Well, technically, it’s gravlax, because the salmon is just cured and not smoked, and REAL lox actually uses salmon BELLY and not FILETS, and blah, blah, blarghety blah. Irrelevant technicalities. If somebody puts gravlax and lox side by side in front of me and asks me to tell the difference, they will not actually get to ask me because I will have stuffed all of it down my gullet before they can string three words together. Because it’s all cured salmon, and it all tastes amazing, and I am a hog.
Salmon ain’t cheap. But they do have it at Aldi, and frozen salmon from Aldi is a hell of a lot cheaper than lox from anywhere. Don’t let the frozen thing throw you; a lot of great sushi fish is frozen before being prepared, because it kills off the tapeworm larvae that would just love to share a life with you. 1 No, the curing process doesn’t kill them like it does bacteria. So yeah, you should probably use salmon that is or was previously frozen. Unless you’re really set on feeding a 9-foot friend for the next couple of decades. 2
Enough with the gross! On with the most! Umm… the most… tasty! Yeah. 3
We’re doing a very basic cure here. Curing is just food preservation using salt. Ancient. Prehistoric, even. Salting meat draws water out of the tissue, making it an inhospitable environment for bacteria. And since most spoilage is due to bacterial growth, salt curing makes meat (or fish) last quite a while. Years, if you introduce dehydration into the curing process as well.
That said, I haven’t tried keeping this lox around for more than a couple of weeks. If you do end up having it longer than that, I’m not really sure how long it will last, but it’s easy to tell if it goes bad. If it goes bad, it will smell bad. Like rotting fish. Even if you’ve never smelled rotting fish before, you will be able to tell. As soon as that lox starts to turn, you will give it a sniff and think to yourself, ‘Well I’ll be, I do declare that smells like rotting fish!’ Trust me, you’ll know. But you won’t even have to worry about that, because you’ll have completely devoured all of it long before that ever happens.
So I started with a chunk of salmon. Just a 5-oz filet, because I’m poor and I didn’t want to drop a third of our grocery budget on two pounds of fish only to have the recipe fail miserably and have to throw it all away. This was a test run. So less than a half pound of fish. I unwrapped it and dried it with a paper towel.
Then I carefully constructed my curing solution. When I say ‘carefully constructed’, I mean that I threw a half cup of sugar, a half cup of salt, and a few shakes of dried dill into a little tupperware container, put on a lid, and shook it around. Then I tossed the salmon in there and shook it around again. Then I put it in the fridge.
Twelve hours later I turned the fish over and spooned some of the developing brine over the top, just to make sure it was all getting into good contact with the cure.
Twelve hours later I pulled it out, rinsed it off, and sliced off a piece.Okay, a few pieces. Because it tasted awesome. Better than the smoked salmon from the store, all fanned out all pretty on its little golden cardboard tray. Way better. Sweeter, from the sugar, and a little more complex, because of the dill. The wife and I had the whole chunk for breakfast with cream cheese and toast, because it was delicious and we didn’t have bagels and we didn’t want to wait. 4Since the experiment was such a success, I’ll be trying some more variations. Maybe a little more sugar in the cure, maybe even brown sugar or molasses. Maybe some cracked pepper, or mustard seeds, or some other herbs or spices. I’ve also seen a lot of recipes weighing the salmon down to press out water and get a firmer, more evenly cured lox. I’m currently reading Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie, I’m sure I’ll get some more ideas from there. But whatever I do, I’m keeping it stupid simple, and I’m also keeping this around. If you present guests with home-cured salmon, they’ll think you’re some kind of brilliant culinary genius. Unless they read this blog. But then you can nerd out with them about cheap home-cured bacon and duck prosciutto. 5 Everybody wins!
- 5 oz filet of salmon, previously frozen (and fully thawed)
- .5 cup salt
- .5 cup sugar
- 1 tsp dried dill
- Dry the salmon with a paper towel and put it in a lidded container that fits it snugly.
- Mix the salt, sugar, and dill well, and pour over the salmon. Turn the salmon so that it is totally covered in the cure mixture. Lid the container and put it in the fridge.
- After twelve hours, the cure mixture will be liquefying around the salmon. Turn the salmon over and spoon some of the liquid over the top of it, then close it up again and put it back in the fridge.
- After another twelve hours, take the salmon out, rinse it off, and pat dry with paper towels. It can be served immediately or stored in the fridge for up to a couple of weeks, wrapped in a paper towel to keep it dry. Slice thinly to serve.
- I was gonna include some kind of link here, but just Google ‘salmon tapeworm’ and you’ll see what I mean. ↩
- I don’t like being a part of a culture of fear, but if avoiding intestinal parasites is as easy as buying frozen fish, I’m totally down. ↩
- Okay, Seuss Jr., you give me a relevant word that rhymes with ‘gross’. ↩
- Also, a regular bagel now is like the size of a fairly large human head. As soon as I find a good Paleo bagel recipe (yeah, that’ll never happen), I’ll let you know. ↩
- Seriously, if I can find an easy way to get ahold of pork belly, I am doing home-cured bacon. Duck prosciutto sounds fun, but I might have to wait until I have either a flock of ducks or a million dollars. ↩