The terms “lox” and “smoked salmon” are often used interchangeably, but deli purists will tell you real lox is not smoked but cured in salt for days or even weeks. Finding the perfect level of salinity is a delicate process, says chef Todd Ginsberg. Over-cured salmon can become dehydrated and jerky-tough; under-cured fish ends up tasting like over-salted sashimi.
At the General Muir, Ginsberg’s lox is packed in salt, sugar, peppercorns, and fresh dill. He starts by filleting a whole Scottish salmon, but home cooks who need a smaller portion should ask for a piece cut from the center—the fattier, the better. The fillet’s thickness should be uniform for even curing. If thinner parts become too dry or salty, Ginsberg suggests soaking them in water overnight, then draining and flaking into a creamy chowder. Many methods call for placing weights (such as cans) on top of the salmon to speed the process, but Ginsberg preaches patience; it can take five to seven days for the fish to cure naturally.
How to tell when it’s time to break out the bagels and cream cheese? Close your eyes and touch your eyelid. “The thickest part of the fish should be a little firmer than your eyeball,” he says.
1. Run your fingers along the flesh of a 2-lb fillet. Remove any pin bones with fish tweezers or needle-nose pliers. (Rake up flesh to expose the end of the bone, then grasp and pull in the same direction it’s pointed.)
3. Line a rimmed pan with plastic wrap and evenly spread with ½ cup curing mix; cover with dill sprigs. Set fish on top, skin side down. Cover top and sides of fish with ½ cup mix. Wrap in plastic; refrigerate overnight.
4. Brush off excess mix and discard, along with any liquid. Repeat process with a clean pan and 1 cup curing mix and dill each day until fish has reached desired taste (5 to 7 days for a 2 ½-inch-thick fillet).
No matter how you prepare salmon, it’s wise to check for pin bones—those tiny bones unattached to the skeleton that are hidden within the flesh. “The fresher the fish,” says Ginsberg, “the harder the pin bones are to dig out.” Make it easier with a pair of Korin’s stainless steel, nonslip fish tweezers, a tool favored by sushi chefs.
Bonus recipe: Lox Carpaccio Appetizer
3-4 thin slices of lox
Chopped celery leaves
Finely diced red onion
Finely diced cucumber
Extra-virgin olive oil
Pumpernickel bread for serving, optional
1. Arrange lox slices on a small plate.
2. Garnish with celery leaves, chives, onion, cucumber, and capers.
3. Drizzle with olive oil.
4. Serve with pumpernickel bread if desired.
About Todd Ginsberg
Nearly 15 years ago, Jersey-born Ginsberg arrived in Atlanta fresh out of culinary school to cook at the Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead. He went on to hone his talent in top city kitchens, including Trois and Bocado. In 2013, he and three friends opened the General Muir, where they serve bagels piled with lox and pastrami sandwiches slathered with chopped liver. Recently Ginsberg has been drawing long lines to his two stalls inside Krog Street Market: Fred’s Meat & Bread and Yalla.
Consuming uncooked fish carries risks, but curing does help inhibit bacterial growth. Ginsberg emphasizes using fresh, organic fish from trusted purveyors like Whole Foods.
Illustrations by Joel Kimmel
This article originally appeared in our April 2015 issue.