Do-Ahead Christmas: Gravlax

James Ramsden’s gravlax with rye crispbreads is the ultimate do-ahead Christmas dish. Simple to make, it looks after itself in the fridge for several days but is always a guaranteed showstopper and its sweet saltiness seems to be very popular with small people. 

James Ramsden Gravlax recipe

Image: (c) Clare Winfield



Gravlax – or gravad lax or gravlaks – is a nifty Scandinavian method of curing fish. It means ‘buried salmon’ after the medieval method of salting the fish and then burying it in sand. As you do. Though you don’t in this recipe. You just bury it in salt and sugar and herbs. It’s more delicate than smoked salmon, rather impressive to guests, and yet indescribably easy for you to do.

Mr Fox Notes:

You must ensure you have a very fresh piece of salmon for this – tell your fishmonger that you intend to cure it rather than cook it. If you are in any doubt as to how fresh it is, freeze it first for 24-36 hours (to destroy any nasties), then defrost and proceed as below.

The gravlax and crisp breads can be frozen if you want to do this really ahead of time. Freeze any leftover off cuts – they are great tossed into creamy pasta dishes.

If you don’t fancy making the crispbreads from scratch (and, at Christmas, we can definitely forgive you), use shop bought instead. James recommends Peter’s Yard and we heartily agree – this Edinburgh based bakery make by way and away the best, and they are increasingly available from supermarkets and delis.

Don’t feel beholden to the toppings suggestions. They elevate this to fancy fare (and it is Christmas after all) but a dollop of sour cream and a squeeze of lemon are perfectly acceptable low key substitutes. Do seek out the dill though – it’s just not the same without.

For the salmon

a side of salmon, weighing around 1kg/2lb 4oz

150g/5½oz/½ cup sea salt flakes

75g/2¾oz/1/ ³ cup light soft brown sugar

a bunch of dill, finely chopped

For the crispbread

200g/7oz/2 cups rye flour

100g/3½oz/generous ¾ cup plain (all-purpose) flour

1 tsp fast-action dried yeast

½ tsp salt

a few twists of pepper

250ml/9fl oz/generous 1 cup warm water

2 tsp caraway seeds (optional)

To serve

100ml/3½fl oz/7 tbsp sour cream

2 tbsp horseradish sauce

2 tbsp capers

1 shallot, very finely chopped

a few sprigs of dill

black pepper

lemon wedges


Line a baking tray with a couple of layers of clingfilm. Lay the salmon on top, skin side down. Mix the salt, sugar and dill, and scatter over the salmon, coating evenly. Cover with clingfilm, then put a board or plate on top, with something heavy to weigh it down. Store in the fridge for 2–3 days, then scrape off excess salt, wrap in clingfilm and return to the fridge.


To make the crispbread, mix the flours, yeast, salt and pepper. Add the warm water and mix to form a dough. On a lightly floured surface, knead for a few minutes. It will be pretty sticky to start, so add a touch more flour if necessary, or use a stand mixer. Put in a bowl and cover with a damp tea towel. Rest for 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas mark 6. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out to about 3mm/1/8in thick. Scatter over the caraway, if using, and roll a little more. Cut into rounds or rectangles and prick all over with a fork. Transfer to a lightly floured baking sheet and bake for 20–25 minutes until crisp. Cool on a wire rack, then store in an airtight container.


Mix the sour cream and horseradish with a pinch of salt. Cover and chill. Thinly slice the salmon, taking it off the skin as you slice, then store in the fridge covered with clingfilm.


Slather the crispbreads with the horseradish sour cream. Top with slices of gravlax. Scatter over capers, shallot and dill. Add a good twist of black pepper and serve with a wedge of lemon.

Extracted from Do-Ahead Christmas by James Ramsden, published by Pavilion. Photography by Clare Winfield.  

For more on getting ahead in the kitchen this Christmas click here. Or try out James’s chocolate, orange and hazelnut tart.