Smoked Salmon, Lox & Gravlax- What's the difference?

Updated: May 16, 2019

When going out to eat, lox is making an appearance far more often on menus; from weekend brunch menus to sandwiches and breakfast spreads. But what is lox, really?

Today, lox is often presented as salmon that has been lightly salted before being cold smoked. Modern smoked salmon is not a true lox, but more so a common modern variation. It is easier to make and takes less time than the traditional preparation that takes multiple days of curing the salmon before it is ready to be enjoyed.

So first off, what is the difference between the smoked salmon, lox and gravlax?

Let's start with Gravlax. This is a traditional Nordic preparation of the salmon's belly that is cured in a sugar-salt-dill brine for 2-3 days. After the salmon has been covered with the salt mixture, it is weighted down to help extract excess water.

Traditionally, the salmon was buried in sand so the weight of the sand would press the salmon and aid in the moisture removal. Today, the salmon is more commonly weighted down in a dish or on a cooking sheet, then at the end of each day, the liquid is drained off.

In addition to the brine, older recipes call for adding akvavit (a Norwegian vodka), juniper berries and horseradish. When making gravlax at home, I add a little fresh ground white pepper to have a mild peppery kick.

Lox is a Yiddish word for salmon (laks), and similar to the gravlax, it is also made from the salmon belly. True lox is brined in a salty solution (not with sugar) which cures the fish while leaving a strong, salty taste. Lox is never cooked or smoked, but is instead cured for 2-3 days and tasted at the of the second day for desired flavor. Lox is often served with bagels and a homemade schmear along with fresh tomatoes, capers and red peppers.

Smoked Salmon is similar to lox, but has two big differences. The first is that smoked salmon can come from any part of the salmon, not just the belly. The second is that it is, well, smoked.

The two ways to smoke the fish are cold smoking and hot smoking.

Cold smoking the fish leaves the salmon with a raw texture similar to lox and gravlax.

Hot smoking the fish creates a more firm, flaky texture to the fish as the heat slightly cooks the fish as well.

Cold smoking requires more of an elaborate set-up than most people have or a willing to invest in as a home cook. A good alternative would be quickly smoking the fish, then curing it like lox or gravlax. It may be more time consuming, but is simple.

What if you don't have a smoker?

To make-shift a smoker, line a wok or baking pan with heavy duty aluminum foil. Spread dry wood chips to cover the bottom. Place a second layer of foil on top of the wood chips to catch drippings, then top that with a rack to place your fish. Cover tightly with a lid of aluminum foil.

Due to current unsustainable fishing trends, over 80% of the salmon used in the USA is farmed and wild salmon is becoming more scarce. The better quality of salmon you purchase will affect the overall flavor of your finished product. I always advocate for sustainable sourcing of your seafood. Choose seafood that's fished or farmed in ways that support a healthy ocean.

The following are links to an app and website to find local businesses that serve and carry sustainable seafood. Click here to download the app --- Click here for the website!

Are you feeling antsy to put out a line and catch some great recipes for curing and smoking salmon? There's nothing fishy about these recipes! Grab your apron and click on each name to be directed to an amazingly easy recipe. Get cooking and good lox!

The Recipes:

Scandinavian Gravlax

No-Weight Easy Gravlax

Smokey Cured Salmon

Smoked Salmon - Vegan Style!

Not Your Average Lox Bagel

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