This post is sponsored by Pacific Seafood, who provided the ingredients and compensation to make it happen! Although I’m more known for my bakes, I try and eat healthily at home by cooking with lots of organic vegetables and sustainably-raised proteins like chicken and fish — I’m hoping to share more of those recipes in the upcoming year, starting with this Columbia River Steelhead gravlax recipe. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own, and thank you for supporting the sponsors who help Hummingbird High run!
Many years ago, right when I first started this blog and back when Erlend and I were still living in Denver, his cousin Darcy invited us over for brunch at their place. Even though this was almost nine years ago, I still remember what she served — homemade English muffins. At the time, I had just started my baking journey and was still scared to bake anything related to bread and leavened by yeast, especially at high-altitude. When I asked her about the muffins, she laughed and told me “Oh these? These were really easy to make!” Although she meant to reassure me, her easygoing attitude towards the muffins was completely unrelatable and ended up intimidating me even more.
Fast forward to now — with several beautiful morning buns, babkas, and even a wreath bread under my belt, I finally felt ready to try making English muffins at home. I wish I could emulate Darcy’s nonchalance and tell you guys that these were a breeze, but the truth is, my first attempt (using Bon Appetit’s Best English Muffins Recipe, to boot) was a complete disaster. English muffins require a tricky dance of many steps, between mixing and shaping the dough and letting it rise, griddling the cakes in English muffin rings in a cast iron pan to let them brown beautifully and get their signature crust, and finally transferring it to the oven to finish baking. If you’re not paying full attention or strapped for time (like I was the first time these), there’s a lot of room for error. They’re no #weeknightbakingbook project, for sure.
But still, I persevered. I’d recently received a giant shipment of Columbia River Steelhead from Pacific Seafood that, after an epic brunch of gravlax smørrebrød at Portland’s Scandinavian brunch spot Broder Nord, I’d felt compelled to turn into gravlax perfect to pair with crunchy English muffins. Gravlax is a Nordic dish made by curing raw fish in salt, sugar, and dill; think of it as similar to smoked salmon, but with the smoke replaced by a subtle citrusy herb flavor. The trick to the best gravlax, of course, begins with using the best quality fish like Pacific Seafood’s Columbia River Steelhead. Although gravlax is traditionally made with salmon, I decided to try making it with the steelhead, which has an extremely high count of omega-3 fatty acids, and best of all, is raised sustainably with a gentle environmental footprint — you can learn more about their certifications and sustainability awards on Pacific Seafood’s site. I then cured the steelhead in a mixture of beets, horseradish, gin, and fresh herbs for added color and flavor. After a 2 day cure, I served the gravlax on my fresh homemade English muffins with a dab of cream cheese, smear of crème fraîche, extra herbs and spinach salad. It was the best brunch EVAR.
You may find yourself intimidated by the recipe below; it does requires sine planning, as you’ll be working over a few days to cure the fish and make the English muffin dough the day before griddling and baking them. I’ve written the recipe to reflect this and break the work over three days. Interestingly enough, curing the Columbia River Steelhead is the easy part — you’re simply covering the steelhead with different marinades on different days. As for the English muffins recipe, be sure to read my baker’s notes for tips and tricks on how to succeed at English muffins. God speed.
Some baker’s notes:
- If you don’t like how I’ve divided up the recipe over the span of days, click the “Print the Recipe” button link below — that will take you to a Google Doc that will have both the English muffins and gravlax recipes written in a more traditional format.
- Although you can probably get away with not using English muffin rings for this recipe, they do make your muffins a lot prettier by giving them a consistent round shape. That being said, they’re incredibly fiddly to work with — you’ll need to flip the muffins over in their rings as you cook them, and then unmold the muffins before baking them. If you don’t care about the aesthetics of your muffins, I suggest skipping them entirely.
- Similarly, you can probably get away with not using a digital food thermometer for this recipe, but it’s incredibly hard to tell when English muffins are done cooking and baking since they don’t really change much in appearance. The last thing I want is for you to end up with something raw in the middle, which is always a big risk when cooking bread in a griddle since the outsides cook so much faster than the puffy insides. The best way to prevent this is to finish baking the muffins in the oven, and using a digital thermometer to test the insides of each muffin — I’ve provided more specifics in the recipe for the done temperature of the muffins.
Homemade English Muffins and Gravlax
- Special Equipment: a food processor
- at least three English muffin rings (optional, but see baker’s notes)
- a digital food thermometer (see baker’s notes)
For the Beet Cured Gravlax
makes 1 1/2 pounds of gravlax
- 2 large beets, peeled and quartered
- fresh zest from 2 medium lemons
- fresh zest from 1 medium orange
- 2 juniper berries, bashed
- 6 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons gin
- 1 1/2 pounds Columbia River Steelhead
For the Herb Cure
enough for 1 1/2 pounds of gravlax
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 small bunch fresh dill, finely chopped
- 1 small bunch fresh tarragon, leaves picked and finely chopped
- 4 tablespoons freshly grated horseradish
- 2 tablespoons gin
For the English Muffins
makes 12 muffins
- 1 cup (8 ounces) warm water, between 110 to 115 (F)
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1 cup (8 ounces) warm buttermilk, between 110 to 115 (F)
- 1/4 cup (2 ounces) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to slightly warm
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 1/2 cups (15.75 ounces) all-purpose flour
- all-purpose flour
- fine-ground cornmeal
- olive oil
Day One: Cure the Fish in Beets!
- In the bowl of a food processor, combine 2 large peeled and quartered beets, fresh zest from 2 medium lemons, fresh zest from 1 medium orange and 2 bashed juniper berries until you get a fairly smooth paste. Transfer to a medium bowl and mic in 6 tablespoons kosher salt and 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar. Mix in 2 tablespoons gin.
- Lay 1 1/2 pounds Columbia River Steelhead skin-side down on a large sheet pan and slowly pour the beet mixture over the steelhead. Use an offset spatula to carefully spread the beet mixture all over the flesh. Once well covered, tightly wrap the steelhead on the sheet pan in a double layer of plastic wrap and transfer to the refrigerator to chill for 24 hours.
Day 2: Cure the Steelhead in Herbs and Make the English Muffin Dough!
- After the steelhead has chilled in the beet mixture overnight, you’ll need to cure it again with an herb mixture. Unwrap the steelhead and rinse off the cure by holding the steelhead over another clean baking tray and pouring a splash of water over the steelhead a little at a time — this should take around 2 tablespoons of water. Use a spoon to gently push any remaining beetroot mixture off the fish. Discard the rinsed off beetroot cure.
- In a medium bowl, mix together 1 small bunch finely chopped fresh dill, 1 small bunch finely chopped fresh tarragon, 4 tablespoons freshly grated horseradish, and 2 tablespoons gin. Place the steelhead back skin-side down on its original tray, and use your hands to pack the herby cure all over the steelhead, making sure to cover the flesh completely — you don’t want any air getting to it. Wrap the steelhead on its sheet pan in a double layer of plastic wrap and transfer to the refrigerator to chill for 24 hours once more.
- Make the English muffin dough by combining 1 cup warmed water, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, and 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast in the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes. Add 1 cup warmed buttermilk, 1/4 cup melted unsalted butter, 2 tablespoons vegetable oil and whisk to combine. Add 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour and 2 teaspoon kosher salt and use the mixer to knead on low speed until a shaggy dough forms. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until dough is smooth and begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl, about 5 to 7 minutes. The dough should be smooth, but very wet and sticky.
- Spray a medium bowl with nonstick spray; transfer the dough to the bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Transfer to the refrigerator to chill overnight.
Day Three: Make the English Muffins and Serve the Gravlax!
- Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper and dust generously with fine-ground cornmeal, covering the parchment completely, and set aside. Cover a work surface with a generous dusting of all-purpose flour and tip the chilled dough onto the work surface, dusting the top of the dough with more flour. Use a bench scraper to divide the dough into 12 equal pieces around 3 ounces each.
- Dust your hands generously with flour. Working with 1 piece at a time, fold the dough inward on itself four times, folding each corner of the dough towards the center to form a rough ball. Turn dough over so that the folds are underneath the dough ball and transfer to the prepared sheet pan. Repeat with remaining dough, spacing each dough ball evenly on the sheet pans.
- Sprinkle the top of each dough ball with cornmeal. Cover each sheet pan with a loose sheet of plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature until the dough looks puffy and airy, around 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
- Toward the end of the muffins’ rise time, prepare your cooking area. Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 350 (F). Heat a large cast iron skillet pan over medium heat. Melt a small pat of butter in the pan — just enough to coat the bottom and sides, and no more — and swirl the cast iron skillet. Brush the inside of 3 English muffin rings with vegetable oil and place them in the pan, allowing an inch or so of space between each ring — avoid crowding the pan since you’ll need space to flip each ring over.
- Transfer each dough ball to the inside of an English muffin ring by sliding 2 thin metal spatulas from opposite sides underneath each dough ball, getting underneath the cornmeal to avoid accidentally sticking or deflating the dough. Cook until the bottoms are dark golden brown, around 5 to 7 minutes, and use a metal spatula to flip each muffin (still in their rings) to cook until the other side is dark golden brown, around 5 to 7 minutes. When done, transfer the English muffins to a parchment lined sheet pan and carefully pop them out of their rings — be careful, the rings will be hot! Transfer to the preheated oven and bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until a digital food thermometer inserted into the center of each muffin reads between 200 and 215 (F). The muffins won't brown much more, but the interior will bake through. Transfer to a wire rack to cool 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
- Repeat with the remaining dough balls, cleaning out the castiron skillet of any excess cornmeal before reheating.
- Once the English muffins are done, slice the herb-cured steelhead as finely as you can at an angle. There’s no need to rinse off the second cure; simply serve with the homemade English muffins, with cream cheese, crème fraîche, and lemon.