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Jan 18, 2009 08:30 AM

What's wrong with our lox?

I just spent a while in the New York area, where I indulged in one of my favourite, yet simplest, sandwiches: a bagel with cream cheese and lox. Yes, yes, I know it's a stereotypical Upper West Side nosh, but there is no reason why it has to be better there than anywhere else. And no, I don't mean because of the bagels - I prefer ours.

And yet, I found myself not doing something down there that I have to do all the time here, when I order lox and cream cheese from a bagel place: I didn't have to pick the crusty bits off of the filets. Maybe it's just me, but I find some of the smoked salmon in Toronto disgusting. Parts of it are dark, and much of the time, is scaly and rough.

The smoked salmon in New York is nearly perfect, and not just from a place like Zabar's. From a Jewish delicatessen to a neighbourhood grocery store, the lox is aways cured well, and entirely crunch free. Here - not so much.

But why is that? Do our hatcheries prepare the salmon in a different way? Are we too far from Nova Scotia to keep the fish fresh? What is it?

It's so disappointing that in Toronto, where we do fish and bagels quite well, we can't really make a fine lox and cream cheese sandwich.

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  1. Perhaps too many places here rely on frozen pre-sliced smoked salmon. There are deli's in New York that still hand slice the lox, and avoid the scales, skin, or brown spots (I think improper smoking causes that) as a matter of course. This is not to say that New York lox has not been frozen, or from farmed salmon, but instead that they demand and get the best product. Perhaps we are not fussy enough.

    1. overcuring can lead to hard, crusty edges, as can improper storage, which allows the ends to dry out. so it could be a problem with preparation OR freshness/handling...or a combination of both.

      1. Maybe not enough people here order lox.. so it has been sitting out too long.. the busier the place the fresher the food..

        3 Replies
        1. re: OnDaGo

          That may be an explanation, but it's hardly an excuse.

          1. re: DanCoxwell

            Where are you getting it from Dan? I've never encountered the type of problem you describe at places like Daiter's, Bagel House, Viking, United Bakery, Kristopfson's to name but a few.

            1. re: millygirl

              I don't want to single out any place in particular because I've encountered it at numerous places, but to name but one example, the place best known for the twister bagel comes to mind.

        2. Let's keep in mind the difference between lox and smoked salmon. Lox is far more prevalent in NY than it is here.

          6 Replies
          1. re: childofthestorm

            Does the distinction still apply? At one time lox was cured in salt and sugar and not smoked. But today most Nova Scotia lox is lightly smoked, just like our smoked salmon.
            The smoked salmon sold here may come from B.C., the Maritimes, or northern Europe. But it is usually farmed salmon, and that is usually what is sent to New York as well, cold smoked even if called lox.

            1. re: jayt90

              In NY they make a distinction between Nova and lox, still. Check the Russ and Daughters website, for me the gold standard:

              I was just there and even at a nondescript deli I was asked "ya want Novy or Lox on that bagel hon?"

              1. re: childofthestorm

                Thanks for the truly informative link. The pickled lox shown would be more difficult to slice for a bagel, not to mention salty. Did you try it? How was it?

                1. re: jayt90

                  Oh for sure I had the lox. Wasn't too salty at all, and just terrific flavour. Slices were very thin and I was actually wondering how they did it. Keep it quite cold and use a deli slicer? Embee would probably know.

                  1. re: childofthestorm

                    The stuff called lox years ago was not smoked. It was salt cured and I wouldn't even be able to eat it today. I don't know whether it is still being sold widely in NY- Russ & Daughters ain't yer garden variety appy store. It isn't widely available in Toronto.

                    Belly lox refers to slices cut from the fattiest part of the salmon. When I was a kid, belly lox was a specific request. The best analogy would be the preference of sushi mavens for, say, otoro. The entire salmon was salt cured - not just the belly. The Scandinavian versions (e.g., gravlax) are not smoked. BTW, it's really to make this kind of salt cured fish yourself, avoiding oversalting and saving a fortune. Just sprinkle with salt and spices, wrap, and weight. It will cure in the fridge in about a day.

                    Smoked salmon is all over the map, from quite salty to not at all salty. There's good and bad smoked salmon (we're talking about cold smoked salmon - hot smoked is very different) in Toronto and in New York. I have run into the stuff described by the OP, but there's plenty of good stuff around, including in packages.

                    The last place I know of that sliced to order was Chapman's, but I don't think they do it anymore. All it takes is a thin, flexible, sharp knife. Unlike brisket, this is an easy skill to learn.

                    Pickled "lox" is really pickled salmon and is cured in a spiced brine. Pickled lox is sometimes "cooked" by the brine and sometimes actually cooked. It isn't sliced for sandwiches - indeed, it will flake if you try to slice it. Most likely eaten as a chunk or flaked for salad.

            2. re: childofthestorm

              Lox is the Jewish word for smoked salmon. You're thinking of gravlox which is cured salmon. Looks the same, but it's not smoked.

            3. Dan, what it is is that we use Norwegian smoked salmon, which is perhaps the most mass produced farmed salmon in the world. Every horror story you hear about bad fish farming practices, is all there. In NYC, I see a lot of NS salmon, why? Good question. That is for another discussion though.
              I like a hot smoked, BC salmon the best on my lox.

              5 Replies
              1. re: chef_vagabond

                Problem is, hot smoked BC salmon doesn't remotely resemble any kind of lox.

                Fifty years ago, "Nova" or "Novie" were labels given to cold smoked salmon across the board in NY. It didn't necessarily come from Nova Scotia. Most of it was processed in Brooklyn.

                1. re: embee

                  Hilarious! Doesn't surprise me.
                  I know it's not lox as we know it but I still like hot smoked BC better.

                  1. re: chef_vagabond

                    but if it's not lox as we know it perhaps it is more appropriate for you to simply say you prefer hot smoked bc salmon rather than lox... not as your lox or as you say on your lox... which would be salmon two ways!

                    the OP seems to clearly define the issue, to me at least, with how they refer to "lox". there looks to be a misunderstanding that embee has deftly clarified as to the differences between curing vs cold smoking vs hot smoking, etc. if you're getting smoked salmon in one place and lox in another... well you're just getting a whole different product!

                    i'd say if you have a thin enough fillet or pre cut the slices then you can definitely make it yourself in 24 hours or less. for whole thick fillets i find 3+ days about right though 5 or so might get darn salty. it helps to keep the skin on and cut towards it for nice thin slices and keeping it very cold doesn't hurt... but really a thin knife and good motion are all you need.

                    1. re: pinstripeprincess

                      Whenever I ordered lox and cream cheese on a bagel in New York, they served cold smoked salmon. The pickled lox chunks shown in Russ and Daughters website never appeared, and would be difficult to slice thinly.
                      So the generic product slapped onto a bagel in New York or Toronto is essentially similar: cold smoked salmon, not lox. The "Novi" may better than our "lox" because of a long tradition of quality in delis, and a more demanding clientele.
                      I'll be looking for locally cold smoked salmon, or Krauch's, or sockeye from B.C. I've had enough smelly, brownish-tinged frozen product from Norway.