We’ve all heard the terms lox, Nova lox, Gravlax, and smoked salmon; I have even seen them used interchangeably, but is there really a difference among these four types of delicious preparations of salmon? The answer is yes, although the differences are surprisingly not too different.
Traditionally, lox is prepared by using the belly of the salmon (just like in pigs, it is the fattiest and tastiest section). Also referred to as “belly lox,” it is cured in a dry brine of salt for several weeks, which gives it a very salty flavor.
Only using salmon from Nova Scotia, Canada, Nova lox is similar to lox (where it is dry brined in salt for several weeks), but the addition of cold-smoking (which is done around 99°F) is added to the preparation of the fish, yielding a salty, smoky flavor.
This preparation, native to Scandinavia, is very similar to the lox preparation, but with a couple of differences. First, spices and herbs are used in the brining process. In addition to the salt dry brine, generous amounts of fresh dill are used, along with some spices such as: black pepper, aquavit, horseradish, juniper berries, and mustard seed. Second, the fish is weighted during the curing process; this helps to draw out some of the moisture and infuse the flavors of the spices and herbs into the fish, resulting in a more dense and flavorful end product.
There are two types of smoked salmon: cold-smoked, and hot-smoked. When we think of smoked salmon, for me anyway, we tend to think of the velvety, soft cold-smoked salmon. This version of smoked salmon (pictured above) is very similar to the lox preparation (where it is dry brined in salt and then cold-smoked), but the fish doesn’t have to come from Nova Scotia, it can come from anywhere. Hot-smoked salmon is different from cold-smoked salmon in two ways: after brining, the fish is hot-smoked (so the fish is actually cooked throughout), and it has a flakier, more dense texture (like grilled or baked fish) than cold-smoked salmon.
So now you know the difference among these common preparations of salmon from their curing processes, to flavor profiles, to textures. This will be helpful for the next time you see one of these items listed on a menu, or when you are purchasing one of them in a grocery or specialty store for your next event… or a special snack time treat!