At Yom Kippur, after fasting, the tradition is to have a fish and dairy meal. At the break fast that we traditionally attend – and at many others in America that serve Ashkenazi Jewish food – there are bagels and “lox.” Knowing that a cream cheese-schmeared bagel topped with a healthy helping of thinly sliced salmon awaits me is a big help in getting through those difficult late afternoon hours of fasting.
Of course there are lots of other treats at the buffet table: kugel, smoked whitefish salad, green salad, maybe some pickled herring or blintzes and sour cream, and always lots of choices for sweets. My favorite sweets for breaking the fast are apple cake, poppy seed cake, rugelach, and babka. While the last two, a cookie and a sweet bread with a spiral of filling respectively, are not required by law to have chocolate inside, they should be. For a healthy ending to the meal, there is always sliced fruit or a fruit salad.
But mostly my heart is set on that bagel, cream cheese (veggie or plain) and what-I-call-lox.
What makes for great lox? It depends who you ask. But what is for sure is that the fish now presented as lox is rarely that. Lox is salt-cured for months – not a few days – in a brine that contains salt and no other ingredients. It is not smoked (smoked salmon is often mischaracterized as lox) and it is not cured with sugar and other ingredients in addition to salt, as is gravlax.
What is the difference between Nova and lox? You might think that nova refers to the salmon caught in the Atlantic near Nova Scotia. That may well have been the original source for the term. But now, according to The Forward, one of my “go to” sources for reliable information on Jewish topics, Nova now refers to a type of smoking that is preferred by New York deli customers.
As you might expect, given how it is made, traditional lox is quite salty. It is best, in my humble opinion, when sliced so thin that each piece is practically translucent. (A person who can really slice lox is a skilled artisan not a schlepper at a deli counter and should be treated with respect.) The least expensive cut when I was growing up was belly lox and it is both fatty and salty. That may be a combination frowned upon by the nutrition police, but find me someone eating a bagel heaped with belly lox and I’ll show you one happy camper.
Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with either gravlax or smoked salmon. It’s just that they aren’t real lox in the traditional sense. I’ve been known to get sloppy in my terminology and my son in his guest post on curing your own salmon, used The Kitchn’s recipe and followed that site in calling it lox.
Whether or not you celebrate the Jewish High Holy Days and no matter how your salmon gets on a bagel (salt-cured, salt and sugar-cured or smoked), I wish you a good year.