February 9 is National Bagel and Lox Day. Don’t be surprised that this ethnic food merits its own holiday; bagels and lox are no longer reserved for New Yorkers! This iconic Jewish food is enjoyed in just about every state in the U.S. and its popularity keeps growing.
Lox, first appearing in English in 1941, comes from the German or Yiddish laks, and originated in New York delicatessens. Most salmon was caught in Nova Scotia, Canada, and packed in salt for shipping to New York. Once it arrived, the salmon would be soaked in water to remove some of the salt and sliced for sale. Lox quickly became a staple of dairy restaurants and luncheonettes when served in thin slices on a bagel with cream cheese.
The lox we purchase today is processed commercially and is saltier than that of the early delis. It is usually prepared from Pacific salmon, as very little salmon is caught in Nova Scotia these days. Nova-style salmon, in addition to being cured, is briefly cold-smoked. This cold-smoking is done at room temperature for a few hours and does not cook or preserve the salmon. Its sole purpose is to impart a slightly smoky taste to the fish.
Here’s how you can make your own at home:
2 Tablespoons kosher salt
3 Tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 small salmon fillet
Mix the salt, sugar and black pepper 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 is about the size and shape of your salmon. The layer should be thick enough that you cannot 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 in a glass baking dish.
Place another dish or plate on top of the salmon and add cans to weigh it down. Place in the refrigerator.
The curing time depends on how thick the salmon is but it should be done in 2–3 days. The flesh goes from opaque to translucent as it cures, so as soon as it is the same color all the way through it is ready.
Use a long sharp knife to slice the lox thinly. Serve on bagels and cream cheese.
Pickled lox has also become a favorite, thanks to the Concord Hotel in the Catskill Mountains of upstate New York, whose chef came up with the recipe in 1939. Pickled lox in cream sauce is a tasty dish that can be purchased ready-to-eat, or you can make your own at home withthis easy recipe.
For the lox:
1 pound lox, in one piece
2 large Spanish onions, peeled and sliced in ½-inch rounds
5 cups cold water
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup mixed pickling spices
For the cream sauce:
2 cups sour cream or mayonnaise
1/2 cup water
2 Tablespoons marinade from pickled lox
Prepare the lox:
Soak the lox overnight in cold water in the refrigerator, changing the water once. Cut the lox pieces into bite-sized chunks. Place in a glass dish, layering them with the onion slices.
In a mixing bowl, place the water, vinegar, sugar and pickling spices. Stir by hand until the sugar dissolves. Pour the mixture over the salmon and leave it out on the counter top overnight so that the pickling process starts to work. In the morning, refrigerate for 2 days or until ready to use. Serve as is or with sour cream sauce.
To prepare the sauce:
In a mixing bowl, place the sour cream or mayonnaise.
Add water and marinade.
Mix well with a whisk to eliminate lumps.
Serve with the pickled lox or cut the lox into bite-size pieces and store together in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve it.