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Salt-cured raw whitefish

Freshly salted whitefish Freshly salted raw powan (Coregonus lavaretus) is prepared using the same method as for gravlax, the salt-cured raw salmon.

Freshly salted powan and salmon are traditional Finnish delicacies.

Read more about powan here.

one or two fillets of fresh powan with skin (and scales)
coarse-grained sea salt  —  3 - 4 tbsp per 1 kg of fish
sugar  —  3 - 4 tbsp per 1 kg of fish
white peppercorns
large bunch of fresh dill

Choosing the right type of fish:
The powan must be absolutely fresh and kept properly chilled. Frozen fish should not be used, especially when making freshly salted fish, as freezing worsens the texture of oily fish species, like powan, salmon, trout, etc (see the note printed in bold below). Preferably choose an unscaled fillet or piece of fish, especially if the powan is small in size, as unscaled skin is tougher and sturdier, making the cutting of the cured flesh off the skin much easier. In countries where trout-related fish do not occur naturally and are only available as imported, frozen products, it is best to seek a good-quality speciality fishmonger selling sushi-grade fresh fish.

However, after seeing outside Finland, that for example in countries like Ireland the fresh fish sold to consumers is often positively infested with sealworms/codworms (Pseudoterranova decipiens) or other types of parasites, I think in most countries it is never absolutely safe to eat raw fish without freezing it first. To avoid any risks, follow the guidelines issued by your local food safety authorities.

Curing the fish:
Place the powan fillet(s) skin-side down on a large piece of clean parchment paper. Run your fingers on the surface of the fillet(s) to feel any bones and remove them (at least the largest ones) by pulling them out using fish tweezers (or use regular tweezers). Make sure your hands and all the utensils you are using are clean  —  it is a good idea to wear exposable, thin plastic gloves.

Mix together the salt and sugar and sprinkle evenly on the fillet(s) (see the pictures below). Crush the peppercorns lightly and sprinkle on top. Distribute the dill sprigs, with their stems slightly crushed with a back of a spoon, on top. Do not use chopped dill, as the small leaves will only get soggy during curing and become difficult to remove afterwards.

Tightly wrap the fillet in the parchment paper, then in plastic and place the package, with the fish skin-side down, in a deep dish, to catch any juices leaking out of the packet. There is no need to turn the fillet during curing or place any weight on top of it, as stated in some recipes.

If you have two fillets, place them one on top of the other with the spices between them, skin-sides outwards, and wrap. Flip the package over once or twice during curing.

  Figure 1
Piece of fresh powan fillet
Arrow Figure 2
Sprinkle with salt, sugar and pepper
Arrow Figure 3
Distribute dill on surface
If you have two fillets, place them one on top of the other
Arrow Figure 5
Wrap fillet(s) in parchment paper
Arrow Figure 6
Wrap in plastic and place in a dish

Place the dish with the fish in refrigerator for about 12 - 24 hours  —  but no longer than 48 hours. The longer the fillet is kept this way, the saltier it becomes. Also, the thicker the fillet is, the longer it takes to salt. Only a few hours may be needed to salt a very small and thin fillet.

Slicing and serving the salted powan:
Unwrap the paper package, pour out the accumulated juices, remove the dill and gently wipe the surface of the fillet(s) clean.

Cut the flesh into thin slices along the skin with a filleting knife (see the picture below). Discard the skin. Arrange the powan slices in a serving dish and sprinkle lots of fresh, chopped dill on top.

Figure 7

Serve the salted powan as it is, garnished with dill and lemon slices/wedges or on buttered white or rye bread slices, sprinkled with a dash of lemon juice, or garnished with lettuce, mayonnaise, crème fraîche or Swedish dill and mustard sauce, lemon, dill, shrimps, etc.

Storing the salted powan:
Wrapped in plastic and refrigerated, freshly salted powan made according to this recipe will keep for up to two to three days. It should never be frozen, as freezing worsens the texture of powan and other oily fish.

Additional information:
Also smaller cuts of powan fillet may be salt-cured  —  just reduce the amount of sugar and salt in proportion to the weight of the fillet cut. Let powan pieces that are thin and/or weighing less than 400 - 500 grams marinate only for about 8 to 12 hours. Cut out and eat a slice of the fish to see whether it is salty enough for your taste. Note that the flesh on the surface will be saltier than that next to the skin-side. Freshly salted powan should not be overly salty  —  while the original purpose of salting raw fish was to preserve it, today salt is only used as a seasoning.

*) If you do not happen to have coarse-grained sea salt, use half the amount finely granulated sea salt. Regular table salts, especially those containing anti-caking agents, added iodine or other additives, should not be used in salting powan, or indeed any other fish or food.

Recipe source: family recipe/traditional Finnish recipe.


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