It always amazes me how people pay $30-50 per pound for lox given how easy it is to make at home. Fresh salmon costs about a third of this price, and the only other ingredients you need are salt, sugar and a little bit of time.
Lox refers to salmon(traditionally the belly) that has been cured in brine but has not been smoked. The brine can either be wet or dry. With a wet brine, the salmon soaks in a salt and sugar solution, while a dry brine involves sprinkling the salt and sugar directly onto the salmon. Both methods have their advantages and disadvantages. A wet brine tends to yield a softer salmon, but I find that the water dilutes the flavor of the salmon. A dry brine will make a more flavorful lox as it draws moisture out from the salmon, but it will also make the meat more firm.
Smoked salmon on the other hand takes the process one step further by smoking the brined salmon. The smoking process can be either “hot” or “cold”. In the case of hot-smoked salmon, it is put directly over smouldering wood. The heat cooks the salmon and the proximity to the source of smoke will impart an intense smoky flavor.
Cold-smoked salmon is cured by indirectly applying smoke to the salmon so that it’s not hot enough to cook the fish. This is usually achieved by distancing the salmon from the source of smoke either by hanging the salmon in a large smoke-filled tent, or putting the salmon in one of two interconnected chambers with the smouldering wood in the other. Cold smoked salmon is sometimes called Nova Lox.
Today I’m going to show you how to make Lox with a dry brine. I love the dry brining method because it not only concentrates the flavor of the salmon, you can also infuse it with other flavors by adding spices and herbs to the salt and sugar mixture. To make Gravlax for instance, you just add a ton of fresh dill, juniper and black pepper to the brine. I’ve also found that you can make a pretty good faux cold-smoked salmon by using smoked salt or sugar.
I used a very small side of salmon, but you may need more brine depending on how large your salmon is. Keep in mind that the longer you cure it, the more liquid gets drawn out of the meat, making the salmon firmer and saltier. This in turn will make it last longer.
- Mix the salt, brown sugar and black pepper together along with any other herbs of flavorings you would like to use. If you are using fresh herbs, be sure to dry them thoroughly with paper towels before mixing them in, otherwise your salt will clump together.
- Lay down a sheet of plastic wrap large enough to completely wrap your salmon and then sprinkle a layer of the salt and sugar mixture that's about the size and shape of your salmon. The layer should be thick enough that you can't see through it.
- Place the salmon skin-side down on the layer of salt and sugar and then cover with the rest of the salt and sugar mixture.
- Wrap the plastic wrap around the fillet, but leave the ends open so the liquid that comes out of the salmon can drain off.
- Place a weight on top of the salmon. I used a tray that's slightly smaller than the one the salmon is in and added cans to weigh it down. Feel free to get creative here. As long as you're applying even pressure to the whole fillet your solution should work just fine.
- Place the salmon with weights in the refrigerator and tuck something (like a wad of paper) under one side so that the tray is tilted. This helps the liquid that comes from the salmon drain off as the fish cures.
- The curing time depends on how thick the salmon salmon is but it should be done in 2-3 days unless your salmon is very thick. You can tell it's done by slicing into it. The meat goes from opaque to translucent as it cures so as long as it's the same color all the way through it should be done. If the center is more opaque than the edges, it probably needs some more time.
- When the salmon is finished curing, Use tweezers to pick out the pin bones along the center of the fillet. Then, you should be able to peel the skin off the salmon from the head to tail
- Slice the lox as thin as possible with a long sharp knife (a carving knife or sashimi knife will work the best).
It's important to note that the brine is not concentrated enough to kill the parasites that can occur in salmon. That's why its imperative that you use salmon that's undergone parasite destruction by freezing in accordance with the FDA's Parasite Destruction Guarantee. This type of salmon will usually be sold a "sashimi grade" or otherwise indicate that it's safe to eat raw.