Smoked Salmon (Lox) is great on its own, but when served on a bagel with cream cheese, tomato, onion slices, and capers it becomes a masterpiece. Making your own lox will cost you a few days but literally 1/10th the cost of buying it in the store. You can even make your own bagels from Jo Goldberg’s in Paris if your feeling ambitious. It’s all worth the effort for the enhanced flavors of making these dishes from scratch.
Lox (Cured Salmon)
- 5 gallon plastic bucket with lid (never aluminum)
- Electric fan (optional)
- Cold smoker device (optional) with pellets
- Razor blade or extra-sharp knife
- Pastry brush
- small saucepan
- 4 lbs Salmon fillets, fresh or fresh frozen, skin on, high quality
- 1 cup Light brown sugar
- ¾ cup Kosher salt
- 12 cups Coarse salt (brining salt)
- 16 cups Water
- 1 cup Dark brown sugar
- ¾ cup Dark rum
- Prepare Salmon – Rinse salmon in cold water. Cut full-sized fillets in half crossways. Score skin with a razor blade or extra-sharp knife (allows more brine to penetrate).
- Dry Cure – Mix together salt and sugar in a small bowl. Sprinkle a layer of salt/sugar mixture over the bottom of a 5-gallon plastic container. Lay half the salmon pieces over that skin-side down. Aggressively sprinkle salt/sugar mixture over the fish. If using, add fresh dill in a single layer. Top that with other half of salmon pieces, skin-side down. Sprinkle heavily with most of remaining salt/sugar mix. Flip pieces over so the skin-side is now on top. Sprinkle remaining salt/sugar mixture over that. Cover and let sit in a cool shady place for 12 hours. Curing fish doesn't need to be refrigerated as the salt/sugar mixture stops any decomposition.
- Wet Brine – Remove salmon from container, discard dill, if used. Rinse both salmon and container thoroughly with cold water. Add pickling salt to bucket and the water. Swirl with a wooden spoon until salt is dissolved. Add fish to the solution skin-side down. Cover and let sit for 12 hours. Fish doesn't need to be refrigerated. Brining draws water from fish as it cures.
- Freshen Fillets – Empty brine from the container and rinse it out. Rinse fillets and return to container. Place container in a place where water can overflow and drain. Pace a garden hose or extended kitchen faucet at bottom of bucket. Slowly run cold water and allow water to overflow the bucket. This is a critical step in removing excess salt from the fish. Freshening will take anywhere from 1 hour for thin pieces and up-to 1½ hours for thicker pieces. Be careful not to over-freshen fish as it can become pasty and waterlogged and basically unusable.
- Painting and Drying – When fillets are properly desalinated, transfer them skin-side down onto a kitchen towel spread on a table or counter. Pat tops dry with paper towels. In a small saucepan, completely dissolve dark brown sugar in rum. Warm slightly on stove is sugar isn't dissolving. Set a fan at the end of the table where the fish has been laid out. Brush the sugar/rum syrup onto each piece. Turn the fan on to help dry the syrup. As the syrup dries, about every ½ hour, brush on a new layer of syrup. Do this for 5-6 hours until a pellicle (skin) of syrup forms on the surface of each fillet.
- Cold Smoke – Place cold smoker device on one the side of an unlit grill. Lite pellets in smoker and lightly smoke for 30-60 minutes. * Do not let the temperature exceed 85°F (28°C) or pieces can be ruined.
- Store – Wrap fillets in plastic wrap and place in seal-top plastic freezer bags. Store what you plan to eat in the refrigerator and freeze the rest. Refrigerated lox is good refrigerated for a few weeks and several months in the freezer.
- Omitting the dill and steps 5. (painting) and 6 (cold smoking) may all be omitted with the outcome a fantastic lox worthy of a New York delicatessen. Including those steps adds layers of flavor that take the lox from great to amazing!