How to Make Lox

Lox is something I never imagined myself eating, that is until I read this post. Now, I want to run to the nearest bagel shop and see if they have lox on their menu. Read on and see if you feel the same way.

Have you ever had lox and bagels?  In the 1980s, I worked as an editor at TV Guide Magazine in Vancouver, BC.  The office was a short walk from Granville Island Market.  Now the market is an icon, but at that time Granville Island was brand new and the market wasn’t as busy as it is today.  It was possible to walk to the indoor farmer’s market, order a wood-fired bagel, topped with cream cheese and thinly sliced lox, and eat it as you walked back to the office, all in a lunch hour.  The bagel place is still there, in the same spot inside the market, almost 40 years later.

When I moved away I fully expected to see bagels with lox and cream cheese on every restaurant breakfast and lunch menu.  Yes, restaurants had things called bagels. But what passed for a bagel outside of Vancouver was a roll, rather than the chewy boiled and baked bagels of memory.  Cream cheese was plentiful, but l didn’t see lox on a menu again for 30 years.

Today there are actually four different items that might claim a place on top of a bagel with cream cheese:  Hot-smoked salmon, cold-smoked salmon, gravlax and lox.

Hot smoked salmon is smoked over a wood fire.  It is cooked and has the dry, flaky texture of poached fish.  The color is dark red, almost brown.

Cold smoked salmon has the pink, fleshy texture of raw fish, similar to gravlax and lox, but with a salty, smoked flavor.  The salt and the smoking preserve it.

On the other hand, gravlax and lox are made in a very similar way, with a salt cure, weighted to press out the juices, and without smoking.  Gravlax is a Scandinavian salt-preserved salmon conserved with a dry mixture of salt, sugar and dill, plus other spices.  Lox may be dry cured with salt and sugar like gravlax, or preserved in brine and spices without the sugar.  Both the sugar and the salt draw the juices out of the salmon, and increase the flavor.  While some of the salt can be rinsed out, some remains in the flesh to preserve it.

Lox is always made from Salmon.  Salmon is thick fleshed and particularly rich in Omega 3 fatty acids. The salt cure removes some of the moisture in the flesh, while the pressure from the weight firms up the flesh, shrinking it.

Wild salmon is the best choice to make lox.  Farm raised salmon is likely to be fed genetically modified food and may even be genetically modified fish.  Avoid GMO salmon. Purchase the thickest fillet that you can afford for this recipe.  It will give you a more substantial final product.

Raw salmon may have parasites.  Freezing the fish for 7 days at or below -4°F will kill any parasites present.  If your home freezer doesn’t reach this temperature, you can purchase commercially frozen fish.

The herbs in this recipe take advantage of the fresh herbs that are abundant in the garden at this time of year.  If you don’t have fresh herbs, dried herbs can be used instead at one tablespoon for each bunch of herbs in the recipe.


Make this on Wednesday and enjoy it for Sunday brunch.  Don’t forget the bagels and cream cheese.


• 1 ½ to 2 lb. wild sockeye salmon filet

• 1 cup of organic sugar

• ½ cup of Celtic sea salt

• A few grindings of fresh pepper

• 1 bunch of fresh dill

1 bunch of fresh parsley

• 1 bunch of fresh chives

• 3 sprigs of fresh lemon balm

• 1 fermented lime or lemon chopped finely


Rinse the salmon.  Pat it dry with paper towels.  If there are any pin bones, you will feel them if you run your hand along the flesh side.  Remove them with a clean pair of pliers, if necessary.

Cut the salmon filet in half.  Place the salmon on a piece of parchment paper with the flesh side up.

Combine the sugar and salt in a bowl.  Add pepper.  Chop the herbs, finely, including stems.  Add about two cups of fresh herbs to the sugar-salt mixture.

Spread the sugar-salt-herb mixture on the flesh side of the salmon, ensuring that the flesh is fully covered.  Place one side of the salmon on top of the other side of the salmon so that the flesh is together, and the salmon skin is on the outside.  Spread any leftover sugar-salt-herb mixture over the skin, too.

Wrap it up tightly in the parchment paper.  Slip the salmon packet into a zip shut bag.  Place this bag in a glass dish.  Weight the salmon down with a plate.  Place a rock or a glass jar or another heavy weight on top of the plate.  This is important.  Refrigerate.

Refrigerate for three to five days.  Once a day, open the zip shut bag, drain the juices from the salmon, flip it over, reseal the bag and replace the weight.  After three days you can taste the salmon.  Once the salmon has the desired flavor and texture, remove the salmon from the fridge.  Remove the zip shut bag and parchment paper wrappings and discard.  Rinse the salmon with cold water to remove excess salt.  Pat dry.

Place the salmon on a rack in the fridge, skin side down. Refrigerate for two hours until the salmon is barely tacky, and the surface is mostly dry.  Wrap tightly in fresh parchment paper or plastic wrap.  Store in a fresh zip shut bag.  It will keep in the fridge for one month or in the freezer for six months.

To serve: Slice thinly with a very sharp knife, crosswise.  It will be salty.  Use sparingly.

Serving Suggestions:

Bagels with lox and cream cheese

Poached egg with hollandaise sauce and lox thinly sliced on top, served with English muffins

Latkes with sour cream and lox thinly sliced on top


Bruce Holberg, “How Lox Became Jewish

Elisheva Margulies, “How to Make Your Own Lox

The Nosher, “How to Make Gravlax

Heather Smith, “A Fish and Bread Journey: The natural and social history of bagels and lox

 Most folks never get past sauerkraut in their fermenting endeavors. While sauerkraut is great, there is so much more to fermented foods than that.  For a couple more how-to’s on fermenting meat, check out the following posts:


Fermentation and traditional ways of food preservation fascinate Chris. She has been experimenting with microbes since she bought her first San Francisco Sourdough kit in the 1970s. Her repertoire of ferments expanded to include fruit wine and herbal wine making, kombucha and kefir, cheese and dairy ferments, sauerkraut and kimchi, as well as lesser known fermented fruits and vegetables. To feed her fascination, Chris recently took a university course on the Human Microbiome, and gained a new appreciation for the role that lactobacillus plays in human wellness. Chris shares her knowledge with her readers on her blog at

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