Although Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur have passed with the month of October, Chanukah has yet to come. This year, the beginning of Chanukah falls on Christmas day, which sends my taste buds into disarray when considering which foods to begin salivating over first – salmon and latkes, or roast ham and Christmas pudding?
Lucky for us, we live in 2016, a time in which it is socially and religiously acceptable to meld both Chanukah and Christmas dinner together into a multi-denominational extravaganza. It is easy to eat two cuisines in one meal – I mean, let’s face it, in order to make it in New York City as a new restaurant one has to fuse together French, Japanese, new American, Peruvian, and Turkish cuisine in order to be considered “novel”. Multifaceted cuisine has and will continue to be. However, there is a very particular ethos surrounding Jewish cuisine, and that is a sense of fastidiousness. We have a fine attention to detail, accuracy, and precision. Some may find it to come off as finicky and fussy, but when it comes to food, it is a necessity and surely a compliment.
A quintessential Jewish staple is salmon. It is characteristic of Jewish cuisine, and in turn, it became characteristic of New York City. In the early 20th century many Eastern European Jewish immigrants came to New York to create their home. They had very little money, worked long hours, and were in need of food that was ready to eat on the spot. In particularly dense Jewish areas, one could find little corner stores and pushcarts that sold the usual foods from back home – especially non-perishables. Smoked and cured meats and fishes sparkled in abundance on the shelves.
Lox’s etymology stems from the early Germanic lakhs, which means salmon. When I find myself at a deli and overhear somebody say, “I’ll have a toasted everything bagel with cream cheese and lox”, I cannot help but chuckle to myself. At the more mediocre delis, the person taking the order would not blink; however, if one were to go to a place like Russ and Daughters to order salmon, I would dearly hope the person ordering has a bit more knowledge concerning their fishes.
There are so many ways of preparing lox, and to be a true lox lover it is important to learn the difference. So here’s a little lesson on lox: One can cure lox, cold smoke lox, hot smoke lox, and pickle lox.
Curing salmon consists of coating it in a mixture of salt, sugar, and pepper and allowing it to marinate and freeze for several days. There are a few different kinds of cured salmon.One is Gravlax, which used to be cured underground as if it were in a grave (grav). Nowadays, many who decide to cure their fish at home put the fish underneath a heavy plate to simulate the burial method, which allows the cure to deeply penetrate the fish. It is a less salty cure than others.
Another cured salmon is Belly Lox, which does not require refrigeration. It has a self-assured and abrasive salty flavor, but if you like a lot of salt then gung-ho!
There is also an interesting sort called pastrami salmon. It is simply a normal Scottish salmon but cured with pastrami seasoning, which consists of salt, pepper, molasses, garlic, sugar, coriander, fennel, cloves, and mustard seed.
Then there is cold-smoked salmon, which is typically what people think they are receiving when they order “lox”. These go through the typical curing process before being smoked. Some types of smoked salmon are:
Gaspé Nova, which is named after its location, Nova Scotia. It has a very light smoke flavor and is the typical smoked salmon that comes to mind when one thinks of a classic “New York style” salmon. Gaspé Nova is large and has marbles of glossy fat.
There is also Western Nova salmon, which, compared to Gaspé, has a much more emphatic flavor. There is not much smoky flavor and it is a leaner cut of fish with more muscle.
Then there is Norwegian smoked salmon, which is also a leaner type of salmon and has a strong smoke flavor. Norwegian smoked salmon is subtly salty and has a lovely soft pink color
Another smoked salmon is the Irish salmon, which is fattier than the Norwegian species, but milder in its smoky flavor. Irish salmon has a similar texture to the Gaspé Nova.
Finally there is Scottish smoked salmon, which seems to be a middle ground amongst all of the cold smokes. It has the strongest smoke amongst the previous salmons. It is also a fatty cut so it preserves moisture well. As a side note: it slices beautifully! One can slice it so thin that if you were to drape the slice over a book you could (with a bit of difficulty) read the text!
And now my soon-to-be salmon scholar, you have arrived at hot smoked salmon! Kippered salmon can also mean baked salmon. It is smoked at about 150 degrees Farenheit, which gives it a baked texture, despite it being smoked. It has the texture of a bake and the flavor of a smoke – a multi-trait salmon!
Although salmon is one of the more prominent fishes of the Jewish cuisine, it is certainly not the only species. There is also smoked whitefish, sturgeon, and sable.
Whitefish is hung while it is hot smoked. It is smoky and moist and is popular for the high holidays, especially Yom Kippur.
Sturgeon is considered the caviar of the fishes … in fact Sturgeon is where caviar comes from! It is a lavish smoked fish and, as a result, can be rather pricey. Very good sturgeon will crumble in your mouth upon eating, which indicates that it is perfectly fatty.
Sable is a fairly small fish. It is coated in garlic and paprika and then cold smoked. It is my personal favorite of the other non-salmon fishes because it has a velvety taste and melts on the tongue upon first bite!
All salmon info found at Russ and Daughters’ store website
Photo Credit: Russ and Daughters’ instagram page / Lucky Peach
Story Originally Written in Nov. 2016