#106 bagels & lox

For many American Jews, lox is the delicious topping to their Sunday morning bagel & schmear (loads of cream cheese).  This deliciously easy lox n’ bagel sandwich is perfect for any sort of meal any time of the day and it’s actually more of serving suggestion, rather than a recipe, per say.  But what exactly is lox and where can I get it?

Lox itself is made from salmon – more specifically the belly! – & can be very expensive.  In this regard, it’s very different from many other iconic Jewish foods, like gefilte fish & herring, which are made from ingredients that are easy to acquire & cheap!  Because it’s so expensive, there really is no evidence that the Jews of Eastern Europe actually ate it in the shtetls – the small villages where they lived for centuries in Eastern Europe.  The widespread availability & interest in lox didn’t come about until Eastern European Jews arrived in America in the late 19th century – hello N.Y.C!  This was only made possible thanks to the availability of salmon from the Pacific Northwest, which was brought to New York via the transcontinental railroad.  I’ve been reading an awesome book on the history of New York which made me appreciate little things like the transcontinental railroad; I love it, but it is sooo long!  There’s so much information, but it’s a spectacular read, if you’re into all the little details, New York by Edward Rutherford.

The term lox is actually derived from the Yiddish word for salmon, laks (German lachs, Swedish Lax) and the word today simply means smoked salmon, or does it?  True lox is brined (never cooked) in a salty solution, which cures the fish, but also leaves a strong, salty taste.  Today, lox is cured with a light salting and then cold-smoked, giving it that distinct smoked salmon flavor.  However, the word lox is now used interchangeably with smoked salmon, and the most popular Sunday-morning item sold at Zabar’s in New York City (over 2,500 pounds per week!) is not ‘real lox’, but actually smoked salmon.

Sadly, this delicacy has become somewhat of a complicated issue with current fishing trends.  As wild salmon becomes increasingly scarce, the use of salmon farming has increased dramatically.  Over 80% of salmon sold in the U.S. comes from farms, which raises huge health & sustainability issues!  Similar products include Nova (or Nova Scotia salmon, also called Nova lox), which is cured with a milder brine and then cold-smoked; Scotch or Scottish-style salmon, which is brined with a mixture of salt and sometimes sugars, spices, and other flavorings; and Gravlax, which a traditional Nordic means of preparing salmon, coated with a spice mixture, which often includes dill, sugars, salt, and spices like juniper berry.

No one really knows who put them all together, but suggestions include an advertising campaign for Philadelphia Cream Cheese, others suggest an anonymous genius.  Anywho, it just became the perfect answer to the rest of America’s typical Sunday breakfast of bacon, eggs, and toast!

For the Bagels & Lox:

  • 2 bagels
  • 1/4 cup of cream cheese
  • 2 thin slices of red onion
  • 1 thin slices of ripe tomato
  • 4 paper-thin slices (2 oz.) of smoked salmon

Cut the bagels half horizontally and toast slightly.  Spread the bottom halves – and if you really like cream cheese, both halves! – and top the cream cheese with the smoked salmon, or lox.  Add the desired traditional toppings, and add a few if you like!  No rules!  Serve either open-faced for a lighter meal, or as a sandwich for a rich, filled bagel.

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