Introduction: Homemade Lox at 1/4 the Cost

Picture of Homemade Lox at 1/4 the Cost

I've been making homemade lox (technically gravlax, because I cure them only in salt and sugar, rather than curing them and cold smoking them like nova lox) for the last year or so and have really been enjoying the outcome. It's super easy to do, takes only 24-48 hours to cure, requires only a few ingredients, is really impressive with the guests, and best of all, costs 1/4 of what you'd spend on the same thing at the store!

I'm a California transplant from New York, and on the long list of delicious things that you can't get in California, including pizza, bagels, egg rolls and cold weather, is lox. In my opinion, ACME nova lox from Brooklyn, NY is the king of all things appetizing. I grew up with the kid who stands to inherit the 4th generation business and have eaten the stuff all of my life. The only problem is, you rarely see it out here in Cali, and back home in Port Washington, NY, at Let There Be Bagels, the best appetizing (aka "spread") store around, nova costs $40.00 a pound!

Even if you've managed to keep your job through these crazy economic times, that's still a lot of hooch for some uncooked fish. As with many things DIY, there's an alternate, cheaper method that I'll share with you, which, in my humble New York Jew opinion tastes just as good, if not better than the full price cold smoked specialty store bought stuff.

Step 1: Ingredients

Picture of Ingredients
The savings comes in buying your own salmon. I harp on California not having certain things that New York does, but one of the many distinctly beautiful things that California does have is The Berkeley Bowl - pretty much the best market I've ever come across.

I picked up some locally farmed, sustainably raised Duart Salmon there for $9.99 per lb. Now that must have been on sale, but you should be able to find a very high quality salmon that's under $20.00 per lb. - still 1/2 the cost of the stuff at the bagel store.

In terms of quantity, the process takes just a little foresight, 24-48 hours worth, so I'd recommend buying about twice as much as you'd think you'll need and inviting over some friends if you find yourself having extra. I bought 2 lbs. and was able to feed 6-8 people with modest portions.

If you fish counter is selling more than one type of salmon, tell them you're going to be making lox with it and that you'd like the freshest thing they've got with a decent amount of fat in it. I've heard fishmongers recommend Duart Salmon, and more often, King Salmon.

Lox:

  • 2 lbs. Duart salmon fillet
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup salt
  • 1 bunch dill
  • 1 lemon

Bagel Fixings

  • bagel
  • cream cheese
  • dill
  • capers
  • lemon
  • red onion

Step 2: De-bone

Picture of De-bone

Salmon fillets often have a few bones left in them running right down the center of the thick part of the fillet. Feel for these with your fingertips and then remove them using a tweezers or needle nose pliers. I use my fingertips because I'm working on turning my hands into tools themselves, plus, curing fish is in my blood.

Step 3: Pack in Sugar and Wrap

Picture of Pack in Sugar and Wrap

Mix 1 part sugar with 1 part salt in a bowl. Pack the mixture thoroughly all around the salmon and wrap the fish in several layers of saran wrap. While wrapping, be sure not to seal one end of the package shut. As the lox cure, they will produce liquid which we'll be draining off, so the juices need a place to escape.

I'm working inside of a large deep pan so that excess sugar and juices don't spill all over the place - it makes it a whole lot easier.

Step 4: Weight, Angle, and Place in Fridge

Picture of Weight, Angle, and Place in Fridge

Using what's available around your house, find some way to weight the fish evenly. I'm using a double size brick and the baking dish from my toaster oven in the photo below. I've had success using a plate and water bottle, and a heavy cast iron pan. Basically, just find something flat and make it heavy.

Put everything into the fridge and use something to prop up just one side of the whole operation - this way juices will drain away from the fish and won't just pool up in the saran wrap.

Step 5: Check After 24 Hours

Picture of Check After 24 Hours

After 24 hours some things should be happening. Liquid should have started to collect around the low end of the dish, the color of the fish should have deepened and darkened a bit, and the fillet should have gotten a little thinner. Drain the liquid that has collected - it should be a thick syrup.

If there's still ample salt and sugar left, you're good to go for another 24 hours of curing. Replace the weight, angle, and put it back in the fridge.

If it looks like all of your salt and sugar mixture has turned into a runny mess, repack the fish with more salt and sugar, re-wrap, weight, angle and place in the fridge for another 24 hours.

Step 6: Remove and Rinse

Picture of Remove and Rinse

After 48 hours of cure time, or, however long you'd like to cure your fish, since there aren't hard and fast rules about these things, remove the fish from the fridge, unwrap it, and rinse it off.

Place the fish on a clean cutting board and grab your sharpest knife.

Step 7: Take Off Skin

Picture of Take Off Skin

If the skin is tough and thick from the curing process, it should be very easy to remove with your hand.

Peel it off slowly and throw it away, or use it for a tasty salmon skin roll. If it's slick, thin and slippery, you can leave it in place and cut the lox anyway, you'll just have to make sure all of your cuts don't go through the skin.

Step 8: Slice

Picture of Slice

Start slicing on the thin side of the fillet. Cut slices on a moderate vertical bias, cutting with the edge of the knife facing towards the thin side of the fish. Then, with each progressive cut the knife will get closer and closer to the thick side, all the while cutting towards the area where the thin side used to be.

Use the sharpest knife that you can find for this process.

Arrange you slices somewhere flat and in one layer - they tend to stick to each other if you stack them up. Separate layers with saran wrap and slice up the entire piece of salmon.

Step 9: Garnish and Serve

Picture of Garnish and Serve

I don't add in the dill, capers and lemon until I'm ready to serve the lox. The lemon will turn the salmon a whitish color after a while, and that's not the most appetizing thing for lox. Many people pack dill in with the salmon, but I really prefer the flavor of the dill to be fresh and so I hold off on that until the last moment. The capers are really just for some salty briny flavor, and wouldn't get added to the lox ahead of time anyway.

My perfect bagel with lox construction goes something like this:

Get a lightly toasted everything bagel (from NY if possible) and cover with cream cheese. Stick some capers into the cream cheese, which will hold them in place so that they don't roll off the bagel (common problem). Then, load the bagel up with lox, not too much, but not too little. Maybe 3-4 pieces. On top of the lox goes thinly sliced red onion (so that you don't have to touch the lox directly with your fingers while you're eating the bagel (only a problem if you're a fan of the open face bagel), lemon juice, a touch of salt and pepper and more fresh dill.

Mmm.

Comments

AlanF91 (author)2017-12-07

Where is this Bagel recipe you speak of?

DavidF100 (author)2015-09-26

Just two things:

1. NEVER toast a fresh bagel.

2. Do not use red onion -- it is NOT sweeter and it IS more astringent. Use a good Vidalia onion, or another sweet white onion.

LancasterPA (author)DavidF1002016-04-29

Guess you are not from NY. ONLY use a red onion.

AdamC154 (author)DavidF1002016-04-27

Soak the red onion slices in cold water for a few minutes before using--does wonders.

AdamC154 (author)2016-04-27

The capers are coming from INSIDE THE CREAM CHEESE.

That is an amazing tip thank you. Though I think a lox bagel needs a couple of tomato slices.

CobyUnger made it! (author)2016-03-17

Noah saves the day once again. Thanks for the tips. I can't find salmon in India, but other fish seems to work out fairly well. I guess in life we need to make small compromises.

CobyUnger (author)CobyUnger2016-03-17

Oh, and also, I've been using your bagel recipe every weekend for months now.

DavidF100 (author)2015-09-26

PS - Otherwise, yum! Loved the recipe! Got fresh caught Alaskan king salmon. Worth every penny.

eakim (author)2015-07-25

hey i'm from port washington!! i've lived in queens for more than half my life and always thought that our bagels were better there, but let there be bagels really helped me become more accepting of the long island ways, haha. delicious bagels and i'll be trying your recipe soon.

Steamcrunk (author)2015-03-22

cold smoking is easy, you can order a small smoking tray or make one from a small can. Fill the can or tray with some pellets used in a pellet smoker and light it with a blow torch on one end (for best results, have the pellets in a circle or a line so it can burn down like a candle on its side. I use a sawdust/pellet tray from www.amazenproducts.com which works great, you can also make a tray.

Smoking box: You can use any sort of box that will not combust, from a charcoal or propane grill with the heat turned off, to a large cardboard box. Just place the smoking tray on a brick or rock when it is lit to keep it away from cardboard if you go that route.

The trick is to keep the smoking box at 70 degrees or cooler to "cold smoke". A large metal bowl with ice in the bottom of the box will achieve this. Make sure there's a vent hole on top, and an air inlet hole near the bottom. Cold smoke for 12-16 hours. You will need to change the smoker tray 2-3 times. You should freeze the lox for 4-5 days afterwards to kill any parasites. Then thaw and enjoy.

jarencibia (author)2015-03-14

Great Instructable! For those without a smoker or just want an easy way to to add smoke flavor, simply add Liquid Smoke to the salmon before applying the salt/sugar. I would say roughly a teaspoon per pound or to taste.

jimbru (author)2013-05-20

Hi, if you want a more traditional "gravad lax" you should skip the lemon and add dill and some whole white pepper seeds to the salmon when you put it on the bed of salt/sugar and then more dill on top with the rest of the salt and sugar and then another piece of salmon on top of that ending with more salt/sugarmix and dill. The pieces should be with the skinside out of course.
The reason for curing it under pressure is that the resulting product will be more compact and be done quicker. More salt than sugar will result in a firmer meat which is easier to slice in very thin slices.

The process was orignially intended to preserve the fish and was more of a fermenting process where fish you couldn't consume before it went bad was actually buried in the ground with some salt strewn on the fish. Since 3-400 years the common practice is to mix salt and sugar and then stop the curing process after a few days(depending on the thickness of the fishmeat by rinsing off the salt/sugarmix.
It should be OK for a week in the fridge if it was made from fresh salmon but can be frozen for later use if you want. Sometimes you freeze it for at least 48 hours to kill any parasites in the fish meat(this shouldn't be an issue in farmed fish with strict quality control).

In Sweden we eat "gravad lax" with a sauce from mustard, sugar, salt, dill, vinegar and oil(rather rapeseed oil than olive oil). The sauce is called Hovmästarsås or Gravlaxssås if you want to google the recepie. :-)

erica.morrissey1 (author)jimbru2015-02-25

Thank you! Great comment!

joanne.marko (author)2014-12-11

these instructions are perfect!! I am going to try and make this as I love Lox.

I went to Murray's bagels in NYC and got their belly buster lox and cream cheese--can't stop thinking about it :)

ClareH1 (author)2014-09-22

What do you think about brining a turkey for thanksgiving - any suggestions?

sallysings (author)2010-03-28

A few questions - if I don't eat it right away, how long would it keep for? And should I keep the fish in one hunk and just slice off however much we want to eat?

Also, is the drained liquid good for anything? Fish sauce is basically pasteurized fish curing liquid, but that's a different kind of fish and all salt.

Great job, btw. I LOVE Lox.

Shivettez (author)sallysings2010-04-23

I tried this and was deathly sick for days. The lox had this zingy flavor, I should have known better.

ClareH1 (author)Shivettez2014-09-22

I think you bought old fish.

Oderus (author)Shivettez2010-04-23

stop putting whole bottles of wine in it

Shivettez (author)Oderus2010-04-23

The kids were pretty hyper that night, I needed something in it to help them sleep.

noahw (author)sallysings2010-03-28

I think that you could safely keep it in the fridge for a few days after it's cured (<3 or so).  After that it will start to get tough dry out, let alone funky, and I really don't take chances when it comes to fish.  I'd definitely store it as one big hunk, cutting off only what you need as you go, it will stay fresher this way I think.  If you've got a vacuum sealer, you could try to save it that way for longer periods of time...

I don't know what you could do with the fish liquid, surely there's something that it would be useful for...it's a salty, sugary syrup...

Thanks for the feedback!

Good luck & long live lox.

ClareH1 (author)2014-09-22

Oye vey. I'm so happy! I have a huge LI boulder on my pan in the fridge. I washed the boulder in the dishwasher. I'm not cheap but I have a hard time buying a little lox for $10. I finally figured out how to make the perfect hard boiled egg - my Dad comes from Germany and we grew up eating cannibals (unfortunately no more), I watched my grandma make head cheese in the kitchen, potato pancakes with sour cream or mushroom gravy, rouladen, "a pickle is a nickle" and so on. I made my dad chicken matzo ball soup the other day. Oh, the black bread, brown bread, rye bread, kaiser rolls and always a little butta. New York, New York. I don't get why everyone wants pastrami lean? Love your recipe and I'll let you know how everything turns out. PS) My husband is from the Dominican and I told him wait till you taste a real frankfurter - he knows what's good now!

mikecz (author)2014-08-13

So, living in Washington state and knowing there are 4 native species of West Coast salmon, I immediately wondered what the heck "Duart" salmon is. Uh, you're seriously raving about farmed Atlantic salmon? Have you even tried Alaska Copper River sockeye during the month (June) or so it is available every summer? Or, for that matter, any West Coast line-caught native wild salmon? They saw you coming when they talked you into $20.00/pound for farmed fish. I'm pretty sure even $7.99/pound fresh wild coho (or silver) salmon is superior. Try it!

But your method of preparing the fish looks and sounds great!

Kathysguy (author)2013-11-26

I believe sugar serves 2 purposes in this recipe: it is a tenderizer, and it is an anti-bacterial agent (like honey). I have some curing now (my first effort at this) so I don't know (yet) how much it impacts the taste.

t.rohner (author)2012-03-18

Good instructable.

I use a more elaborate curing brine.
Besides salt and sugar, i use lime juice, some cognac and the following fresh herbs. Parsley, dill, chervil, tarragon and some coarsly ground black pepper.

After 48 hours curing, i rinse it off and put it in a vacuum bag for 2 or 3 days in the fridge. This is to even out the salt concentration in the fish.
Then it's ready to be eaten as gravlax.

If i cold smoke it, i rinse it after curing, then i hang then into my smoker, let them dry for a couple of hours.
Then i give it smoke for 10-20 hours. I tried different woods and combinations. So far it like a beech and apple combination the most.

Another way to eat this treat:

https://www.instructables.com/id/Pizza-Salmone/

gpc22 (author)2011-10-27

I'm originally from Manhasset and hit up Let there be Bagels all the time.... sadly their Bagels themselves aren't too great anymore. But I recently moved down south to SC and was worrying about my Lox and came on here. Made it, and it worked out pretty well, not an exact taste, but decent. Also agree with the comment below to buy Wild Salmon -- farm raised is gross and lacks all of the Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids that make salmon healthy anyway.

Then I went to Costco and saw they carry ACME -- so if you're lacking Lox, check out Costco first. It was only $14 for a 12oz pack. One of the better spots to grab Lox in NY is from Russ and Daughters who also gets supplied from the Smokehouse in Mamaroneck. You can buy it online from Russ and Daughters and get it shipped too!

walkie74 (author)2010-12-26

I just finished making my (very small) batch and man, that is TASTY! I used salt, sugar, pepper and paprika in mine. I only made 1/3 lb, and I'm trying to save it for New Year's--but this is gonna be tough! Thanks for the instructable!

rosewood513 (author)2010-12-11

Hi, born and raised in Brooklyn NY (moved to Jersey) I know what you mean about lox, pizza and bagels.
I'll add Italian bread too. Must buy at Scottos on 23th Avw.
I want to make this so I can actually have some lox on my bagel instead of just a shmear.
Thanks

tentacle (author)2009-02-25

Buy wild salmon, framed salmon is a inferior product artificially colored, and contaminated that is decimating wild salmon stocks.
Read a bit more here

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2008/02/080212-salmon-lice.html

jamiec53 (author)tentacle2010-01-08

Wow, you can eat salmon that's been framed...

LittleWolf (author)jamiec532010-04-28

 Indeed you can, they don't just look mighty pretty there, hanging on your wall.

Yeah, and they would've gotten away with it if it hadn't been for you meddling kids!

Plasmana (author)2010-07-05

Lox... Haha, it reminds me of liquid oxygen from on of the james bond's films :P

Oderus (author)2010-04-23

He thought the messicans were bad, wait till he sees me with a filet knife and a bunch of dead fish

Oderus (author)2010-04-23

I gave this much thought; after a few hours of deep pondering I decided I would get the rock myself. Im not a chauvinist after all.

afraz (author)2009-02-21

Gravlax isgreat, IMHO superior to smoked lox. Delicate and juicy, great on a bagel, with some lemon and soy sauce, or in sushi. Having made it I will never go back to the storebought kind, and I too was once a NY Jew... I have been making my own for a few years, I do less steps and find it just as good: Mix equal parts salt and sugar, spread all over fish, leave out of fridge about 5 hours, then 24 in the fridge. No weights or other ingredients. Slice and enjoy!

mdeblasi1 (author)afraz2010-02-18

Afraz, As a New Jersey Italian, I feel there is nothing better in the universe than Jewish Deli Lox.  I live in Ohio now and all I seem to be able to find is smoked salmon.  Tisk tisk, not the same thing.
I thought I would make it myself, but could find no definitive recipe. One recipe had the salmon immersed in oil as it cured?!?  But to my point. . . When I eat lox I don't taste sugar.  Are  you really sure it should be there, is this what Russ and Daughter's would do?  

noahw (author)mdeblasi12010-02-18

The issue is that there are actually two different types of lox that we're talking about here.  The type I've made is technically called gravlox or gravlax, where the fish is coated in primarily salt and sugar (common to just about any curing process) and then pressed under a weight.  The water goes out, the flavor goes in, and presto, you've got delicious gravlax in a few days. 

The other type of lox that I think you are referring to is called Nova, which refers to a particular kind of lox, like the kind commonly found in a jewish deli.  Nova as you might imagine originated from Nova Scotia, and refers to a process where the salmon is more mildly cured, and then cold-smoked.  I don't know much about Russ and Daughter's to be honest, but that's how ACME smoked fish does it, and they're pretty much the authority on Nova in NYC.

The gravlax don't come out tasting sweet at all, the sugar is really there to draw the water out of the fish rather than to impart a flavor.  As a middle class NY Jew, I grew up eating Nova pretty regularly.  As I wrote in the Instructable, when I moved out to California, there really was no decent place I could get lox anymore.  The gravlax recipe isn't exactly like Nova, but because it's cheap, and fresh, and you make it yourself, I think it actually tastes better overall and has always scratched the lox itch.  Give it a shot and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised and how much it reminds you of the food experience that you're missing.

mdeblasi1 (author)noahw2010-02-19

Thanks for taking the time Noah,
I really appreciate it.
M

afraz (author)mdeblasi12010-02-18

mdeblasi, i cant confirm the sugar is critical for the curing process, i think it may just be to offset the salty taste. You are not going to taste sugar or salt on the fish, they are both washed off. BTW you should use kosher salt. Try it, you will not be sorry. The source is a scandanavian graavlax recipe.

SoapyHollow (author)2009-02-21

This looks so amazing. For the record, if you think finding lox in Cali is rough, try finding anything in rural Texas. Heh. Question: What purpose does the "pressing" serve?

jamiec53 (author)SoapyHollow2010-01-08

You think it's hard to find in texas. Try finding some in Britain. I didn't even know what it is until 42 seconds ago.

tabi (author)2009-05-28

Hello; Here in Cancun, Mexico it is very hard (impossible I should say) to find any good lox... so I have been doing it for a while, my recipe is pretty simple, Store bought salmon, the freshest the better, salt and sugar, equal parts enough to cover everything, I mix that with broken coriander seeds and allspice seeds. Wrap it up closed all over, weight an leave, turning every 24 hours, in the fridge, usually my family will pester me and we´ll eat it after four days but it is certainly better left seven days... I make a mix of capers, scallions and parsley w/olive oil and lemon juice... some mascarpone and bagels.. a truly international dish ;)

Lawst (author)2009-05-14

Louisiana has a a lot of good food but some things are hard to come by, fresh clam chowder and good NY food being 2 that come to mind right off the bat. I spent exactly 2 hours in NYC, not much time to do anything. I'd had lox before but wanted to have it THERE. So I hailed a cab, told him my situation, and he took me to a deli. I have no idea where it was but it was Delicious! I'll definitely have to give this a try

Jimbo Bob (author)2009-04-17

I had to sign up and comment on this recipe. It's fantastic! I can't believe how well this worked - I was a little skeptical. The amount of fluid that was drawn out of the fish was surprising I didn't expect so much. Next time I am going to add some smoked salt to add a little smoke flavour but in reality it doesn't need it.

deskbed (author)2009-04-12

this is awesome. I tried another method, actually cold smoking the fish, which though providing a good reason to have a fire in the back yard, yielded watery bitter salmon. This is much better. I used salt only as my parents have eliminated sugar, vinegar, and yeast from their diets. I bought the fish fresh at the grocery store on sale and froze it for 2 months, which ruptures the cell walls and makes the fish more salt-permeable (a real term?) and coated and wrapped it while it was still frozen. actually cured for 36 hours, much of which I believe, was spent defrosting. But it came out firm and delicious. props on the great instructable

Poppa Chubby (author)2009-03-29

Great Instructable! I used to make Nova lox for a living many years ago, and we used a dry brown sugar along with the salt, and we didn't weight the fish. Wild salmon is often much tastier than the farmed, but it varies greatly by species and where the fish was caught (Upriver chum salmon can be very pale and bland) I will definitely try this recipe at home.

Yendeg (author)2009-03-10

can any flavorings be add at the cure stage such a smoke flavor or liquid smoke?

manofadventure (author)2009-03-07

I feel hungry looking at this. I could eat the picture!

caitlinsdad (author)2009-02-20

You can't beat this unless you have an endless cup of diner coffee to go with this and a nice fresh half-sour pickle. Maybe your buddy has connections to the Pickle Guys on Essex to get their secret.

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