A Lot About Lox


Many bagel eaters have enjoyed this chewy, donut-like bread with cream cheese (“schmear”) and lox. Yet, most today are not actually eating lox. What, exactly is lox, and what has it been replaced with?


Real lox harbors back to pre-refridgeration days, where salmon needed to be preserved for transport. Traditional lox was always the fatty underbelly of a salmon (usually Atlantic), salt cured in a brine for up to 3 months. It was cured, not smoked. It has a very salty taste, and a “clearish”, translucent look.


Today’s commonly labeled lox is actually cured and smoked salmon. Marketing and the public’s general lack of attention to a product’s provenance has resulted in a number of items called lox, with the real thing largely available in specialty shops. If you go to one of the most popular New York deli’s and order a cream cheese and lox, it will most likely be smoked Atlantic (farmed) salmon. It is not transparent, and usually very reddish (most likely from food coloring).


The most common lox commercially available today is called Novalox. The Nova usually (but not always) means it comes from Nova Scotia, is Atlantic salmon, and farmed. It is both salted and “cold” smoked (for 18 hours at around 70 degrees). I recently discovered an item labeled Novalox in a Portland, Oregon supermarket, which, according to the label, was made from wild Pacific salmon. So much for clearity in product naming.


Other related products are kippered salmon (which is hot smoked (around 145 degrees) for at least 8 hours, resulting in thicker slices and unmistakable smoked salmon look), and gravlox (which is a Scandinavian process of brining salmon with herbs (dill, pepper, juniper berries), flavors (aquavit, gin, brandy) or lemon vodka) and cold smoking).


To know what your lox really is, read the label and/or ask the vendor. Ask if it is wild or farmed. Note if things like red dye number 40 is added. The longer time since it was cured the better.


Lox comes from the Middle High German word for salmon, “lahs”, and is akin to the Old English word for salmon, “leax”. According to Miriam Webster, the first time lox appeared in print was in 1939. In Yiddish, it is laks.


Here is how to make your own, Scandinavian style gravlox. The advantage of this process is that you don’t need to smoke it, yet get the traditional flavor, look and texture.



1. Start with two salmon fillets (1 pound each), with the skin on. Remove pin bones.


2. Make the brine by mixing 1 cup kosher salt and 1 cup sugar in a bowl.


3. Lay out salmon, skin down, and pour brine over fish.


4. Add half a bunch of fresh dill (stems removed) on top.


5. Make “sandwich” of two halves, wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and place in gallon size zip-loc bag, pushing out the air as it is sealed.


6. Place is a shallow pyrex dish, place a weight on top (wine bottles work) and set in refrigerator.


7. Every day, drain any liquid, turn fillets over, and replace weight.


8. After 2nd day, begin tasting (it should be ready in just two to three days).


When ready, remove from plastic, rinse well, and thinly slice for use.


Gravlox prepared this way can be frozen. Other herbs can be used in addition to or in place of dill.


I have yet to hear of lox made from any fish other than salmon, … but if somebody can make money off it, it would not surprise me to see it available someday … maybe marketed as “Codlox” or “Halilox” or “Suramilox”.


Salmon As Food