Homemade Lox

published Sep 27, 2021
Lox Recipe

Curing salmon to make homemade lox is much easier than you'd think.

Serves6 to 8

Prep10 minutes

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A top down look at an everything, multigrain bagel cut in half, with lox, sliced red onion, capers and creamcheese on one side, and the other half of the bagel with seeds on the other side of the plate. There is also a lemon wedge on the plate.
Credit: Tara Holland

The beauty about making homemade lox is that you can tailor the flavorings to your personal preferences. Although salmon can be cured with just kosher salt and sugar, dill is the most traditional addition. It brings herbaceous, grassy, and anise seed undertones that marry perfectly with the salmon. One to two aromatics — like black pepper, allspice berries, juniper berries, caraway seeds, coriander seeds, or red pepper flakes — can also be added for a kick of spice. And as we know, salmon and lemon make the perfect couple. Bottom line: The possibilities are endless.

Adding alcohol is controversial. Pouring a couple of tablespoons of aquavit (which marries very well with dill) or vodka over the top of the dill mixture will add some extra flavor and character. And I imagine a smoky bourbon or malt whiskey would bring something unique to the table. If you do add alcohol, it should only be a splash. Otherwise, the alcohol will “cook” the fish, similar to what happens when you add citrus to ceviche. Too much can also affect the texture and result in a pale, cloudy hue.

What Does Lox Mean?

Lox is the Yiddish word for salmon (also known as lax, lachs, or lax in Germanic languages). In Scandinavian countries, lox is known as gravlax, gravadlax, or gravlaks, depending on which country you are in and is almost always cured with dill. The former part of the word, grav, means “ditch.” In historical times, the salmon was salted and buried in the ground, hence the word gravlax. The weight from the soil in the ground assisted in drawing out the moisture by helping the salt penetrate the fish. The lack of air underground also creates an environment that kills the aerobic bacteria and preserves and cures the fish. Today, we mimic this process by tightly sealing the salmon with cling wrap and weighing it down with heavy cans. Okay, the science lesson is over — now back to the fish!

How Do You Prepare and Cure Lox?

After you’ve rubbed the cure into the salmon, tightly packed it with a double layer of cling wrap, and weighed it down with something heavy, you need to flip the fish over twice a day to ensure even curing. Make sure you discard any of the expelled liquid each time. You can cure the salmon for a minimum of 36 hours and up to 72 hours, which I feel is the sweet spot of getting a salty, silky, firm texture, similar to sashimi. Some believe a five-day cure is best, but who can wait that long for something so delicious? (Not me!).

Once you’ve reached the desired cure time, gently scrape off most of the dill-cure (you can leave a little for flavor if you wish) on both fillets, and pat it dry with some paper towels. Then allow the lox to dry out further uncovered in the fridge overnight or for at least two hours. 

Credit: Tara Holland

Is Lox the Same as Smoked Salmon?

I’m ashamed to admit that when I moved to NYC, I didn’t know the difference between lox and smoked salmon and thought they were the same. In my defense, many New York bagel shops and delis say you’re getting lox, but it’s actually smoked salmon. They may look similar — and both are, in fact, forms of cured salmon — but they are different.

  • Lox is cured with salt and sugar.
  • Smoked salmon is cured with salt and sugar but is then — yes, you guessed it — smoked.

Regardless, both are equally delicious served on a toasted, chewy bagel with a schmear of cream cheese.

What Salmon Should I Buy?

When it comes to choosing salmon for cooking, there are three common myths that you need to know. But when it comes to choosing salmon specifically for curing, there are some important safety factors involved.

When eating raw fish, even if it is going to be cured, the fish mush be good-quality, preferably sushi-grade. In layman’s terms, this means it’s free from parasites and completely safe to eat uncooked. If you are buying from a fishmonger, you can get all the sourcing information and recommendations on the best salmon to choose.

If you are worried about where the fish came from, you can use thawed frozen salmon. Or, if you are using fresh salmon, you can freeze the fillet for 24 hours, as freezing kills any parasites. Juts know that once frozen salmon is thawed, you cannot re-freeze it.

The thickest belly part of the salmon is the best cut to use, as you’ll yield the largest slices if cut on the bias. 

What to Serve with Lox

Lox Recipe

Curing salmon to make homemade lox is much easier than you'd think.

Prep time 10 minutes

Serves 6 to 8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

  • 1

    large lemon

  • 1 large bunch

    fresh dill

  • 1 teaspoon

    allspice or juniper berries

  • 3/4 cup

    kosher salt

  • 1/2 cup

    granulated sugar

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons

    coarsely ground black pepper

  • 2 pounds

    boneless, skin-on salmon fillet, preferably sushi-grade or previously frozen and thawed

Instructions

  1. Prepare the following, adding each to a medium bowl as you complete it: Finely grate the zest of 1 large lemon (1 1/2 teaspoons). Finely chop 1 large bunch fresh dill (1 3/4 to 2 cups). Lightly crush 1 teaspoon allspice or juniper berries, if using, in a mortar and pestle. (Alternatively, place berries in a resealable bag and crush using a rolling pin, a mallet, or the base of a heavy pan.)

  2. Add 3/4 cup kosher salt, 1/2 cup granulated sugar, and 1 1/2 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper. Stir to combine.

  3. Make sure any pin bones have been removed from the salmon. If you have one large piece of salmon, cut in half crosswise into 2 pieces. Pat the salmon pieces dry on both sides with paper towels.

  4. Lay a sheet of plastic wrap about 2-feet long on a work surface. Sprinkle about 1/2 cup of the dill-cure mixture in the middle of the plastic wrap. Place 1 piece of the salmon (skin side-down) on top. Top the salmon with 1 cup of the dill mixture to completely cover, and rub it into the flesh.

  5. Place the second piece of salmon skin side-down next to the first piece. Top this piece with 1 cup of the dill mixture and rub it into the flesh. Lift the second piece of salmon and carefully flip it directly on top of the first piece of salmon so it is skin-side up. Sprinkle the remaining dill mixture onto the skin. Tightly wrap the salmon with a letter-fold to create a completely sealed package. Completely wrap the salmon in a second layer of plastic wrap.

  6. Place the salmon package on a small rimmed baking dish and place another small rimmed baking dish (or a heavy plate that will fit inside) on top of the fish. Weigh down with a couple of large heavy cans to ensure even pressure on the fish. Refrigerate for at least 36 hours (for a medium cure) and up to 72 hours (for a hard cure). Turn the fish over twice a day during the cure time, 8 to 12 hours apart. Pour out the accumulated the liquid in the baking dish, wash out the baking dish, and rewrap the fish with a new double layer of plastic wrap once a day, weighing down the fish again each time.

  7. After the desired cure time (36 to 72 hours), fit a wire rack inside a baking sheet. Unwrap the salmon and scrape the fillets gently with the back of a knife, leaving a little of the herb cure on the flesh for decoration and flavor. The texture should be dry and firm. Pat thoroughly dry with paper towels and place on the wire rack in a single layer. Refrigerate uncovered for at least 2 hours and up to overnight to dry out further.

  8. To serve, slice the lox on a slight diagonal into very thin slices (about 1/8-inch thick).

Recipe Notes

General tips: Ask your fishmonger to remove any pin bones. Once sliced, don’t throw the salmon skin away! Make salmon “bacon.” Rinse the skin under water, removing all the cure. Thoroughly pat dry with paper towels and fry in a dry skillet over medium-high heat until crisp and golden on both sides.

Storage: Store lox in an airtight container or resealable bag in the refrigerator for 3 to 5 days, depending on how long you cure it. You can freeze lox wrapped in foil and stored in an airtight container or resealable freezer-safe bag for up to 2 months.