Whisky-Cured Salmon with Whole-Grain Mustard Sauce
  • 1 pound farm-raised king or Atlantic salmon fillet (see Note), in one piece with skin on, pin bones removed
  • 1⁄8 teaspoon liquid smoke (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon single-malt Scotch whisky
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • 2 tablespoons whole-grain-style prepared mustard 
  • 2 tablespoons mild olive oil or neutral vegetable oil 
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon sugar, or to taste 
  • Thinly sliced rye or pumpernickel bread
Time Estimates

Prep time: 20 min, plus a few days to cure  

Total time: 20 min  


  1. Rinse the fish and pat dry. Place the fillet skin side down in a glass or stainless dish.
  2. If using the liquid smoke, combine it with the whisky in a small bowl, and brush or rub the mixture on the fish; if using straight whisky, sprinkle it on straight from the bottle and brush or rub it all over the fish. Let stand 30 minutes uncovered in the refrigerator.
  3. Combine the salt, sugar and pepper and spread the mixture evenly all over the fish, a bit heavier where the meat is thickest.
  4. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and set another pan (such as a loaf pan) on top. Add 2 to 3 pounds of weight inside the second pan (a quart jar of mayonnaise, a bottle of wine, whatever). Place in the refrigerator, with a prop under one end to tilt it slightly.
  5. Let cure 2 to 3 days, then brush off any remaining salt crystals. Wrap tightly and keep in the refrigerator up to 5 days.
  6. Whisk together the sauce ingredients and adjust the sugar to taste, bearing in mind the sweetness and saltiness of the salmon cure.
  7. To serve, slice the salmon thinly on the diagonal, across rather than parallel to the layers of muscle. Serve on the bread slices, topped with a dollop of sauce.




While I prefer wild salmon whenever possible, for this kind of raw preparation it’s safer to use a farm-raised fish. With their processed feed, farmed salmon are never exposed to the parasites found in the marine food chain. One of these, a tiny worm called Anisakis simplex, is common in West Coast waters and may be found in wild salmon. Cold curing, cold smoking and similar preparations do not kill the worms, so eating gravlax made with local wild salmon creates some risk of ingesting live parasites. While human Anisakis infection is very rare, and serious complications are rarer still, even this low level of risk is avoidable. That being said, lots of people enjoy wild salmon cured in these ways. The choice is up to you.

Good to know

This falls somewhere between Scandinavian-style gravlax and a cheater’s form of smoked salmon. A lot of gravlax variations call for aquavit, gin or other spirits; here a splash of single-malt Scotch adds a faint smoky touch, which you can reinforce with a little liquid smoke. With or without the added smoke, it makes a delicately flavored and textured salmon appetizer to go on thin slices of bread, either whole slices of the little loaves labeled “party rye” or larger slices cut into triangles. Leftovers are also good on bagels.

I'm not a big fan of farm-raised salmon, but I prefer it here for safety reasons (see note). I find that serving farmed salmon raw turns its biggest drawback — its high fat content — into a virtue.

Which beer should I drink with this?

Try this with your favorite hefeweizen; I also like it with a berry-flavored wheat beer like Widmer Widberry.

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From The Microbrew Lover’s Cookbook, Copyright © 2002 by Jay Harlow. Used by arrangement with Jay Harlow.

Photo: cobalt123/Flickr