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Dec 29, 2010 03:51 PM

Lox cure: 3:2 salt to brown sugar

This thread was split from its original place on the Los Angeles board - The Chowound Team

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When I want smoked salmon, I used to buy it from Zabar's or Russ & Daughters (the same price, including shipping, as Barney Greengrass, though it's been long enough since I went to BG that I disremember the prices). Now I buy it from Noah at Dry Dock Fish, who gets it in and slices and packages it.

Lox I make by myself. It's so easy to do it should be illegal to sell it, and the salmon on this coast is frankly superior to the salmon on the East Coast. Buy salmon belly at an Asian market or your favourite fishmonger, and cure it yourself. 3:2 ratio of salt to brown sugar, add a little cracked black pepper. Make more cure than you think you need.

Barney Greengrass Restaurant
9570 Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90212

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  1. Wow, sounds you just rub 3:2 ratio of salt to brown sugar (light or dark?) into the fish and just let it sit in the fridge? For how long? Do you wrap in saran wrap? Is this an open-faced belly or do you fold it over on itself? (I truly have no idea what a whole salmon belly looks like).

    And, sugar? Really? I don't taste sugar at all when I eat belly lox at Russ & Daughter's....

    Mr Taster

    14 Replies
    1. re: Mr Taster

      I used to enjoy making my own lox, nova whatever you want to call it. You need to get a good side of king salmon (wild caught if possible- skin on) cure it with sugar and salt, maybe add some pepper or fresh dill, wrap it in a plastic bag and put in the fridge for 2-3 days, turning it over. There will be a liquid emitted. Then I take it out, dry it, put it in a cold smoker with hickory for about an hour being careful not to cook it. Just to give it a subtle smoke flavor. Then, I rub it down with olive oil, wrap it in plastic wrap and put it back in the fridge for about 3-5 days which transforms the texture to that silky goodness. The belly portion has the most fat and is the most delicious. Slice it front to back at a steep angle. Or you can just go to Costco which has pretty decent lox at a decent price and you save a lot of time and work.

      1. re: Baron

        "...lox, nova whatever you want to call it..."

        Baron, thanks for your tips however I can't help but notice that if you're saying this, I suggest that you reread my original post.

        Belly lox is NOT nova. It is NOT smoked. It is not even the same cut of fish as what you would make gravlachs with, which is what you're describing.

        Mr Taster

        1. re: Mr Taster

          Mr T,
          I always understood "Nova" to be short for Nova Scotia which produces some great salmon. And I understood "lox" to be short for Gravlox - a Swedish recipe for curing the different kinds of salmon. Belly lox just comes from the fatty underside of the King salmon - the fattiest of salmon breeds. Smoking the results just a little, is optional according to taste. Unsmoked lox doesn't have much flavor -until you add the bagel, the cream cheese and a slice of raw onion. Growing up in N.J., it wasn't Sunday without lox and bagels.
          But I'm not sure of the way you are defining things. "Belly lox is NOT nova?." hmmm, Isn't that like saying prime rib is not beef? Or that toro is not tuna? In the East Coast the Salmon came from Nova Scotia, out west it was brought in from Canada and Alaska -mostly. Being a life long lover of great lox, nova, belly lox, etc, I would be interested in knowing of a reference which defines these terms officially and explains the differences.

          1. re: Baron

            When referring to anything related to the storied culinary traditions of Ashkenazi appetizing, It's always best to start with the source... the holy grail (ha!), the Mecca (ha again!), the ~100 year old Russ & Daughters in Manhattan's lower east side.


            Helpful Tips

            Is Belly Lox what is being referred to when people say "lox?"

            Most likely, when people refer to "lox," as in "bagels and lox," they are referring to smoked salmon, typically the traditional Gaspe Nova. Belly lox is not smoked salmon; it is is salmon that is cured in salt. Unlike smoked salmon, belly lox is very salty, but for those who grew up with this taste, there is no substitute.

            Mr Taster

      2. re: Mr Taster

        I use about 2:1 salt to brown sugar. About. About two cups will cover a three pound slab of salmon. Sometimes I add a little dill, or lemon zest. Put a little of the mix under the fish. I use a large pyrex dish. Pour the rest over. Cover with plastic wrap. About 24 hours later, I add water to cover the fish and let it brine for another 24 hours. (I put the dish on a sheet pan, cause the plastic always touches the water, wicks it up and then it leaks all over the fridge). Rinse the salt off. Slice as thin as you can. (this is the only hard part)

        I've been doing this for years, and will never make beautiful deli slices. No one cares. It tastes divine. (I had to buy extra lox to supplement for a party when I could only find a 2 pound piece of fish for one party...guess which version had leftovers.)

        1. re: Mr Taster

          You need two similar-looking pieces of belly. If you don't use sugar, your lox will be saltier than the Dead Sea. Regular gravlax is 1:1 salt to sugar, with pepper and dill; lox is 3:2 salt to sugar, with pepper only (optional).

          I use 240g of salt and 160g of sugar (that's about 8 ounces and 5 1/3 ounces). A quarter goes on cling film, then a piece of salmon (any cut you like, but boneless) skin side down. Two thirds of what's left goes on top of that fish, put the other fish on skin side up, put the rest of the cure on top. Wrap it up loosely in cling film, stick it in a dish with a lip, then weight it. Flip it (and pour off the liquid) twice a day for three days, then wash, pat dry, wrap in clean cling film and chill to complete the drying.

          Experiment to make it yours; if you really love salty belly lox, maybe do 2:1 instead of 3:2. Salmon belly at a Korean market is much, much cheaper than buying lox from R&D.

          1. re: Das Ubergeek


            When you drain the liquid, do you just keep it in the same wrapper? How loose exactly is the wrap, loose enough so that the liquid just drains into the dish instead of staying in the wrapper? That way you just keep the same wrapper?

            This sounds like something I really want to try but am a complete novice at pickling/curing things and need the details to be sure I'm doing it right. Thanks!

            1. re: Jase

              I just wrap it up like a sandwich. It doesn't matter if you wrap it tightly; it will exude enough liquid to shake the wrap a little loose in search of an escape route. You might want to set the salmon on a rack if you can, or some balls of foil, so the salmon isn't sitting in the liquid, that's all.

              I don't change the "bandage" (har de har har) until I'm ready to wash off the cure; at that point it gets wrapped tightly in fresh cling film.

              1. re: Das Ubergeek

                Awesome, thanks! Just saw the Weekly write up too.

            2. re: Das Ubergeek

              Good morning Das. I've enjoyed curing my own salmon too although it's been a while since great salmon is getting hard to find. I used to go downtown to one of those fish outlets and buy the whole wild super fresh fish. But I know things have probably changed. So where do you get your salmon and can you find the king?

              1. re: Baron

                Dry Dock is my go-to. They have wild, line-caught New Zealand King in season. I get mine at the Irvine Farmers' Market, but it's been a while since the market is Saturday and, well, holidays; not sure if they have any this point.

                Responding to your other point: "nova" or "novy" in New York appetizing stores usually refers to a side cut, rather than a belly cut. The belly cut is much thinner, but is cured with a similar mixture. Because it's fattier, it holds the salt and flavour of the cure much more than novy and has a correspondingly stronger taste. They're all salmon, but if you walk into Zabar's, Russ and Daughters or Schwartz's Appetizing, there will be "novy" and "belly lox" and never the twain shall meet, as it were.

              2. re: Das Ubergeek

                Fantastic, I've wanted to do this for quite a while now and now I have no reason to delay any longer.

                Do you happen to know the Hangul for salmon belly? :)

                Mr Taster

                1. re: Mr Taster

                  연어뱃살 (yeon-eo baetsal) is the native Korean for "salmon belly", but they may "nick" the Japanese term harasu: 연어하라스 (yeon-eo ha-ra-seu).

            3. Just thought I'd throw in my 2c as I made 16lbs of gravlax as part of family xmas basket gifts...
              I prefer skinning the salmon. My cure is made up of fine table salt and kosher salt (1:1), brown sugar and white sugar (2:1), and black pepper. Roughly 2:6:0.5 ratio of saltmix/sugarmix/pepper along with a carload of chopped fresh dill.
              Similar to D Ubergeek, I lay plastic wrap on the counter, spread out some cure and dill then put the filet on top, cover with cure&dill and wrap up (layering when using more than one fillet). The wrapped salmon is put on a tray (no matter how tightly wrapped, sugary, sticky fluid will leak) and weighted down with a 12-pack. Flipped daily for three days (I don't bother draining the liquid from the tray) then unwrap, rinse under cold water and pat dry.
              You can cure for 1-2 days for a lightly flavored, raw-like consistency. Sometimes I'll cure for 6 days to get a very very firm texture like salmon candy.
              You can play around with the curing times and mixes to find what you like best.

              1. I just returned from a week in New York and paid my regular visit to Russ & Daughters. This was my first visit back since attempting to make my own, so I had a few questions for the guys in the white coats.

                Their advice for making belly lox? Don't.

                The guys told me that it's such a fickle and complicated process to make good belly lox that they don't even do it themselves! Yes, you read correctly. Russ and Daughters buys their belly lox from an outside company.

                Smoking is easy. But properly salt curing to get that silky, luxurious feeling on your tongue, and not have it taste like the Dead Sea? Very, very hard. They told me that a real belly lox cure takes a period of several months, in a humidity and temperature controlled environment. When I told him I got my salmon belly from the Korean market, he just laughed. "It's got to be the right cut of salmon. It can't just be anything."

                So, there we go. Straight from the sturgeon's mouth.

                This is not to say that the cured salmon I made with your directions wasn't tasty. It just wasn't true belly lox. I knew that when I tasted it, but there was a little pretending going on.

                Mr Taster

                15 Replies
                1. re: Mr Taster

                  Well... for when you need di emeseh, there's Russ and Daughters and the express delivery box and the price, oy, Gottenyu.

                  But when you just need to scratch an itch a little bit... make your own. :)

                  Thanks for reporting back!

                  1. re: Das Ubergeek

                    No doubt the stuff I made with your cure was delicious (and comparatively cheap.) In fact an expat New Yorker in my office offered to pay me to make some for her. I just thought it was important to debunk this idea that real belly lox is actually easy to make.

                    Traditional ways are being lost due in no small part to enthusiastic posters like us who passionately (but mistakenly) espouse nontraditional methods for making traditional foods. A quick google search for kosher dill pickles hints at how many people believe that vinegar belongs in a traditional kosher dill pickle brine, or that heating and canning is necessary to the process.

                    Again, I'm not arguing that a heat-processed kosher dill pickle made with vinegar (or a home cured salmon belly) can't be delicious. But what I am saying is that every time a well-intended foodie (or Chowhound) propagates misinformation about traditional methods of preparing foods, the old ways slip a little further out of reach.


                    Mr Taster

                    1. re: Mr Taster

                      You're preaching to the choir—I've got a glass jar of cucumbers done the right way, lactic acid only, about a day from becoming half-sours. I just need to find a way to KEEP them there that doesn't involve giving them half my fridge space.

                    2. re: Das Ubergeek

                      Das, do you ever use a wet brine instead of the dry cure?

                      I make Nova lox quite often and have been using a wet brine over the dry cure. I find I get a more silky texture over the more toothsome texture from dry curing.

                      1. re: scubadoo97

                        Zabar's website talks about how their belly lox is "still made the traditional way, using a generations - old brine curing recipe."


                        When I made mine with the dry-cure method, the edges dried out to a soft jerky-like consistency while the interior remained moist. True belly lox has that silky tongue feel which would be impossible to achieve by removing all that moisture from the fish.

                        On goes the search....

                        Mr Taster

                        1. re: Mr Taster

                          I've been using a near 20% brine or 2 pounds of salt per gallon of water for my brine with a cup of brown sugar added. Not sure it adds much sweetness but does aid color retention with salmon. I soak a skin on side for 12-16 hrs and refresh for 1/2-1hr before drying to form the pellicle. I then cold smoke for 2-3 hrs. Texture is very silky. So much so that I find instead of slicing it thin, it has better texture if sliced thicker.

                          There was mention about the smoke resulting in the silky texture on Russ and Daughter's web site. I'm more inclined to believe it's the brine.

                          1. re: Mr Taster

                            "When I made mine with the dry-cure method, the edges dried out to a soft jerky-like consistency while the interior remained moist."

                            The trick here is to use a piece of even thickness throughout, from "head to toe" and side to side. This usually means cutting off a few pieces to achieve a nice rectangular shape with even thickness throughout. Sometimes I do it, and sometimes I don't care about the "jerky-like" edges - I just cut those off before slicing the finished product, and eat those separately.

                            1. re: foreverhungry

                              The point I was trying to make is that with a wet brine, no trimming would be required. Just look at the beautiful whole slabs at Russ & Daughters... despite being tapered on the edges, all of it is perfect.

                              The way it appears to me (and remember, I'm no expert) is that with a dry rub, the liquid drains from the fish but is never replaced. In a wet brine, the lost liquid would be replaced with the wet brine.

                              Mr Taster

                              1. re: Mr Taster

                                Give the wet brine a try. I've even done both treatments to the same fish. Started with a dry cure then finished with a wet brine before refreshing. Good results but way too much trouble. I'm personally sold on the wet brine both for texture and ease of prep. Not that a dry cure is difficult but you need to keep the fish wrapped and flat in the fridge. I don't always have that much space in the fridge. I do my wet brines in food grade plastic bucket like the one pictured. I place a plate the salmon to keep it submerged. The lid fits very snug so there is no chance of spills

                                1. re: Mr Taster

                                  I see your point. I've not tried a wet brine, since the dry cure gives good results. I also like the flavoring aspect of a dry cure, and I wonder if that would be possible with a wet brine - to the same effect. Meaning, I add several spices to my dry cure, so the finished product wouldn't be the same as Russ & Daughters, which appears to be a straight cure/brine, with no flavor additives. I prefer my cured and cured & smoked salmon to have added spices. When brining other cuts of meat, I've found that no matter how many spices/flavoring agents I through into the brine, any resulting flavor is so mild that it's not worth it, so now whenever I brine, I just use salt and sugar, and flavor during the cooking process.

                                  I'm not sure about replacing liquid using a wet brine. Isn't part of the point of curing (dry or wet) to remove moisture from the meat, which has a preservative effect? I'm also no expert here....but that's never stopped me before.

                                  1. re: foreverhungry

                                    When you remove the fish from the brine it will be denser and firmer than it started. The salt will have a preservative effect even if it's not dry. I agree about trying to get other flavors into the fish. I think even with the dry cure you are tasting the other flavors from the surface flesh. Some migration of flavors in a brine and cure will occur, but no as well as I would like.

                                    1. re: scubadoo97

                                      Scubadoo - when I make the gravlax, it is supposed to be in a pan, you cover the fish with plastic wrap and baste the fish with the juices is exudes.

                                      What I have discovered is WAY easier (and may be giving me more of wet brine) is putting it in a big ziplock, and then just flipping the bag and moving the mixture around a bit before placing it back in the fridge. It gives me a nice firm fish that is never dry.

                                      1. re: happybaker

                                        Yeah, I've done the ziploc. Way easier. Depends on the size of the fish. Some sides have been over 4#.

                                2. re: foreverhungry

                                  I do the same; I cut them off, chop them, and scramble them with eggs.

                        2. Das -

                          My dad was a proud Brooklyn boy, a fabulous eater and cook. He never made his own lox, but he often made his own gravlax, based on a recipe of Julia Child's.

                          He knew it was not the same as lox, but he also knew - it was a delight and glory all on it's own. (And cheap enough to share wantonly!)

                          So let's rejoice that we have both options. And happy curing to you!

                          1. Worth updating this thread with a recent find.

                            I found a somewhat definitive answer about how belly lox (and I'm specifically talking about real lox-- not Nova-- belly lox is the brined, salt cured, unsmoked variety). This info comes from the source-- Russ & Daughters (and was published in the most unlikely of places...

                            It is not as easy as you make it out to be, Das. Though your recipe was delicious (and easy), it is not belly lox, and therefore what I was looking for.

                            As I suspected, there's no sugar in the cure. What I didn't expect is that the process consists of both a dry cure AND wet brine-- and the fish is brined for 6 months! That's pretty stunning. I had no idea that belly lox is aged as long as some cheeses are.

                            When I was last at R&D and asked the counterman how their belly lox is made, he said "it's very complicated- we don't make it here. You have to control the temperature and lots of other elements." I thought was kind of strange. I mean, how complicated could it be to brine some fish?

                            What wound up in the article I suspect is an incredibly simplified version, since she makes no mention of the temperature controls. But at least this gives us a sense of the incredibly time consuming process.


                            "At Russ & Daughters, it’s made by packing sides of salmon (preferably king salmon because it can stand up to the salt without disintegrating) in dry salt for about a week, then transferring the sides to a wet brine with about 60 percent salinity, where the fish cures for around six months."

                            Mr Taster