Smoked Salmon, Lox & Gravlax: What's the Difference?

In America it's quite common for any kind of cured salmon to be called lox, but that's not always the case. Do you know the difference between your cured fish? There's reason for the confusion as each name comes from the preparation all of which differs ever so slightly so we're sending you to the school of hard lox (bah dum ching)!

Yesterday we talked about salt curing salmon with a mixture of smoked salt and kosher salt. Trust us when we say it's easy and everyone should do it — but what if you want to make a different kind of cured salmon? Do you know the differences? Here's the abbreviated histories behind the most famous types of cured salmon. Why abbreviated? Well the world of curing fish is ever evolving as small artisan groups are rising up all across the country and changing, altering or adding to these definitions with their own creations.

Ready for fish school? (get it... fish... school... school of fish... ok so maybe it was reaching) Here's the low down which should also earn you a trivia point or two amongst your circle of friends. We're calling it the school of hard lox:

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• Lox
Although cured, lox is not smoked. In American history, lox has traditionally been made from salmon from the Pacific Ocean. Things are changing and many use farm raised Atlantic fish.

• Nova Lox
Nova (as in Scotia) Lox are salt cured and then cold smoked. They are typically made from Atlantic salmon giving them a different taste than Pacific fish.

• Scotch, Nordic & Irish Lox
These cured salmon styles are indigenous to the respective countries in which they are named. They're dry brined and then rinsed and finally cold smoked. So what's the differences other than the country from which they come? Usually the wood used to do the smoking as it's indigenous to that specific region and is readily available where it's being smoked.

• Gravad Lax or Gravlax
Two ways to say the same thing, Gravlax literally translated means "buried salmon," as that's how it used to be cured. That method is rarely used anymore, but the salmon is still encased in salt and sugar allowing the juices released to brine the fish. This process is also known for it's heavy use of dill, typically fresh and lots of it!

It also quite frequently also contains one or all of the following additional strong flavors: juniper berry, horseradish, pepper, cognac, brandy or aquavit. The fish is then weighed down to force the seasonings into the fish and push the moisture out at a faster rate allowing the juices to blend with the seasonings creating a tasty brine/marinade.

• European Kippered Salmon
Whole salmon is split into thick planks (not unlike chicken fingers) before being brined and then cold smoked. The overall process doesn't take as long since the brine and smoke is able to work quickly due to the smaller size of each piece.

• What's Cold Smoking?
There aren't many who are unfamiliar with the idea of smoking meat, but cold smoking is a slightly different process that takes much longer. Cold-smoking is performed at 70° - 90° and are kept in that range from 1 day to 3 weeks depending on the weight of the fish being cured.

Do you have a question for the school of hard lox? Leave your questions and comments below!

Related: Easy Lunch: Smoked Salmon and Cream Cheese Open-Face

(Image: Sarah Rae Trover)

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Sarah Trover has lived all across the Midwest and currently calls the hot dog-laden city of Chicago home. She rides scooters and seeks out kitchens that make the best pie.