Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Dinner Party Appetizers...Gravlax With Fennel- Orange Butter

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This is one of my favorite ways to serve gravlax when I'm having a small group of guests for dinner.  What I like about the recipe is that it is for a small batch and can be adapted to serve a few or a larger number of guests by simply doubling or tripling the amounts.

If I am entertaining a group of six or more at a party, I usually serve drinks on the terrace and let guests mingle and get to know each other before we sit down for dinner.  On such occasions I like to have one or two hors d'oeuvres that I can pass around,  for I know that when they start drinking and talking nobody is going to gravitate to a table and help themselves.  This is a perfect substitute for the traditional gravlax with mustard sauce which I adore but which is best enjoyed at the table and as a first course.  

I have played with the recipe in the past by substituting the traditional dill for the fennel but I have to admit the fennel is better and more unique.


1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 teaspoons sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1 one-pound, skin-on salmon fillet
1/2 cup chopped fennel fronds, more for serving
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon


2 small garlic cloves, minced
Sea salt
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 tablespoon chopped fennel fronds, more for garnish
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon
3/4 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper, more for serving
Slices of cocktail pumpernickel, for serving
Fresh lemon juice, for serving.


1. To make the gravlax:  Lightly crush the peppercorns using a mortar and pestle, the side of a knife, or a pepper mill. Transfer to a small bowl and stir in the sugar, salt and orange zest. Rub mixture over salmon flesh; press the fennel fronds and tarragon all over flesh.

Cover the dish with aluminum foil. Place a smaller pan on top of the foil and weight it with some heavy cans. Refrigerate the salmon for at least 2 and up to 3 days, turning it every 12 hours and basting it with the liquid that collects.

2. To make the butter (up to 3 days ahead): Using a mortar and pestle or the side of a knife, mash the garlic with a pinch of salt until it forms a paste. Transfer to a bowl. Add the butter, 1 tablespoon of fennel fronds, tarragon, orange zest and pepper. Stir to combine.

3. To serve, spread fennel-orange butter on slices of pumpernickel. Wipe off most of the marinade from the salmon and slice off the skin. Thinly slice the fish as you would smoked salmon, pile it on the pumpernickel, and sprinkle with salt, more black pepper and a little lemon juice. Top with fennel fronds.

Yield:  8 to 10 as an hors d’oeuvre.

Recipe adapted NYT June 17, 2010
Photo Andrew Scrivani NYT


  1. My stomach is rumbling at the look of this! Do you think fennel seeds could be substituted for the fennel fronds? I love fennel seeds.

  2. Blue,

    I wouldn't. the flavor would not be as subtle. Just get a fennel bulb.


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