The Spice Trader & gravlax

This week my friend Maui and I went to The Spice Trader, an organic spice house in the Queen West neighbourhood to attend a gravlax class, the Nordic way of curing salmon. The class was taught by Donna Ashley of Karelia Kitchen.

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We had a great time!

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This was my first visit to The Spice Trader, Maui and I had planned to visit twice before and that turned into a wash, luckily 3rd time was the charm. It’s located at 877 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON, M6J 1G5 (at Strachan), across from the park. They have both a retail and online spice shop.

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It’s a beautiful store, with wooden shelves and an old-fashioned scale in the window. The shelves are alphabetically organized and have ample room making them easy to find, I appreciated that the shelves were not jam-packed with product, they had just enough bottles out.

Sadly, only one jar of Saigon cinnamon to be found and Maui snagged it first. It smelled so amazing, I can’t wait to get a bottle. They have a sample of each spice and that one just smelled so good.

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At The Spice Trader they offer classes and we learned to make gravlax, or cured salmon. The etymology of gravlax was interesting to learn. Gräva is the Scandinavian word for grave, or “to dig”, and lax/laks means salmon. (Although you can use any fatty fish for this, like trout or halibut). The fishermen used to salt the fish and bury the salmon in the sand to ferment it, and dig it up later to eat it. Due to modern sensibilities we make it slightly different now.

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So how do you make this anyway?

  • Buy the freshest cut of salmon you can find, with the skin on.
  • Make a mixture of equal parts kosher salt and brown sugar. Kosher salt is used specifically because the shape of the salt flakes make it easier to get a good application of salt, the flakes cover more surface area than rounder granules. So ratio is 1:1. You can change this a bit to taste, I prefer sweeter.
  • Place the fish on a platter and pack the mixture around it generously.
  • Get fancy by laying a bunch of fresh herbs and a citrus fruit on top, like dill and lemon. Or make a puree of beets and horseradish. Possibilities are endless!  I’m intrigued by trying with vanilla beans.
  • Cover and refrigerate 5 or 6 days to cure it. The salt dries out the moisture and the fish will firm up. Then slice thinly and serve. Cooked fish without an oven! That easy!

Our instructor Donna was great, she was thorough, funny, and very charismatic. Allison the shop keeper was amazingly good with names. She memorized 12 names on the fly.

I left the shop with Hawaiian black salt, ground white pepper, pink Himalayan salt, lemon oil, and orange oil. I made a delicious chicken dinner with my new spices and can’t wait to try the oils.

This is the gravlax Donna cured in beets and horseradish I believe. Look at how the colour stays near the top, won’t that look stunning done on white fish?

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Here is the dill and lemon gravlax, see the packed sugar and salt?

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They all tasted delicious but the red one was my favourite. I will definitely make another trip to The Spice Trader to acquire that cinnamon.