Do you wish you could take a basic cooking class? Do you find yourself buying lots of pre-made ingredients, but suspect your food would taste even better from scratch? Periodically, Champagne Tastes will be featuring ‘Cooking 101’ recipes. These cooking staples will take your food to the next level, and will help you make more ingredients from scratch.
Every time we stay somewhere with a really nice breakfast buffet, the husband’s eyes dart back and forth until he finds what he’s looking for– piles of either lox or smoked salmon. He is immediately on a mission, making a beeline past the glistening piles of fruit, eggs, and fluffy waffles, and straight to the seafood. Only after he finishes devouring one, sometimes two, bagels, always overflowing with cream cheese and salmon, does he move on to the other options. If you, like him, get positively giddy when you see lox, you may have had the same crushed look that he had on his face when he saw what lox costs to buy pre-made. Even if you find a good price, pre-made lox typically comes in teeny-tiny, sad little packages. It was therefore, with some relief, to both my wallet and to the husband, to realize that lox is INCREDIBLY simple to make at home. For this ‘Cooking 101’ lesson, ‘How to Make Lox,’ we’ll take on those pretty pink salmon fillets and turn them into a delicious breakfast topping.
what is lox?
First, let’s talk about what lox is, and what it isn’t. Lox is salt-cured salmon, and is NOT cooked at high temperatures.* Sometimes lox is smoked over very low temperatures after it’s cooked, and sometimes it isn’t. People often confuse lox with smoked salmon— smoked salmon is… well it’s smokier! Unlike lox, it will always come smoked– (obviously)– sometimes it will be cold-smoked, and sometimes hot-smoked. If you’re looking for the thinly-shaved, incredibly flavorful salmon that you put on bagels (or anywhere else), you want either lox or cold-smoked salmon. As much as I love cold-smoked salmon, I don’t have a way to easily prepare it at home. Lox, however, is incredibly easy to make, and adding smoked salt to the curing mixture gives it a little bit of the smoky flavor.
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Before you start making lox, make sure you have the following: salmon, sea salt (or kosher salt, or brining salt, but NOT iodized or table salt), sugar, and aluminum foil. You might also want to use gin or vodka and smoked salt. Ideally, you’ll also have a fillet knife. If you don’t have a fillet knife, and none of your knives are sharp or flexible enough to cut the salmon into thin slices, you can also dice the salmon. Avoid using thick slices though, because the texture is… Well, it’s weird. Either slice very thinly or finely dice. If you adore lox, and decide you want to go buy a fillet knife, I’ve had good success with this inexpensive one. Also, be aware that the salmon will take about 32 hours to finish curing, so don’t plan on starting and eating it on the same day. The actual “active” cook-time is only about 20 minutes, however, so all you really need is a little patience.
How to make lox
To make your lox, start with about 2 pounds of salmon. You can cure more or less salmon at once, but 2 lbs is a good starting point. Roll out enough aluminum foil to totally wrap up your salmon, and set the salmon in the middle, skin-side down. Drizzle the gin or vodka over the salmon. Mix up the sea salt and sugar, and then spread it over the salmon so that there’s a layer of the salt/sugar mixture covering the whole fillet. (Don’t worry about salting the skin). Next, sprinkle the smoked salt, if you’re using it, evenly over the fillets. If you’re using an even number of fillets, you can sandwich them, skin-side out, and they’ll take up less room in your fridge while curing. Wrap the foil completely around the salmon, and then take another piece of foil and wrap it again. Set the wrapped salmon fillets in any kind of lipped container– a baking tray, a pie tray- whatever they’ll fit in– so that the juice that leaks out won’t spill all over your fridge. Put the whole thing in the fridge, and set something heavy on top, like a cast iron pan or brick. (Make sure it’s something that won’t be ruined if it gets salmon juices on it! Don’t use, for example, a pineapple– because Eww!– or fine, porous china).
Let the salmon cure in the fridge for 24 hours. Take it out, unwrap it, and rinse, rinse, rinse! Put the salmon fillets under your kitchen faucet, and rub off all the salt mixture. Next, use a fillet knife to thinly slice the lox, moving across the top of the fillet, and parallel to your kitchen counter. Slice until you get to the skin, and remove the skin with the final slices. The skin will be easier to remove if you cut head-to-tail instead of side-to-side. Put the slices of lox into a covered dish, and set back in the fridge for at least eight more hours to allow the flavors to balance out. The lox should stay good for about 2 weeks if kept in the fridge. Serve it however you want– on a bagel with cream cheese, in a bowl of rice, or just eat it by itself. Pat yourself on the back for learning something new, and enjoy your lox!
Note: When selecting salmon, try to choose wild salmon over farmed. Farmed salmon is typically artificially dyed, and has fewer healthy nutrients. Also be aware, in the USA, the “sushi grade” label on fish means nothing. And by nothing, I mean that it isn’t regulated by the FDA.
*Also Note: When buying fish to eat raw or undercooked, seafood safety is extremely important. Buying commercially frozen fish drastically reduces the risk of getting sick from the fish— and your home freezer probably doesn’t get cold enough to meet FDA regulations. The fish will still be delicious if it’s been frozen first– even high-end sushi restaurants will often flash freeze their fish before serving it raw. Personally, I stick with frozen fish for my raw fish eating adventures. However, I’m not a doctor, and I’m not giving medical advice here. If your doctor says you shouldn’t eat raw fish because you’re at a higher risk for getting sick (i.e.– if you’re pregnant or have a different medical condition that makes it unsafe), talk to them, not me, before chowing down.
Love seafood? Want more? Try these:
How to Make Lox
- 2 lbs salmon fillet(s), skin on
- 2 TB gin or vodka (optional)
- ~1/2 cup sea salt
- ~1/4 cup sugar
- 2 TB smoked salt (optional)
Place salmon fillets, skin side down, on a sheet of aluminum foil large enough to completely wrap around the salmon. Drizzle gin over the salmon. Mix sea salt and sugar together, and then cover salmon with a thick layer of the mixture. Use more salt as needed, depending on the size of your fillets. Next, sprinkle the smoked salt evenly over over the salmon.
If using multiple fillets, sandwich them together, skin side out. Wrap foil around the fillets. Wrap them again with another piece of foil.
Set wrapped salmon on a baking sheet or any lipped container-- the juices will leak out, so you want them contained. Set the salmon and lipped container inside refrigerator. Set something heavy on top of the salmon- such as a cast iron pan or brick.
Leave salmon to cure for 24 hours, and then remove from foil. Rinse the salmon for several minutes to remove salt.
Use a fillet knife to slice salmon as thinly as possible, cutting across the top of the fish in long thin slices, removing the skin with the last cuts. The skin will come off easier if you cut the fish head-to-tail instead of side-to-side. If you don't have a fillet knife, dice the salmon instead.
Place salmon slices in a covered dish, and put back in the fridge for at least eight hours to allow the salty flavor to balance out.
Salmon will keep in the fridge for about 2 weeks.
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