Let's start off the new year with one of the dishes that we served as an appetizer on our New Year's Eve menu, a roulade of gravlax. I cured a side of salmon for many days in salt, sugar, and a lot of white pepper and then dried the salmon for several more days in the refrigerator to yield what I call prosciutto of salmon, for its ham-like consistency. You could substitute any kind of thinly sliced fish or even ham in this appetizer. This post is about the technique; I leave the flavorings up to you. The tiny leaves you see are micro-lemongrass, which echo the lemon zest in the cream cheese filling.
Start by laying out plastic film on your counter top. If you're using narrow film, you may want to overlap two pieces as I did. Lay out your fish in a large rectangle as you see here. In practice, it doesn't really matter how the pieces overlap each other. Patch any large holes with small bits of fish.
Make certain your filling is very soft, otherwise, you'll not be able to spread it on the fish without destroying your layout. This filling is softened cream cheese flavored with fresh dill, lemon zest, minced capers, and white pepper. I didn't add any salt because the ham-like salmon is really salty and the capers add enough salt to the filling. I've also used all manner of seafood mousses as fillings. Experiment and have fun.
Working very carefully, spread the filling over the fish. Take your time. I will be rolling this from the right edge to the left edge. Notice that I start the filling close to the right edge, but leave a large margin on the left side so that I have an extra flap of fish to help seal the roulade. Also leave a bit of margin on the two ends so that you don't push the filling out onto the counter as you roll the roulade.
Obligatory food porn shot number 1. Doesn't this look good? Notice how faded the salmon looks? That's because I salted it for so long; the longer the cure, the paler the fish in my experience. This fish was a fairly typical salmon red to begin with. The fish was in the cure about a total of 7-8 days, which is a long time for salmon. The longer the cure, the drier and saltier the fish, as well. If you cure your own fish, you'll have to experiment to see what you like.
Using the plastic film, turn over the first little bit of the edge of the roll on itself. Once you have turned over the first little bit, use your fingers to tighten up the roll, keeping the film between your fingers and the fish. Use the film to keep pulling the fish over itself, forming a tight cylinder as you go. The film is absent in the subsequent photos to keep the glare down; this is merely for photographic convenience.
Here is the roulade, rolled about half way. Notice how I have tightened the roll up as much as possible. There is a fine line between tight enough and so tight that you start forcing the filling out of the seams. Be gentle; using the film to form the roll helps you keep the pressure gentle. If you do touch the roll with your hands, use the flats of your palms and roll gently. It's not hard to do, but go slowly until you get the hang of it.
Obligatory food porn shot number two in which the photographer feels compelled to give tight, close up shots of highly edible foodstuffs. The ends of the roulade will be naturally a bit ragged as you see here and that's OK. However, it is a terrible shame that you will have to trim and eat these little snack bits rather than serving them to your guests. Poor you!
Here you see the completed (but unwrapped) roll just before I put it in the refrigerator to chill. Notice about a third of the way down that there is a slight void between a couple of pieces of gravlax (where you see the white filling peeking out). This is nothing to worry about or even try to fix: small voids here and there will not compromise the integrity of the roll once it firms up in the refrigerator. The solid filling will bind everything.
Roll the roulade in the film. I discarded one of the two pieces on the counter and rolled the fish in the other. Gently roll it back and forth on the counter to make the cylinder as uniform as possible. Place on a tray and refrigerate for at least four hours and preferably overnight. You want the filling to firm up as much as possible. If you are in a mad rush, use the freezer.
Here's what you are aiming for, a tight roulade with few internal voids. My hints for slicing the roulade: make sure the roulade is very cold, use a very thin knife with cullens such as a gravlax knife or ham slicer, slice directly through the plastic film, and wash the blade in warm water between slices.