Vodka & Dill Cured Lox
Some New Yorkers will tell you that the best way to eat a bagel is with cream cheese, lox, tomato, red onion, and capers. This is the New York classic that you should get whenever visiting the Big Apple. Lox is one of the best foods to grace our brunch plates and bagels. If you’ve never had a smoked salmon eggs benedict and see it on a menu at your next brunch venue – order it. You’re welcome.
But as delicious as this seafood delicacy is, it can be expensive to always order out or even buy in the supermarket. The Ginger Foodie to the rescue!
The terms smoked salmon and lox are often thrown around synonymously, but as it turns out, they are very very different. The difference is in the preparation. Smoked salmon is a blanket term for any type of salmon that has been brined and then (clearly) smoked in either a hot or cold smoke. Lox, or gravlax, is made with a salt-sugar rub or brine.
It seems a bit sketchy to eat fish that hasn’t had the icky bacteria cooked out of it but the salt brine kills most of the bacteria and as a double-whammy, you let the salmon cure in vodka. When I made lox I actually cured it in gin, which gave the fish a piney flavor that just brightens the flavor of the fish.
I’m not really sure what possessed me to try and make lox but I’m really glad I did. It’s very easy to make—you just need to be willing to get a little messy to really massage the brine flavors in. And then you need to wait. Like, really wait. This is something that won’t be ready until 72 hours after you prepare it. This gives the fish plenty of time to really soak in all those great flavors from your brine (and also make sure you kill all those ickies).
Eating the lox reminded me of my trip to Iceland and all the delicious seafood I had there. That makes sense though because gravlax is a traditional Scandinavian dish. The seafood and salmon industry is booming in that region. Did you know: gravlax translates to “buried salmon”? Basically what they do in the Nordic countries—well used to, I’m assuming because of modern refrigeration they don’t do this as much—but they would bury the salmon fillets in the salt to ferment the fish. Neat, right?
But enjoying lox is so enjoyable because it brings back great memories of having bagels on Sunday mornings in NY. Makes me a bit homesick but now that I know how to make it I won’t feel as homesick. If only D.C. made better bagels—a girl can hope.
Wait wait wait – I didn’t tell you the best part! It’s fancy food that is AFFORDABLE. That’s right friends—making lox at home isn’t that expensive at all and you can impress everyone you know by touting that you can make HOMEMADE LOX.
When the salmon is ready to eat (after what feels like decades later) the fish is light, delicate, and almost buttery. It picks up the aromatics from the alcohol and the brine but the aromatics don’t overpower the fish. It’s a very beautiful satisfying flavor.
Enjoy it on some rye toast with a very light cream cheese or mayo if you prefer (I don’t because I don’t like mayo), or enjoy it with some eggs, or slice it up and enjoy it with an assortment of accoutrements like cucumbers and tomatoes.
But personally I think you should get a bagel from wherever you can find a good bagel, shmear some cream cheese on it and layer on the tomato, onions, and lox (and capers if you fancy) and enjoy yourself a NY classic.
Important things to note before we get to curing:
The shelf life of your lox depends on how fresh your fish is. The quality is super important is you’re eating technically raw fish. If you can, try to purchase sushi-grade salmon, but as fresh as possible is what you should aim for.
DO NOT, and I repeat, DO NOT make this with previously frozen salmon. The fish is not as fresh and you run the risk of unpleasant bacteria.
The lox will keep for a few days (four-five tops). Monitor your fish for any funky odors. If it smells bad, don’t eat it.
Vodka Dill Cured Lox
1 pound center cut skin on salmon, pin bones removed
2 tablespoons vodka (or gin)
1 tablespoon lemon zest
4 tablespoons kosher salt
4 tablespoons granulated sugar
½ teaspoon fresh pepper
½ cup dill, finely chopped
1 lemon, sliced
In a small bowl, combine the lemon zest, salt, sugar, pepper, and dill.
In a 9x13 baking dish (or any large dish), layer the bottom with 3-4 lemon slices. Place the salmon, skin side down, on the lemon slices and then generously rub half of the dry brine rub on the fish. Massage the rub very well.
Flip the salmon and rub the remaining rub onto the fish. Layer with remaining lemon slices.
Pour the vodka over the fish.
Tightly wrap the salmon in plastic wrap, creating a cocoon.
Refrigerate for 72 hours, flipping the salmon once a day.
Once ready, run the salmon under cool water and then pat dry. Place the salmon back in the fridge for another hour to air dry.
To serve: thinly slice on the diagonal and indulge.