No bagel is complete without a schmear of cream cheese and some silky, salty lox. But is lox just another word for smoked salmon? And if not, how are they different? Read on to find out everything you need to know about America’s favourite bagel topping.
What is lox?
Best known as a popular bagel topping, lox is a fillet of salmon that has been cured in salt but not smoked. It has a rich, silky, texture, and is typically sliced into thin, translucent slices and served with cream cheese. It is traditionally taken from the salmon belly, which is the fattiest, most succulent portion of the fish, although other cuts are now sometimes used.
Lox takes its name from the Yiddish word for salmon, laks, and as with most cured or smoked fish, it was originally developed as a way to preserve the fish during transport in the days before refrigeration. Genuine lox is cured in brine for around 3 months for a strong salty flavour, but these days the real deal is often replaced by milder cuts like smoked salmon or Nova (sometimes referred to as ‘Nova lox’).
Lox vs smoked salmon
The most basic difference between lox and smoked salmon is that smoked salmon is smoked, while lox is not. Lox specifically refers to brine-cured, uncooked salmon, usually from the belly, but ‘smoked salmon’ is a much broader term, and can refer to several ways of preparing salmon. Like lox, it is usually cured or brined, but it may then be covered in spices or a dry rub, before being smoked. This leads to a pronounced difference in flavour, with lox having a much saltier taste, and smoked salmon, as you might have guessed, having a more smoky flavour.
There are actually two ways to smoke salmon, the cold-smoke method, and the hot-smoke method, and if your salmon has been treated using either method, it is not technically true lox.
Cold-smoked salmon is smoked over several days at temperatures just above room temperature. This means that it never actually cooks, and maintains its moist, silky texture and translucent pink colour. It is similar in appearance to lox, and also tends to be served in thin slices, but it is less salty, and has an unmistakable smokiness.
Hot-smoked salmon is smoked using heat, the same way you would smoke meat. This is a shorter process, taking around 8 hours, and cooks the fish all the way through. Hot-smoked salmon is much easier to distinguish from lox - it has a drier, flakier texture, and is served in larger portions, like a piece of cooked or grilled salmon.
Lox vs Nova, gravlax, kippered salmon and Scotch salmon
There are various other ways of preparing salmon, some of which are sometimes used in place of lox.
Nova, sometimes called Nova lox, originated in Nova Scotia, and is probably the most commonly-used lox substitute. It is similar in texture and colour to lox, but is cured in a much milder brine, before going on to be cold-cured.
Gravlax is a traditional Nordic type of cured salmon. Like lox, it is cured without being smoked, but gravlax is more heavily seasoned during the curing stage, typically including ingredients like dill, juniper berries, fennel or pepper.
Kippered salmon is another term for hot-smoked salmon. With it’s unmistakably cooked texture, this type of salmon is unlikely to be used as a substitute for lox.
Scotch salmon uses a process called ‘dry-brining’, where salt, sometimes mixed with sugar, spices or other flavourings, is applied directly to the meat. After curing, the mixture is washed off, and the salmon is cold-smoked.
How to store lox and smoked salmon
Both smoked salmon and lox can be kept unopened in the refrigerator for 2 to 3 weeks. Once opened, it should be consumed within a week. Store it in its original packaging or wrapped in plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out. Make sure you keep salmon away from raw foods to avoid contamination.
How to use lox in recipes
We all know lox tastes great with bagels, but you can use it in lots of other ways too. Here are some of our favourite recipes.
Squash blossoms are discarded before the squash themselves are packed up for distribution to supermarkets. This is a shame because they are delicious. Here we have a treat for you: eight sublime variants on an Italian favourite ricotta-stuffed squash blossoms
Korean cream cheese garlic bread is a popular Seoul street food. It combines sweet and savoury flavours, with no holding back on the garlic. Learn here everything you need to know about baking this delicious Korean version of garlic bread.