What is Lox? Everything to Know About Your Favorite Bagel Topping

With its silky-smooth texture and salty flavor, lox is a classic brunch staple for good reason.

Salty and silky-smooth, lox is a natural pairing for a bagel with cream cheese. PHOTO: BHOFACK2/GETTY IMAGES.

If you’ve visited a New York-style bagel shop before, you’re likely familiar with lox. The lightly pink, sliced cured salmon has a smooth and buttery texture with a salty flavor, making it the perfect textural component to a toasted bagel slathered with rich cream cheese. But don’t just relegate lox to bagels—here, learn how to make it at home and how to incorporate it into recipes from brunch to dinner.

What is Lox?

Put simply, lox is thinly sliced cured salmon. The dish is said to have originated in Scandinavia as a way to preserve fresh salmon before refrigeration was commonly available. Traditionally, it was made specifically from the fatty belly of a salmon (you’ll still see it referred to as “belly lox” at iconic shops such as Russ & Daughters in New York City), but is commonly made with other parts of the fish today. The name lox reportedly comes from the Yiddish word for salmon, “laks.”

What’s the Difference Between Lox and Smoked Salmon?

Lox is often confused with smoked salmon, and it’s easy to see why. To the naked eye, the two closely resemble each other, with a translucent pink color and a buttery, silky-smooth texture, and the lox served at many restaurants and delis is often actually cold-smoked salmon. But they’re not exactly the same thing. First and foremost, lox isn’t smoked at all. To make lox, rich, fatty salmon is simply cured in salt—and typically for longer than smoked salmon—so the flavor is all salt and no smoke. The Scandinavian specialty gravlax is also similar to lox but is cured with salt, sugar, plenty of dill and sometimes other herbs and spices as opposed to simply salt. Nova Lox, meanwhile, is cold-smoked after it’s cured.

How to Make Lox

While you can usually find lox for sale at a well-stocked grocery store or deli, it’s quite easy (and typically cheaper) to make yourself. You’ll only need a few ingredients: salmon, salt, and time. Since lox is cured, not cooked, the quality of the fish is paramount here—this is the time to splurge for sushi-grade.

  1. Rinse a boneless 1-pound fillet of salmon and pat dry.
  2. Sprinkle about ¼ cup kosher salt evenly over a large piece of plastic wrap. (For a milder, less salty flavor, add an equal amount of white sugar in with the salt.)
  3. Place salmon skin side-down over the salt, cover with an additional ¼ cup salt and tightly wrap with plastic.
  4. Transfer salmon to a shallow baking dish and top with either a small baking sheet or another baking dish. Place a few canned goods on top to weigh the salmon down.
  5. Transfer to the refrigerator for at least 48 hours, flipping the salmon occasionally and draining any liquid that accumulates in the dish. When ready to serve, wipe any excess salt off the fish and pat dry before slicing. Tightly wrapped, the lox will keep for 5 to 8 days in the refrigerator, or you can freeze it for 2 to 3 months and thaw in the refrigerator when ready to use.

How to Use Lox

To let the flavor of lox shine, simply throw a few thin slices on a toasted homemade bagel (this one only requires two ingredients!) and top it with a healthy schmear of cream cheese, sliced red onions, and a sprinkle of capers. Hosting a brunch-time get-together? Turn the deli staple into a crowd-pleasing main with this Bagel & Lox Skillet Strata or spin it into a salad with this veggie-packed Bagel and Lox Rigatoni Salad. But don’t just limit lox to morning meals. Sub it for the traditional tuna in this tangy Nicoise-Style Lox Salad or toss it with dried pasta in this Linguine with Smoked Salmon in Cream Sauce.


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