We’ve always loved ‘lox’ and treated them like a delicacy – ordering them from restaurants, savoring each bite. For too many years we wrongly assumed that curing ‘lox’ was out of reach; that the process called for ingredients and levels care that we didn’t keep on hand.
Then, a few years back, we did some research and came across a great baseline recipe, made our own modifications, and here you go. This simple recipe calls for common ingredients, and aside from going one step further and smoking the cured salmon fillets, it is something anyone can create in their own kitchen.
There is some confusion on what to call the popular dish of thinly sliced fillets of cured, smoked salmon over toasted bagels smeared with cream cheese and garnished with onions and pickled capers.
So, what are we talking about here? Lox? Gravlax? Nova Lox? Smoked Salmon?
Short of a history lesson, true Lox (traditionally called Belly Lox) were a Scandinavian product created as a way to preserve salmon before refrigeration was widely available.
Lox are salmon fillets cured only in salt for several weeks, resulting in a highly salty taste and a raw texture.
It is not hard to imagine why the combination of ‘bagels and lox’ became so popular; the chewy bread and creamy dairy pairs nicely with the salty, firm texture of the salmon.
Traditional Lox are actually not very common in the mainstream US today. So much that, if you ask for ‘Lox’ at a deli, they will assume you mean smoked salmon.
Gravlax, also a Scandinavian tradition, is easier on the pallet and therefore more common. Gravlax are salmon fillets cured in sugar, salt, and often dill, lemon, and some form of alcohol (traditionally vodka, though more recently, gin) to speed up the curing process.
With the additions of sugar and dill, and the altered curing process, Gravlax have a silky texture and are much less salty than traditional Lox. Gravlax are therefore more popular in the US today than the traditional version.
Nova Lox, a cousin to Belly Lox and Gravlax is salmon that is cured then cold-smoked. The name traditionally implies that the salmon was caught in Nova Scotia, though today the term Nova Lox is used for cured, cold-smoked salmon fillets. Cold-smoked salmon is smoked at a temperature below 85 degrees, often in a chamber separate from the actual heat-source.
In addition to a rich smokey flavor, Nova Lox have a silky texture like Gravlax.
Smoked salmon, known for it’s rich, meaty flavor, has quite a number of varieties in its self. From dry brines to wet brines, cold-smoked to hot-smoked, and pressure canning for kippered. This is a topic for another day. Stay tuned for a future Alaska Freediver post on smoked salmon.
No matter what you choose to call the following method of curing and smoking salmon fillets, it is delicious! Share it or savor it, but remember… if you give a friend home-cured lox, rest assured, they’ll ask for more!
- Large pan/casserole
- Wood smaller dimensions than pan so it can fit inside – cutting board will work
- 5lb Weight
- Smoker (Big Chief)
- 1 red salmon sockeye fillet (1lb – 1 ½ lb)
- 1 cup Salt
- ¼ cup + ¼ cup Sugar
- 1 tsp Dill
- Juice of ½ Lemon
- Tools: smoker
- Bagels or Sesame Rice Crackers
- Cream Cheese or Goat Cheese
- Red Onion finely chopped
- Pickled Capers
- Pat fillet dry
- Remove bellies and collars (they don’t cure as well)
- Lay out a sheet of plastic wrap, large enough to wrap around fillet
- Pour 2/3 cup of salt on plastic wrap & spread it out just larger than fillet. Evenly spread ¼ cup of sugar on top of salt.
- Set fillet on salt/sugar mixture.
- Sprinkle dill over fillet until covered.
- Spread 1/3 cup salt ontop of fillet, repeat with ¼ cup sugar.
- Evenly add the juice of ½ lemon across the top of the salt & sugar.
- Wrap fillet tightly in plastic wrap, sealing it shut.
- Stack & add weight.
- Refridgerate 12-24 hrs. Fish will firm up, go longer for thicker fillets. Skin will turn leathery; flesh will become firm & darker in color.
- Unpack fillet & rinse in fresh water.
- Pat dry & let dry for 20 min on racks
- Skin should be leathery
End of Gravlax
- Smoke for 30-40 min at 80 degrees
- Thinly slice fillet (gravlax or Nova Lox) on an angle, perpendicular to lateral line
- Toast bagel (if using), cover bagel/crackers with cream cheese/goat cheese, layer on onion, lox, and capers
Written By, Amelia Pollack
Amelia Pollack, a lifetime Alaskan, is an avid fisherman, hiker, hunter, gatherer, chef of wild-caught foods, & mother of 3.
Amelia and her husband, Chris, created Alaska Freediver as a way to share their love for Alaska’s bounty with all of you.
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