Cold-smoked salmon (lox)

This a real treat and can be used for a lot of things beyond the traditional bagels and lox. You probably know that it is quite expensive to buy, but it is surprisingly easy to make at home, with one caveat: you need a smoker. And not just any smoker, but a cold smoker that exposes the food to smoke without heat. That’s what makes lox special, the fish is cured and smoked but not cooked. Some people rig up home-brew contraptions that can work perfectly well, but I went the easy way and got a Bradley smoker with the cold smoke attachment. It gets a lot of use around here, not only for lox but for more common hot smoking to make BBQ pork, bacon, smoked chicken, smoked bluefish and mackerel, and so on.

I buy the Atlantic salmon fillets at Costco. It’s good quality and very reasonable. This recipe is for a single fillet of about 3-1/2 to 4 pounds, but it can easily be doubled. Start by rinsing the fillet and laying it on a cutting board. Trim off the ends to “square off,” trim off the thin belly meat, and cut in half crossways (not strictly necessary, but a whole fillet is a tight fit in the smoker). Check for pin bones, the small embedded bones that run along the midline, by running a fingertip over the meat. Costco fillets typically have these already removed, but if you find any you just yank them straight out with tweezers.

Prepare the cure by mixing thoroughly together 1 c kosher salt, 1 c light brown sugar (or use 1/2 c each dark brown and white sugar), and 4 tsp ground white pepper.

Take a non-reactive pan, such as a glass baking dish, that is just a bit bigger than one of the salmon pieces. Spread about 1/2 c of the cure on the bottom of the pan and lay a salmon piece on it. Distribute another cup of the cure over the salmon and lay the 2nd piece on top. Cover with the remaining cure and use your fingers to pat some cure onto the ends of the salmon pieces. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20-36 hours, flipping the salmon over about halfway through. The cure will draw lots of liquid out of the salmon, just leave that in the pan. A shorter cure gives a somewhat more delicate and less salty result, while a longer cure firms the fish up more and make it a bit saltier. I have settled on 24 hours for my taste preferences.

Note that there are lots of ways to experiment with the cure. You can add additional spices, for example, such as mace, ground cloves, allspice, and ground bay leaf. You can use a less sugar and more salt. Some people like to drizzle a bit of scotch, rum, or bourbon over the fish while it is curing (just a little – a few TB at most).

The first photo shows the salmon just starting the cure, before the top layer of cure has been added. The second shows the fillets in the smoker.

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When the cure is complete, the salmon will feel firm when poked in the thickest part. Discard the cure. Rinse the fish under cold water, pat dry, and place on a rack in the fridge, uncovered.  Let dry for at least 6 and up to 24 hours. Fire up your smoker and add the fish. Remember, the temperature in the smoker should never go above 80 degrees, and I think results are best when the entire smoking process is carried our at 60 degrees or below. This is why cold smoking is a cool weather activity–when the outsize temperature is 90 degrees it’s impossible to maintain the desired smoker temp!

I find fruit woods, such as apple, cherry, or pear, the best for smoking salmon. I don’t like hickory as much, and mesquite is just too string, in my opinion.

Keep the fish on smoke for at least 4 hours and up to 7. Again, here’s a place where your personal taste comes into play–the longer the smoking, the stronger the smoke flavor will be.

The fish keeps for at least 2 weeks in the fridge, closely wrapped in plastic wrap. It also takes pretty well to freezing.

Explore posts in the same categories: Seafood

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