiny island of Sotra, lapped by the waters of the cold North Sea in the fjords of western Norway, we persuaded the wife of a Norwegian fisherman to share her secret recipe for modern-day gravlax. It involves just the right combination of salt, white peppercorns, sugar, aquavit, and fresh dill to marinate an impeccably fresh side of salmon to silky-textured, subtly flavored perfection—and we didn’t have to dig a hole. Though the basic technique always remains the same, notions of the perfect cure vary: Some prefer a saltier mix; some like it sweeter; some use cognac or other spirits instead of aquavit. Our favorite borrows a touch from the Russians: Gravlax with Blinis and a sweet Mustard-Dill Sauce.