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Making New York Lox

post #1 of 4
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The name Lox?

Well many different theories are around about its beginning name. Most come back to the fact German’s made the cured fish in New York in the early 19th Century and so many feel it was the German name for Salmon that led to it being called lox Basically the word may have been derived from the Yiddish lox ("salmon)–which is a cognate of Icelandic (lax), Swedish (lax), Danish/Norwegian (laks), German (Lachs), and Old English (læx) so you can take your pick of where you think it came from, but it always means cured salmon.

Types of Lox?

To smoke or not to smoke? First one must realize why smoking of meats was done. In the early part of the 19th century refrigeration was none existent. Smoke is a natural fly repellant and so many many meats were smoked to keep flies off them during the holding times through the summer. Because so much additional flavor is imparted on the product when it is smoked, smoking also became part of the flavor profile for particular foods. Bacon, Ham, sausage and Salmon being the most common to carry a smoke flavor component. In the end lox can be smoked or not, depends on the appetizing-store you grew up visiting with Mom!

Belly Lox: Dry cured in Salt or Cure Salt, and sugar, then lightly cold smoked, this is a heavy salt salmon Nova or Nova Scotia Lox: Brine cured either Scot’s style (dry brine) or wet cured then cold smoked, not nearly as salty as the belly lox and preferred by many of the next generation Jewish people.

Gravad Lax: Scandinavian, rub cured and will contain spices in the mixture, usually associated with the presents of dill weed as a spice. You will hear this referred to as gravlax and is perhaps one of the oldest methods for curing the salmon.

Last Cure salt, I use cure salt with contains sodium nitrite to chemically cook the fish. This method was preferred in the area I grew up in because it will handle pathogens and parasites with vigor. Rendering a safe product every time.

For the recipe and the steps to making lox. Lox recipes that do not include the step instructions are incomplete, the steps and times are as important as the spicing used. First a word on lox recipes, there are as many recipes for lox as there are colors in the world. So if yours does not match this one go forward knowing, “it’s ok” you will still make lox. I am following a recipe and method I learned from a German butcher in Pennsylvania, I have in turn also changed that a little to suit my taste. I am using the methodology I learned as a kid helping the butchers and have also modified that to take into account how I want the salmon to taste. Along the way I am going to explain how to adjust the methods to help you understand how to adjust the taste.

So on with the ingredients:

1 tsp cure salt (pink salt 6.25 percent sodium nitrite)
½ cup kosher salt
1 tbsp white pepper
½ cup white sugar (some use brown sugar for the extra molasses flavor)

mix the above into a dry ingredient rub.





2 salmon fillets,
Salmon Filleting Skinned, chilled, and clean.



Pro Tip: Porosity; all meats have porosity, for consistent products we like to know that the porosity is the same every time. So I always brine my salmon fillets in ice cold salt water for 30 minutes to insure I start with the same porosity every time. Fail to do so at your own peril! (one gallon warm water, stir in all the salt it will take, (til salt lay on the bottom) and then ice it down to 32 F)



Zest an orange and a lemon and reserve the zest.

Dredge the salmon through the mixture. Spread half of the remaining cured mixture on the area where the salmon fillets will lay. Then spread half the orange and lemon zest under the area you will place the salmon. Now lay the fillets flat in a plastic box on top of the zested cure area. After fillet placement spread the remaining mixture over the salmon evenly, then use the remaining zest to coat the top of the fillets.





Place a nice size maple board on top of the fillets in the plastic box and apply 3 pounds of weight to the top of the board. I am using ice in a Ziploc freezer bag for the weight. Because I want things cold and ice is a safe food to use as a weight.





Now you will allow this to sit in the reefer for 48 hours. This requires a modification of my beer refrigerator in the garage. I must remove the beer from my shelf to make room for the salmon box.



After the 48 hour curing time you will pull the salmon and wash it off. Then we start the step that most books and people leave out.

Pro Tip: Desalinization is important in all curing and smoking. And it is the most unspoken of the curing secrets. People offer their recipes, they offer their smoking methods, but almost none speak of the desalinization step. Even in the most well written books you will see this step skipped. It is the “black art” of curing that remains a secret insuring your cure will never turn out as well as the Pros! Bacon, hams, sausages, all need to be desalinated to achieve the correct taste.



Here I am going into the ice water desalinization step. I will allow the lox to sit in the ice water for 90 minutes. In my younger days of curing I would collect the water sample every 15 minutes and use a specific gravity bulb to measure the amount of salt removed from the product. Now I am to the point where I can just taste the water and know how much I have removed. I use ice water so I know the removal rate is the same.

Once the freshening step is complete it is into the reefer to dry. I use a large cake cooling rack with paper towel under it to dry the fillets.

I dry for 36 hours.



Once dry we are ready to smoke. The thing that makes lox is the mouth feel. So lox must be cold smoked. That is to say we take steps to insure the product never goes above 90 F while smoking. This is referred to as cold smoking. The nitrite has “cooked” the salmon and is rendered harmless as a nitrate. So all we are looking for here is: water removal, shrink the protein enough to tighten it up and during the tightening to have the protein pull in some smoke! I am smoking here under light smoke for 4 hours.







Once the smoking is complete I return the lox to the reefer for chilling. I chill for 24 hours.



I will separate the belly from the dorsal for the first fillet so you can see the difference in belly lox and what is commonly referred to as Nova. But realize most Nova was the complete fillet. However in the early days of commercial food the Dorsal was worth more money to the restaurants than the belly, so the restos got the dorsal fillets for meals and the delis got the bellies for lox.





Now that we have prepped we slice and package!







The use of lox is for many purposes, the most common I have included below. A New York water bagel, schmeared with Phila. Brand cream cheese, topped with lox and a thin slice of onion, cut in half!





'Til we speak again, purchase a little lox and some bagels, it is a very nice way to start the day. And a little more at noon will get you through the day with energy to spare!

Chef Bob Ballantyne
The Cowboy and The Rose Catering
Grand Junction, Colorado, USA
I am a reduction of my youthful mistakes mixed with the roux of a few adult successes
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I am a reduction of my youthful mistakes mixed with the roux of a few adult successes
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post #2 of 4
Another fantastic photo essay. Great job chef! I really appreciate it, as I'm sure many others do as well! :D
post #3 of 4
What a wonderful demonstration! I adore lox, but never tried making it (or gravlax). This looks doable but for space's sake, I'd have to do it on a smaller scale.

As for belly vs. nova, would there be that much difference in the saltiness since you used the same brine for both?
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post #4 of 4
Thanks for posting Bob. I made sourdough bagels yesterday, and have had such a craving for one with a schmear and some lox.

I usually cure Gravad Lax / gravlax once a year, didn't do it this year yet. Never tried the sodium nitrite, haven't died yet;) . No smoke either. Well, on the fish that is:smoking:

Yours looks absolutely delicious!
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