Scandinavian Gravalax Terrine

A terrine is really just a pressed loaf.  Doesn’t sound so glamorous anymore, does it?  And yet, somehow the average “pressed loaf”, when wrapped in sensual salmon, takes on an almost unbearable elegance and just begs to be supped alongside sparkling champagne in the company of white gloved waiters brandishing silver dishes of sturgeon roe.  Or, if you come to my house, it could be accompanied by excessive bottles of cheap sparkly Prosecco with stale Swedish rusk toasts and vermouth soaked cocktail onions.  Hey, that’s just how I roll.  I might not show up in white gloves, but frankly if I show up wearing clean pants I sometimes consider that to be a win (and by ‘clean pants’, of course, I mean, ‘something that can pass for pants’.  Such is life).

Perhaps it’s because 50% of the blood coursing through my veins is Scandinavian, but I’ve always had a soft spot for smoked or cured fish, dill, pickles, onions, rye bread, sweet butter or thick cream cheese…..okay, maybe I just like food, and it could be that Scandinavian food, though often overlooked, is spun around flavor combination that just work and simple, balanced food.  You wouldn’t scoff at salmon and dill, right?  Or fish and eggs?  Mustard and cornichon?  Now imagine rolling all these flavors together and serving them as an elegant canape on top of a round of boiled potato, or possibly pressed and layered into a terrine.  Scandinavian Gravalax Terrines = pure first course pleasure.

If you like smoked salmon but you’ve never tried gravalax, a thinly sliced Swedish cured salmon dish, it’s probably about time that you did.  Easier on the budget than store bought smoked salmon, and remarkably easy to make at home, you really don’t need an excuse to attempt home cured gravalax for the first time, but I’ll give you another one anyway: Scandinavian gravalax terrine.  Creamy layers enriched by herbs and enhanced by sweet pickles, mustard, thin but dense bread and hard boiled egg, all wrapped in a luscious coating of chemically “cooked” cured salmon, this is the appetizer of Oscars and champs.  Again, I urge you, if you have never brined or cured fish on your own, now is as good a time as any…..

Scandinavian Gravalax Terrine

Serves 8-12 as a first course or light lunch with salad

  • 1.5 lb (700 g) Gravalax *
  • 12 oz (1.5 packages) light cream cheese at room temperature **
  • 1 lemon (2 tsp zest + juice of half)
  • 1/3 cup sour cream ***
  • small handful dill (3 Tbsp chopped) + more to garnish
  • 6 cornichon (scant 1/4 cup, chopped)
  • 2 large scallions (or 4 green onions from the garden)
  • 2 eggs
  • 4-5 slices dark dense rye bread, each 1/4″ thick ****
  • 4 tsp Dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper to taste

To garnish & serve

  • fresh dill sprigs
  • 6-8 cocktail onions, preferably ‘tipsy’ onions soaked in Vermouth
  • plenty of soft white crusty bread, Swedish rusks, or hardy crackers

* You could use 1.5 lbs of smoked salmon instead if you prefer.  However, I suggest that if you opt for smoked salmon you might want to invest in black stockings instead of nude, because they will do a better job of obscuring your facial features when you find yourself robbing a convenience store in order to afford that.  Look, I know that curing your own gravalax can be scary or seem time consuming, but it’s really not.  Even if it was though, I would still rather spend $11 CAD to buy and cure 2 pounds of my own salmon rather than go to the deli and spend $30 CAD on an equivalent amount of house smoked salmon which is in no way superior.  So there.  Save your dollars to buy aqavit instead.

** There is method to my madness.  Light cream cheese is lower calorie than regular, true, but that’s because there is more air whipped into it.  Blending this lighter cream cheese into your mix has a barely meager effect on the waistline, but yields a somewhat lighter terrine in the end.  That’s a good thing.

*** I know, light cream cheese but full fat sour cream.  What’s up with that?  Frankly, full fat sour cream is thicker and more stable than fat-free sour cream which is enhanced with chemical stabilizers and has an insipidly weak flavor.  It’s only one third of a cup, guys.  The extra 60 calories PER TERRINE aren’t going to kill you.  And yes, I counted.

**** I like to buy a heavy, dense brown pumpernickel rye bread that is pre-sliced into 1/4″ thick squares.  However, if you have a loaf of pumpernickel at home there is certainly no need to waste it.  Slice the bread rather thinly and toast it gently before leaving it to sit out for 2 hours and dry out.  The bread will absorb moisture from the terrine layers as it sits.

Put the eggs into your smallest pot and cover them with water.  Bring the water to a rolling boil and then turn the heat off.  Cover the pot and let it sit for 18-20 minutes, or until the eggs are hard boiled.  Drain off the water and peel the eggs when they are cool enough to handle.

If you are using house cured gravalax (Woot, woot!  Smack yer ass and call you Sally, I’m so proud of you!! If I had three thumbs I’d stick them all up in the air!!) slice it on an angle and across the grain as thinly as possible.

Line a loaf pan with plastic wrap, pressing it firmly into the bottom of the dish and leaving a nice long (6 inch) overhang on both ends.

Lay the cured salmon slices around the full perimeter of the loaf pan, overlapping the slices just slightly and making sure that there is some overhang on the ends.  Essentially you are creating a “shell” of salmon for the terrine.  This will use up just over half of your salmon.  Set the prepared dish aside, and split up the remaining salmon.  You want to reserve enough of the sliced salmon to completely cover the top (7-8 slices should do it) and put the rest aside to use in the central layer of your filling.

Put the softened cream cheese into the bowl of a food processor along with the sour cream.  Grate in 2 teaspoons of lemon zest and squeeze in the juice of half a lemon.  Season the mixture rather well with salt.  You can pepper it as well, if you must, but try to use white pepper so at least the terrine appears to be pure of heart.

Whizz the cream cheese mixture in your food processor until it is smooth.  Dollop out two thirds (2/3) of the mixture into a bowl and set it aside.

To the remaining cream cheese mixture, which will be just slightly over four ounces, add the fresh dill.  Puree the mixture until it is pale green and the dill is well incorporated.

Scrape the dilly cream cheese mixture out of the food processor and smooth it into an even layer in the bottom of your gravalax lined dish.

Finely chop the cornichon and sprinkle them evenly on top.

If your pumpernickel has thick crusts, cut them off.  If not, simply slather each slice of pumpernickel with one teaspoon of Dijon mustard.

Lay 2 to 2.5 slices of pumpernickel in a single layer on top of the dill and cornichon layer of your terrine, with the mustard side facing down.  Trim the bread if need be so that it fits perfectly into your loaf pan.

Dollop half of the remaining cream cheese mixture back into your food processor (1/3 of the total amount).  Being sure to keep some of your salmon reserved to make the top shell of the terrine, add the rest to the cream cheese mixture and puree it until it is thick and there are no chunks of salmon remaining.

Dollop the salmon mixture on top of the bread.

Smooth the salmon and cream cheese mixture out until it is flat and even before gently pressing in a second layer of bread.  Again, the bread should be trimmed if necessary so that you have a perfect layer that is 1/4″ thick.

Roughly chop the scallions (green and white parts and add this to the remaining cream cheese mixture (1/3 of total).  Puree until the mixture is smooth.

Roughly chop the eggs and spread the bits evenly on top of the bread.

Pour the scallion and cream cheese mixture over top and use a spatula to gently smooth it into an even layer.

Tuck the overhanging salmon slices in to the center and lay the reserved salmon on top, barely overlapping the slices, until the terrine is completely covered.

Fold the short sides of the plastic wrap on top of the terrine and bring up the long ends to completely cover and encase the salmon.  Put the wrapped loaf pan into the fridge for at least 2 hours so that it can firm up.

After the terrine has had some time to chill, put a second loaf pan on top, weighted down with two relatively light cans (two large cans of tuna are ideal).  Put this back in the fridge overnight, so that the gravalax terrine has had 18-24 hours to set.

When you are ready to serve the terrine, lift away the top coating of plastic wrap so that the salmon is exposed.  Lay a plate or serving platter flat down on top of the terrine and holding both dishes tightly quickly turn them over to invert the terrine.  If it does not easily loosen and come out of the loaf pan, rap the pan several times with your knuckles and then try to lift it off again.

Remove the plastic wrap from the terrine and garnish with more fresh dill sprigs and/or cocktail onions as you see fit.

Terrines are truly a thing of beauty, particularly when wrapped with luscious and flavorful home cured salmon.

The terrine will be easiest to cut using a sharp knife when the mold is well chilled.  Do not let the terrine come to room temperature before you serve it, because when it warms and softens the layers will loosen and make it harder to lift and serve.  When the terrine is well firm, however, you can cut it into lovely fat slices that look like the seafood version of neapolitan ice cream.

Serve the terrine with sliced baguette and so some healthy shmearing, or offer up thin toast points and serve the terrine with a side salad.  The option is yours.

Smoked or cured salmon can sometimes be overwhelming, but wrapped thinly around creamy layers with bright dill, pungent green onions and sweetly tender pickles, the flavor is tempered and balanced.  The pumpernickel provides a soft, rich denseness to the terrine which is otherwise surprisingly light.

For a starter that looks like dessert but tastes like rich and briny delight, try a creamy cured salmon terrine and celebrate some of the main flavors in Scandinavian cuisine.

  • Drew

    Ok Tina, this terrine is going into my “must make” list. I have a potluck picnic in Central Park coming up in May, and I think this will be a showstopper.

    Eerily enough, I too am 25% Swedish (My Grandmother on my Dad’s side was 100% Swede). I only get to eat gravalax the few times a year that I make it to our local Swedish restaurant (Smorgas Chef, if you are ever in NYC, is excellent!) but now I am feeling compelled to make it myself. The only problem is that Kate doesn’t like salmon. Which means I don’t make salmon. Time to remedy that situation!

    The last time I ate Gravalax in Sweden was midsummer’s when I was 15, and they were serving me straight vodka with our lunch of potatoes, herring, gravalax, and bread. You can imagine how that ended for me.


  • Jacquie

    Lovely! I may have to change my stance on the loaf food groups. This would be a great way to use the leftover gravlax and smoked salmon. I always have bits and ends of both laying around. Also, this would be a total win at the summer potlucks with the 14 other smoked salmon dips.

    Very, very pretty. also, nice knife work!

  • mirinblue

    Wow! A gorgeous dish-one more to add to my “LOVE” file!

  • Kristie

    My Viking people eat bizarre things. It’s very pretty, though, and probably satisfies the same Scandinavian cravings that I’m currently forced to satisfy by raping and plundering.

  • Yum Yucky

    Whoa! I thought this was a salmon on Steroids. I’d totally eat it. And gimme those baguette slices too. All of them.

  • Brenda

    This looks gorgeous, my mouth was drooling just looking at the pictures. Thanks for the recipe.