The Differences Between Gravlax, Lox, and Smoked Salmon

Learn the differences between these cured fish preparations

Three-Day Brined Lox with Anise-Herb Sauce. Photo © Antonis Achilleos
Photo: © Antonis Achilleos

Lox, gravlax, and smoked salmon — they are all delicious, and, despite how similar they look, they're all different. How? Here’s what you should know about these cured and smoked fish.

What is lox?

Originally derived from the Yiddish word for salmon (laks), lox is cured, but not smoked. It was developed to preserve salmon and other fish before refrigeration was widely available. Lox is never cooked; instead, it's made by curing a salmon belly fillet in salty brine, traditionally for three months. This technique gives lox its signature salty flavor. Lox is part of the famous lox bagel breakfast sandwich, although many times, smoked salmon is used instead.

What is gravlax?

Gravlax is similar, but instead of a simple salt brine, the traditional Nordic recipe calls for a cure with three key ingredients: salt, sugar, and tons of dill. Other optional additions to the cure include juniper berries, horseradish, and aquavit or vodka

What is smoked salmon?

Smoked salmon is similar to lox in that it's salt-cured, usually without much sugar, but there are two significant differences: It can come from any part of the fish (not just the belly), and, of course, it's smoked. Cold-smoked salmon, which is smoked at a temperature of 85°F or lower for about 18 hours, has a raw texture similar to lox or gravlax. Hot-smoked salmon is firmer and flakier, and cooks for roughly eight hours.

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What is Nova lox?

Nova lox is a type of smoked salmon that is traditionally made with salmon from Nova Scotia that is cured and then smoked.

How to Use gravlax, sox, and smoked salmon

Now that you know the differences between these delicious fish preparations, there's something else you should know: They're all easy to make at home. This Pastrami-Spiced Gravlax is perfect for brunch or as a base for a sandwich, while Gravlax-Style Salmon Tartare is a restaurant-worthy appetizer that comes together quickly at home. And you can easily smoke salmon on your grill. But if you’d rather, pick some up at a fish market, deli, or grocery store and use them to turn simple gougères into eye-catching appetizers, make savory brunch waffles that are a little extra, or take a classic Eggs Benedict to new heights. You can even use smoked salmon to make a memorable cocktail. However you use them, gravlax, lox, and smoked salmon are tasty additions to your cooking repertoire.

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