Smoked salmon is a very popular ingredient in the Nordic countries. Salmon can be hot or cold-smoked: In the first instance, the salmon is smoked over heat that is greater than 120 degrees F. The result is a firm-fleshed, intensely smoky fish that has a cooked texture. Cold-smoked fish, on the other hand, is smoked at temperatures less than 80 degrees F. This process doesn't really cook the fish so the texture is silky and smooth, more like raw salmon.
One of the most notable forms of Nordic cold-smoked salmon is gravlax: salmon that is cured in salt, sugar and dill. Some home recipes for gravlax call for simply rubbing the salmon in a salt and herb mixture and leaving it to cure in the refrigerator for a few days. These versions take on the intense flavor of the rub through the curing process but are not actually smoked in any way. Other recipes call for curing AND smoking at a low temperature (below 80 degrees, as mentioned above) giving it that characteristic smoky flavor.
I am not ambitious enough to either cure or cold-smoke my own fish. There are many different brands of tasty and affordable smoked salmon available in the grocery store which suit me and my lazy ways just fine. My current favorite is the Whole Catch brand of gravlax from Whole Foods. It's delicious...a lemon and dill rub and just the right amount of smoke. It makes an excellent (and easy) star of the show for my latest smørrebrød creation.
I love the simple sophistication of this combination: Dark rye bread, leafy greens and gravlax topped with a simple, crisp salad of thinly shaved fresh fennel. It takes just minutes to assemble but tastes like something far more involved. And that's what it's all about, right? Minimal effort, maximum flavor and serious Nordic vibes.
Smoked Salmon and Fennel Salad Smørrebrød
For the Smorrebrod:
- 4 thin slices of dense rye bread
- Butter for spreading
- Tender lettuce leaves such as butter lettuce
- 4 ounces thinly sliced cold-smoked salmon such as gravlax
- Fennel Salad recipe follows
- Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
- Fennel fronds or chopped fresh dill for garnish
For the Fennel Salad:
- 1 large fennel bulb thinly sliced, fronds reserved for garnish
- ½ teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- 4 teaspoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
- Make the Fennel Salad: Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Toss lightly and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Transfer slices of bread to a clean work surface. Spread each slice with butter and top with lettuce leaves.
- Divide smoked salmon evenly between the four slices of bread. Top with fennel salad. Drizzle each sandwich with olive oil and sprinkle with fennel fronds or chopped dill. Serve.