How to Make a Lox Bagel Sandwich

Our favorite breakfast sandwich, explained

Some food items are quintessentially New York – the big apple, a slice of pizza, the halal cart – but maybe one of the biggest food exports to come out of New York City is the lox bagel sandwich. Although the bagel, cream cheese, and lox did not originate from New York, they found their way to the city that never sleeps to fall in love and be eternally partnered in the form of this famous breakfast sandwich. 

Bagel and Lox Sandwich

Matt Taylor-Gross / Food Styling by Amelia Rampe

A brief history of the lox bagel 

Lox is a piece of salmon belly that has been cured in a salty brine. The process of curing meat has roots in the indigenous practice of curing meat for money or trade. Lox specifically has roots in the Scandinavian practice of curing fish. 

Cream cheese is a soft fresh cheese that dates back centuries in Europe, specifically in the region of Neufchatel, France, which was granted the AOC (Appellation d’origine controlee or Controlled designation of origin) for cream cheese in 1969. The practice of making cheese in this manner was used all over Europe and eventually made its way to the United States. William A. Lawrence was the first to mass-produce cream cheese in the United States. He added cream to Neufchatel cheese, creating a silkier version that today is known as cream cheese. In 1880, his cream cheese began to be sold under the label Philadelphia Cream Cheese Company. Maybe you’ve heard of it?

Bagels have a much richer history than you might think. Their origin is thought to date back thousands of years to the early days of spice trading, when round bread was bought and sold along with spices. Evolutions of this style of bread spread across the Middle East and Europe, eventually making their way to the United States. 

These three ingredients found a home in New York City, where they were brought together to create a sandwich that would change how we eat breakfast. Most New Yorkers are passionate about their favorite bagel, bagel shop, and how they build their lox and bagel sandwich. At its bare minimum, a bagel sandwich can have the three main ingredients — bagel, cream cheese, and lox — but garnishes offer pops of crunchy textures, briney bites, and herby notes.

These days, lox bagels are loved all over and you can make a lox bagel sandwich wherever you are. It is so easy to make at home, where you have full control over what goes in it and on it.  Here’s how to get started.

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How to make a lox bagel sandwich

Start with the bagel. Bagels come in a myriad of flavors, from savory to sweet. You want a savory bagel here; we like plain, sesame, and everything bagels, as they complement the rest of the ingredients in the sandwich. Split the bagel in half lengthwise, and toast it if you like. 

Next comes the schmear. Like bagels, cream cheese is available in a variety of flavor profiles. In New York, you can find cream cheese flavored with everything from sun-dried tomatoes to scallion and herbs. For a lox sandwich, plain or savory cream cheese will work best. Smear a layer of cream cheese on each half of the bagel if you are going to eat it open-faced, or you can put it on just one half if you plan to eat this as a sandwich.  

Then, simply top the bagel with lox — you can buy lox from a deli or fish market. 

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The lox bagel sandwich is great on its own, but the fun is how you choose to customize it to your tastes. Common additions include thinly sliced cucumbers, tomatoes, red onions, or avocado. Or consider adding some pops of salty umami with capers. Finally, top it off with some tender herbs like chopped chives or dill.

This is a great breakfast for a hectic weekday, or lazy Sunday afternoon. Hosting a lot of people for a holiday, game day, or a weekend brunch party? A lox bagel buffet is an easy way to satisfy a crowd. Set up a build-your-own bagel buffet with platters of ingredients and a toaster, and let your guests choose their bagel adventure. 

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