Skip to comments.No, Smoked Salmon and Lox Aren't the Same—Here's the Ultimate Guide to Cured Fish
Posted on 04/09/2020 4:06:57 PM PDT by nickcarraway
Smoked salmon, lox, Novatheyre all the same, right? Nope. These various categories of cured fish have about as much in common as bread and pasta or salad and pickles. Translation? They can be made with the same raw ingredient, but once manipulated, theyre totally different foods.
As someone who grew up on lox (I literally ate it by the pound as a small child), or what I called lox, I was kind of baffled to learn during a recent visit to Brooklyns Acme Smoked Fish that the product Ive been referring to as lox my entire life is actually smoked salmon. Yes, Im a food writer and a proficient cook, but did I know actual lox was so salty and smoked salmon was so much more palatable to me? Definitely not.
Enter Matt Ranieri, technical services director at Acme and holder of a PhD in Food Studies from Cornell University. While he oversees research and development as well as food safety and processing at the multigenerational family-owned fish company, Ranieri has a new title to add to his role: Teacher. Recently he launched a Smoked Fish 101 class, which lets students taste a range of Acmes products to understand the difference between smoked fishes. Ready to dive in? Ranieri shared some of his expertise with us, so you, similar to this lox-and-bagel-loving New Yorker, can successfully identify your favorite cured fishes in the supermarket and beyond.
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What is cured fish?
When we cure fish, we are preserving [it] with salt, dehydration, or smoke, sometimes a combination of all three methods, explains Ranieri. These methods not only delay spoilage, but when executed with precision, capture and enhance the natural flavors of fish.
The difference between smoked salmon and lox
In traditional processing, lox is never smoked. It is cured in lots of salt for months. Then, when the texture peaks, reaches a silky, buttery mouthfeel, salmon fillets are rinsed and ready to slice, Ranieri explains. In contrast, smoked salmon is lightly cured with salt and always smoked. Meaning, if you taste a super salty cured fish, its likely lox. And on your bagel, you likely prefer smoked salmon.
Types of smoked salmon and lox
Smoked salmon and lox range in fish species, provenance (where the fish was caught or farmed), special seasoning, and smokehouse. There are so many types that even knowledgeable consumers can feel overwhelmed, Ranieri warns. Heres how to break it down:
Species: Wild salmon is often firmer in texture, lower in oil content (all that swimming in the wild burns fat!), richer in flavor and brighter in color (thanks to a naturally sourced diet in waterways). Ranieri recommends trying Wild Alaskan Sockeye or King Salmon for wild caught products. The alternative to wild-caught salmon is farmed salmon, often dubbed Atlantic Salmon.
Provenance: Wild caught species like Sockeye, Coho, and King Salmon are likely from Alaska or the Pacific Northwest. The catch is seasonal, and limited to ensure future generations have access to these species, Ranieri says. For farmed Atlantic Salmon, common descriptors include Chilean, Norwegian, Irish, and Scottish. These regions have developed advanced systems to farm salmon, he says. Often, Irish and Scottish salmon have the highest fat content, resulting is a silky, rich texture. Chilean and Norwegian fish are slightly more lean, although still [have] two to three times the fat content of any wild salmon species.
Smokehouse: The smokehouse a smoked fish originates from determines which methods are used for curing and smoking. At Acme, we employ a mix of dry curing, [salt cast by hand across fillets] and wet-curing [a slow, gentle brining bath for large fillets], Ranieri says. We then smoke our fish naturally using a blend of hardwoods. Our smoke level is intentionally mild, to complement the flavor of fish. Other smokehouses may opt for smokier flavors.
I always see sable on deli menus, what is that?
Sable is a delicious wild-caught species, line-caught from Alaskan waters. The texture is what really stands outits flaky and buttery, Ranieri says. Think of it as the croissant of smoked fish. With a light salt and smoke its an elegant product on its own or a stand-out on a smoked fish platter. Writers note: I tasted sable and now I cant stop eating it.
And whats with those whole smoked whitefish? Smoked salmon and sable have filets, but whitefish is usually shown with its head and tail
Whitefish is another wild-caught specialty, coming from the Great Lakes. It has a mild flavor and flaky texture when smoked properly, Ranieri says. Because whitefish are small, if filleted they could easily dry out during smoking. So to maintain a tender flesh, and deliver a balanced smoke flavor, whitefish are smoked whole. Theres also another benefit to the silver skins too: Ultimately, smoking with the skin on helps retain moisture and preserve the flaky texture. Whitefish has to be one of the more challenging fish to smoke; its a narrow window to find the perfect balance of texture and flavor, he says.
Share your smoked fish
Smoked fish is one of those foods thats certainly better with friends and family, particularly on weekend mornings. Like most great foods, smoked fish is meant to be shared, Ranieiri says. His suggested serving style: Make a platter with sliced tomatoes, onions, capers, cream cheese, and your favorite bases, like rye bread, sourdough, bagel, cucumber slices, or crackers, so everyone can personalize their own snack.
Storing cured fish While curing preserves fish, unfortunately it doesnt leave fish without a shelf life. A lot depends on where a product was purchased and how its packaged, but Ranieris general guideline is that vacuum packaged fish should last about two weeks with proper refrigeration (less than 38°F). If the product is wrapped in deli paper, its generally good to consume it within 3-5 days. About to miss the cut-off? Consider your freezer.
While fish can be frozen, its often detrimental to the texture and flavor, Ranieri warns. Eat defrosted cured fish within two months, preferably as an ingredient in a cooked dish, like a quiche, omelet, or pasta sauce.
Never eat farmed salmon, much higher levels of bad Omega-6 fats, always try to get wild caught.
Lox, smoked salmon, who cares? Anchovies rule.
As a household which consumes quite a bit of salmon - this was a very interesting and educational post. Thanks for posting!
Smoked salmon on bagel with creme cheese. Yum!
Ever try a anchovy, onion with lemon juice dip?
“this was a very interesting and educational post.”
Good info, well layed out.
I ordered a box of tins of anchovies when this all kicked off.
I love smoked whitefish, but have never liked smoked salmon. Maybe I would like Lox.
And smoked salmon.
Can't forget the cream cheese...
Except for my Army time I’ve lived my entire life within 20 miles of the Atlantic Ocean and yet I’ve never had the slightest use for seafood.Go figure!
This thread is making me wish I had some lox in the house for tomorrow’s breakfast. Cook it up with some onions, add some eggs to it, a little cheese, what’s not to like?
No bagels this week. Passover, you know.
...the product Ive been referring to as lox my entire life is actually smoked salmon.
How does this happen? Is smoked salmon commonly mislabeled as lox?
In other words, if you order a bagel and lox at your typical bagel shop, is that what you’ll get? Or will it really be smoked salmon?
Smoked salmon, onions and capers are awesome! The wife and I discovered this going to the Sandals resorts in the Caribbean. Didn’t know that it was a Brit thing. Never had it in the states.
this was a very interesting and educational post.
Good info, well layed out.
Ah, then clearly you know the visible and chemical differences between farmed & wild-caught salmon. /s
I thought the post was rather pathetic, as the author is totally-uninformed or suffers from knowledge-bias, reflecting key missing content which bears directly on the quality of the end result.
A good Epicurious article on the same subject:
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