Homemade Lox at 1/4 the Cost

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About: I've worked for Instructables off and on since 2006 building and documenting just about everything I enjoy doing. I am now the Creative Programs founder and manager for Autodesk and just finished building o...

Intro: 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

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

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.

Mmm.

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79 Discussions

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AlanF91

9 months ago

Where is this Bagel recipe you speak of?

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DavidF100

2 years ago on Introduction

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.

2 replies
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AdamC154DavidF100

Reply 2 years ago

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

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AdamC154

2 years ago

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.

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DavidF100

2 years ago on Introduction

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

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eakim

3 years ago

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.

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Steamcrunk

3 years ago on Introduction

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.

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jarencibia

3 years ago on Introduction

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.

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jimbru

5 years ago on Step 9

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. :-)

1 reply
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joanne.marko

3 years ago on Introduction

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 :)

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ClareH1

3 years ago on Introduction

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

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sallysings

8 years ago on Step 9

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.

5 replies
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Shivettezsallysings

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

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

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ShivettezOderus

Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

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

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noahwsallysings

Reply 8 years ago on Step 9

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.

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ClareH1

3 years ago on Introduction

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!