Classic Lox Recipe

Classic lox on a bagel with dill and lemon

The Spruce / Elaine Lemm

Prep: 20 mins
Cook: 0 mins
Curing: 72 hrs
Total: 72 hrs 20 mins
Servings: 6 servings

Lox and bagels are a classic New York brunch dish that's now enjoyed around the world. But in general, the fish sitting atop the bagel is actually smoked salmon, not true lox, which is seasoned, salted, and dill-cured salmon rather than smoked. The curing process of lox is easier and quicker because the salmon isn't smoked, and the result is a sweet, tasty, and tender slice of salmon.

Lox can be used in many dishes: sliced thickly and served alongside potatoes, dill and horseradish; on blini as canapés; or as the filling for a straightforward sandwich on rye bread

For a tastier and fattier lox, use squeaky fresh fish, and the thick belly section of the fish, rather than the thinner tail end. If you have any doubts about the freshness of the fish, buy a frozen piece or freeze it for 24 hours before curing it to ensure there are no parasites. If you're using a frozen piece of salmon, defrost it thoroughly before starting the recipe.

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Ingredients

  • 4-pound salmon fillet (preferably the thick belly section)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons mixed black, white, and red peppercorns (coarsely ground)
  • 3 juniper berries
  • 2 cups fresh dill (stalks removed, finely chopped)
  • Optional: Chili pepper flakes

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. Cut the salmon in half across the fillet into two halves. 

  3. In a bowl, mix the sugar, salt, peppercorns, juniper berries, dill, and optional chili pepper flakes, if using.

  4. Place one half of the salmon, skin side down, onto a long sheet of plastic wrap. Cover the flesh of the salmon with the sugar, salt, and pepper mix. Place the second fillet flesh side down on top to create a "salmon sandwich." Wrap the fish pieces tightly in plastic wrap.

  5. Put the "salmon sandwich" into a shallow baking dish, making sure the fish stands higher than the sides of the pan. Place a baking tray on top of the salmon and weigh it down with a heavy object such as canned beans, rice bags, or heavy books (covered in plastic wrap to avoid passing on fish smells).

  6. Put the fish into the refrigerator and leave it to cure for 3 to 4 days, turning the salmon twice a day or at least once every day. If there is any accumulated liquid, pour it out and change the plastic wrap.

  7. When ready to serve, remove the wrap, pour away any liquid and wipe away most of the sugar, salt, and peppercorns, leaving a little on the edges for decoration. Slice as desired: thin for bagels, thick if it's meant to be the main course.

  8. The lox will keep well in the refrigerator for five days. If you bought frozen salmon or froze it before curing, do not refreeze. Enjoy!

Why Is It Called Lox?

The name lox is a case of straightforward language translation. The word lox comes from the Yiddish word for salmon, lax, which in and of itself comes from the Germanic word for salmon—laks. Cured salmon in Scandinavian countries, for example, is known by different versions of the name gravlax, or gravad laks.

Variations

Add some kick to your lox with these variations.

  • Add alcohol: Vodka, gin, pastis, or Pernod are delicious ingredients to add to your cure mix. One to 2 tablespoons will add a lovely back note of flavor.
  • Enhance the color: Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of raw, finely grated beet to the cure mix. It will turn the salmon a glorious pinkish-red color, which is stunning on the plate.
  • Change the seasoning: Switch out the juniper for coriander seed, fennel (seed or fronds) or any other herb or spice you'd like.