Being a kid from the South, Lox was never something that I was really exposed too. Anything that came close to it, was horrible. It was fishy,rubbery and generally unappealing. Granted, all this took place at your friendly neighborhood coffee/bagel chain were mediocrity was in full swing. After moving to South Florida in 2012, I found that Deli’s were everywhere. I know what any of you that currently residing in the Five Boroughs are thinking. Its ok…..it was my first exposure to this kind of thing.
I soon found the magic of the Deli and started my love affair with Bagels. Everything being the king of bagels in my humble opinion. After that, my first exposure to passable Lox came to light. It was briny, meaty, and while paired with the chewy goodness of bagels mixed with the classic “schemer”, it was heaven. It’s a craving that I still have to fight off to this day (bagels are killer on the waistline).
When I got to Culinary School, we had a class called Garde Manger. For you laymen out there, its a class about food that basically isn’t cooked. Anything that can be brined, preserved, smoked, or cured was discussed; as well as some older French techniques involving aspic (look it up). This probably began my interest in making things like Lox, sausage, preserved meats and the like. Thats the first time that I ever smoked a side of Salmon. It was…..not my favorite at the time. As would be expected, it was made by Culinary School students. Mistakes were made.
As my first post for this site, I decided to give curing my own Lox a shot. I must say, its totally worth it. Something that they easily charge $20 plus per pound at a decent Deli, can be made for far cheaper and of much better quality.
Traditionally, Lox comes in a couple common varieties. Nova lox, is cured with a milder brine and then cold-smoked. This is pretty common in Deli’s as it has a pretty mild flavor due to the light brine and Atlantic Salmon variety. The second variety, and the one I went for here, is called Gravlax. Gravlax is a traditional Nordic style of preparation where a spice mixture, which often includes Dill, sugars, salt, and often Juniper berry. I skipped the Juniper, it is hard to find and unless we spice our own Gin, won’t ever get used again, which now that I mention it, doesn’t sound half bad.
To start, I wondered down to my favorite market to buy fish. As luck would have it, I stumbled into side of wild Sockeye Salmon on sale. The culinary god’s were smiling down upon me indeed. Just for those who are curious, Sockeye Salmon are found on the Pacific side of the country mostly found in the Pacific-Northwest and Northern Japan. Although some can be found inland in Montana, Wyoming, Colorado ect. They are known for their red flesh that they procure during spawning. They are less fatty than other Salmon species however, they are still delicious and my favorite variety of Salmon.
After getting it home and giving it a nice pat with some paper towels, I assembled my salt rub and added it to my 1.5 lb side of Salmon. The rub consisted of the following:
Note: I like to weigh things. It’s more accurate. Believe me. So most of the things I post on this site will be weighed.
5 ounces sugar
6.5 ounces Kosher salt (I like Mortin’s)
1 ounce fresh ground Black Pepper
Half a bunch of fresh Dill, roughly chopped
.5 ounce of garlic powder (I know, not traditional, I like garlic)
After the spices were mixed together, I gave the Salmon a nice pat down on both side to ensure proper coverage. After that, I evenly distributed the rest of the salt on the top of the fish. Placed on a half-sheet tray, and wrapped it with some plastic wrap. Whatever you use, make sure it’s deep enough to accommodate the liquid that will collect. It’s a surprising amount, so plan accordingly.
You need a bit of weight on top, some pressure will push the juices out ever so slightly. Which is what we want. My solution to this was a small casserole dish with a mason jar full of water on top. Turned out to be just enough weight to get the job done.
Now we play the waiting game. Your looking for firm flesh, if it still feels raw and squishy, it needs more time.
I left the fish in the rub for 48 hours which turned out to be perfect. For a thicker piece of fish, you may need more time and visa versa for a smaller side.
After 48 hours, I checked for firmness in the flesh and gave it a good rinse to remove the excess spices. Essentially, you are creating a brine after the salt combines with the fish liquid. If you done get rid of the excess, it will far too salty and inedible. Thats the opposite of what we want.
As you’ll notice in the pictures, not ALL the dill and spice came off. Its fine. It was still delicious, no need to power wash your fish.
Now, a decision needs to be made. To cold-smoke or not to cold-smoke? For those who don’t know, cold smoking happens at a very low temperature to flavor the fish but not cook it. I tried both ways, I’m a huge fan of smoking almost any foods but honestly, this didn’t need it. The Salmon was not overly salty or sweet. It was fresh and fishy, but not in a bad way. That being said, I will never discourage you from adding some subtle smoke to anything.
This may have been my favorite Lox that I’ve had yet. Nicely balanced, fresh, additive free; its everything that I’ve wanted from cured Salmon. If your curious, 4 ounces of Cured Sockeye, is around $10 at your favorite fancy grocery store. For this 1.5 lb side of Salmon, that would be $50, just saying…..
Despite the obvious choice of bagels, this fish is great in a Spinach salad with a nice mustard vinaigrette. Its also great as a snack on a cracker (you can see from the photos that I snacked on quite a bit). Although I have to say, its hard to beat the classic. Bagel, cream cheese, capers, and a little Red Onion makes it (traditionally Tomato and Cucumber make it on as well).
What can I say? I’m a fan of the classics.