Citizens, you just KNEW this classic, totally old-school Jewish recipe had to be coming sooner or later…and you were right! 🙂
Note that this recipe is for classic Nova, which is NOT the smoked salmon 99.9% of you enjoy on a bagel today.
“Nova” Lox (short for Nova Scotia, Canada, where much of the salmon in old NYC originally came from) is old-school Jewish soul food, what your bubbie (grandmother) ate or those Jews of a certain age remember eating in their youth. It is saltier and pinker than the typical smoked salmon and is brine-cured, whereas smoked salmon is dry-cured.
The American English word “lox” is derived from the Yiddish word for salmon, laks (which is itself derived from the German word Lachs). Nova is cured with a milder brine and then cold-smoked as compared to regular lox (or belly lox), which is much saltier.
Sadly, very few appetizing shops (the old name for delis) still make or even carry good Nova anymore. Tastes have changed over 100+ years and now only Russ and Daughters, Zabar’s and Murray’s Sturgeon Shop in Manhattan (to the best of my knowledge, I hope there are many more!) still sell the top-quality of this saline treat!
To preserve this recipe for posterity and for the curious, here is how to make it at home as it was in the days of yore. It is also worth noting that it was a real bear finding out how to do this properly…I finally found the correct steps and proportions in an old research paper from food scientists at UC, Davis!
While I personally prefer smoked salmon on my bagel these days for its delicacy, lox works REALLY well in scrambled eggs, cooked with onions and butter and served with lashings of freshly ground black pepper – nothing else even comes close in flavor or nostalgia, at least to me.
Battle on – The Generalissimo
The authors are Robert J. Price, Ph.D., Extension Seafood Technology Specialist and Pamela Tom, M.Sc., Staff Research Associate Department of Food Science & Technology, University of California, Davis, California 95616-8598
Lox, also known as “Nova Salmon” is similar to cold-smoked salmon, but is moist, lightly salted and lightly smoked. It still retains much of the apprearance of raw salmon.
It takes practice to produce a batch of lox that you will like. Don’t be afraid to adjust the brining and smoking times to produce a batch that suits your tastes. (TFD recommends Silver (Coho) salmon for lox).
Preparing Your Fish – Note that freshwater and marine fish naturally contain many parasites (TFD note: gross, but true – it’s why you couldn’t pay me to eat swordfish anymore – if you saw what I did, you wouldn’t either…).
Use commercially frozen fish for cold-smoked fish and lox, or freeze the fish to -10°F for at least 7 days to kill any parasites that may be present. Freezing to -10°F is not possible in most home freezers, so use salmon from the fishmonger and tell him you’re planning to cold-smoke the fish.
1. Remove scales by scraping against the grain with the dull edge of a knife.
2. Remove head, fins, tail, viscera.
3. Wash body cavity with cold water until clean.
4. Split the fish by cutting through the rib bones along the length of the backbone.
5. For larger fish, remove the backbone.
6. For large fish, cut into smaller, equal sizes, about 1 ½ in. thick and 2 in wide. Remove any small “pinbones” with a pair of needle-nosed pliers.
Prepare a brine of 3 ½ cups table salt in one gallon of cold water in a plastic, stainless steel, or crokery container. Red or white wine can be substituted for a portion of the water, if desired (TFD note – you will be banished from TFD nation *FOREVER* if you use wine to make lox!). Stir the salt until it cannot dissolve any more.
Spices such as black pepper, bay leaves, seafood seasoning, or garlic, as well as brown sugar (recommended) may be added. (TFD note – this is acceptable. Try 8 bay leaves, 10 cloves of garlic, halved, 3 teaspoons of Old Bay seasoning, 20 lightly crushed peppercorns and ¼ cup dark brown sugar).
Use one-gallon of seasoned brine for every four pounds of fish. Soak the fish in your refrigerator, covered with plastic wrap.
1. Brine ½-inch thick fillets for ½ hour. 1-inch fillets for 1 hour and 1 ½-inch fillets for 1 ½ hours.
2. After brining, rinse the fish briefly in cold running water.
3. Place the fish skin-side down on greased racks in a cool place to dry.
4. Let fish dry for 2-3 hours until a shiny skin, or pellicle has formed on the surface. A fan will speed pellicle formation. (TFD note – this step is ESSENTIAL! Do not skip it!!!)
5. Place the fish in your smoker.
6. The temperature should be about 70-80 degrees (F). A temperature above 80 will cook your fish.
7. Smoke at 70-80 degrees for 1-3 days (this is a matter of your personal preference, I prefer a 2-day smoke) – TFD recommends a blend of apple, maple and oak wood pellets in equal parts for smoking lox. The smoker should not produce a lot of smoke during the first 8 to 12 hours if the total curing time is 24 hours, or for the first 24 hours if the curing time is longer. When the first part of the smoking ends, build up a dense smoke and maintain it for the balance of the cure.
8. After smoking, a rub of vegetable oil will give your fish a shiny look.
9. In the refrigerator, your lox will last 1 to 2 weeks, or longer if frozen.