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.
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Step 1: Ingredients
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.
- 2 lbs. Duart salmon fillet
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 1/2 cup salt
- 1 bunch dill
- 1 lemon
- cream cheese
- red onion
Step 2: 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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