As the world resumes spinning, the catering gigs have come back with the tide, which means big buys of king salmon at the fish market. Inevitably there’s a slab leftover and I must say I never get tired of it. A nice side of salmon is very much a blank canvas—poached and chilled with dill sauce and cucumber, grilled over oak charcoal with salt and shoyu, and lately, cured for three days in salt and sugar and sliced thinly.
The experience of quarantine has reaffirmed my desire to make everything in house, and with the help of a friend who started making bagels from scratch, we were able to recreate that delicacy of our childhoods: bagel and lox. Brunch is a thing that I never thought I would miss, but it was nice to sit outside in front of a nice spread with a couple of three screwdrivers, old habits be damned, as the afternoon turned into evening and the screwdrivers became martinis.
I think of lox as a kind of preserved sashimi, not far off from my beloved shime saba, the salt and sugar drawing water from the fish to preserve it and intensify its flavor. Since every piece of fish is different, my method is to go by weight, adding the salt and sugar proportionally. A mixture of 8% salt 4% sugar is a nice amount that will preserve it nicely without doing too much or too little.
The trick is to press the salmon with a weight to help the process along. I used a couple of bricks from the garden and two nesting trays. Three days seemed to be the right balance, flipping the fish halfway, and I rinsed the now firm slab with cold water and patted it dry. Provided it’s kept cold and dry, the lox should last for a week in the fridge. A nicely cured salmon is a pleasure to slice—with a sharp knife, thin, diaphanous slices cleave effortlessly from the skin.
You can experiment with less salt and sugar to chase a rawer, flightier taste. Citrus zest, white pepper, and dill are common flavorings, but I like to keep my cure plain to leave my options open for what I want to do with it later. A slice of cured salmon is just as good with a bowl of rice as it is with a bagel and cream cheese, and I can happily go through an entire day with a few slices at each meal.