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How To Make Lox - A Photo Tutorial

King Lox Awaiting Vacuum Packing

A Step-by-Step Photo Tutorial on How to Make the Best Lox — by SausageMania.com!

Lox Makers carefully guard their "secrets," shrouding the lox-making process in so-called mystery. There's really no mystery about making lox…It's not, after all, rocket science. And it is not againt U.S. or international law to traffic in Lox Recipes. All those secretive Lox Makers simply want you to think lox is as impossible to make as it is to spin straw into gold. That makes them feel Special and Important and allows them to Charge Extra for their Lox, most of which is made from tasteless farmed salmon from Norway.

But SausageMania and its Sister Site, LoxMania, have no truck with such balderdash. Anyone can make good lox, so long as one has good ingredients, a bit of patience and a modicum of skill in filleting salmon. And "good ingedients" means wild — not farmed — salmon. Salmon that's survived in the vast Oceans of Earth for three to seven years. Salmon are fast, sleek killer fish, near the Top of the Aquatic Food Chain, save for marine mammals such as seals, dolphins and whales.

So, Respect the Wild Salmon! They range far and wide, from one shore of an ocean to the other, feeding on lesser species of aquatic life until they are ready to return to their natal streams, where they spawn, exhausted and already putrifying, and promptly die, their remains providing the noursishment for the smolts that will hatch in the spring and feed off what's left of their parents' agonal ecstasy.

Enough, however, of such useless philosophising. It's time to admit that Man, while in awe of the beautiful symmetry of the Salmon's life cycle, has found Lox to be…well, delicious, and is willing to steal a trifling few adult salmon from the Great Chain of Reproduction before their time, so as to convert them to…Lox.

So, for those salmon Man catches in his nets, we say…Tant Pis! Lox is too delicious to allow all the salmon to get away clean. Man needs just a few salmon for his lox and bagels. A biblical reference to justify such depredation can doubtless be found, most likely in Laws or Deuteronomy, but I am not a biblical scholar, and will leave the task to others who are more interested in Biblical studies than in eating Lox. PETA, however, condemns the killing of salmon, even though salmon are not cuddly, furry creatures: several years ago, PETA's leader, Patricia Feral, demanded that the governor of Alaska "pardon" all salmon and issue a decree banning all salmon fishing.

But I digress…again. Back to Making Lox: the first things one needs for Lox are the essential ingredients: salmon (fresh if possible), non-iodized salt, brown sugar and dark rum. As for tools, one will need various knives for butchering and filleting the salmon, a fish scaler or equivalent tool, a razor blade for scoring the skin, lots of bins and buckets, a fan for drying the fillets… and, of course, a smoker.

Because I live in Alaska, I've had perennial access to as much salmon as I want (and am willing to pay for, as I do not go fishing any more), every June through August, for 30 years. Decades ago I built a smoker that holds 60 lbs. of product. It was initially electrically fired, but I later converted to propane, which makes it far easier to "tune" to the right temperature.

So here's the Low-Down Skinny on How to Make Lox — Free-for-Nothing, Gratis. You should consecrate a votive candle at the LoxMania altar. LoxMania needs all the divine assistance it can get, though some assistance from Google here on Earth wouldn't be unwelcome.

As you read through this tutorial, remember that all the details about time, temperature, quantities of salt, sugar and rum, can be found on the mother page of LoxMania, by clicking HERE.

King Salmon in Cooler

The Main Ingredient — 100 lbs. of Fresh King (Chinook) salmon from the frigid waters of Cook Inlet (38°F. at the height of summer). Only Five Fish! And only $500.00 Fresh Off the Boat! These King Salmon still have sea lice on them, meaning that they have not yet entered fresh water, which is when they start degenerating. But these are small Kings.

Cook Inlet King Salmon often run up to 35 lbs. or more, but such fish are too large for making lox, as the fillets are too thick to absorb the dry mix and the brine. 20 lbs. is about the perfect size if you are using Kings. Silver (Coho) salmon also make excellent lox. Red (Sockeye) salmon are less fatty than either Kings (the fattiest) or Silvers, and make inferior lox, though, as fresh salmon, some people think Sockeye are the ne plus ultra.

Do not even bother with Dog (Chum) salmon or Pink (Humpy) salmon. You'd be wasting your time and ingredients.

People often ask whether one can use frozen salmon to make lox. The answer is "Yes"… But. Freezing fresh fish, even flash freezing, breaks down the flesh by lysing the cells, which burst upon freezing as the water they contain expands as it becomes ice. When frozen fish thaws, you'll find it has produced quite a lot of water, which has been lysed out of the muscle cells. So, you have a slightly degraded product to start with. (Freezing lox does not destroy the cells further, however; they've been cured by the salt-sugar mix and the brine, and the product is not further damaged.)

If you are not lucky enough to live where you can obtain fresh salmon, you'll have to make do with frozen. It's like coffee and instant coffee. They are both coffee, and while some instant coffee is quite good, one can always tell the difference.

Strangely enough, commercial lox makers use frozen salmon, but then, if you look at their list of ingredients, they've added various moisturizers and oils to try to bring the product back to the level of fresh. Propylene glycol, a "humectant food additive," for example, is used by some lox makers.

The Holy Trinity of Lox

Here is the Holy Trinity of Lox: Dark Rum, Salt and Brown Sugar. The rum must be dark, and not cheapo junk such as Captain Morgan's "Rum": Myer's is fine, but avoid artificially-colored dark rums, such as Bacardi or Cap'n M's. Lox needs the subtle molasses note provided by genuine dark rum, which goes along with the dark brown sugar. After all, dark rum and brown sugar are kissing cousins.

As for the salt, use almost any non-iodized variety. Morton's Coarse Kosher Salt, or Morton's Coarse Pickling Salt will do. There is no reason to use expensive "designer" salts, such as Fleur de Sel, Murray River pink salt or similar vastly overpriced pseudo-gourmet varieties: salt is salt, as long as it has no additives. On the other hand, it's wise to avoid the coarse salt used for de-icing one's driveway.

A good ratio to use for the salt and sugar mix is 3 parts salt to 4 parts sugar, but you can experiment with other ratios.

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Scaling Fish with Garden Hose

Here's a garden hose being used to scale the a small King Salmon, but you can use a power washer or a manual scaler.

Removing Fins

You'll need several knives, a pair of heavy scissors and a mallet to drive the knife through the spine.


Sectioning the Salmon

Use a heavy knife to section the king salmon.

Filetting the Salmon

Filleting salmon takes a good fillet knife and some practice.


Cleaning up a Filet

Cleaning up a salmon fillet: a few ribs were left on it. Note perfect fillets in background.

Filets Scored with a Razor Blade

These salmon fillets have been scored with a razor blade, allowing the dry mix and, later, the brine, to penetrate.


Filets in Bine with Salt-Sugar Mix

The first layer of fillets in salt-sugar mix. Cover first layer with salt-sugar mix, and place the next layer flesh side down, then skin side down, and so forth until bin is filled.

Filets in Dry Mix

A close-up of the fillets in the salt-sugar mix. This shows the razor blade scores quite plainly. "Differentially" cover with dry mix: more for thicker filets, less for thinner ones.


A Salometer, or Salinometer

This is a salometer, or salinometer. It is useful for determining the exact salinity of the brine: SausageMania recommends a 90% solution. Available from Amazon.com for about $24.00.


Brining the Filets

Salmon fillets in brine. For details of how to make the brine and how long to brine the fillets, visit the main LoxMania page.

Freshening the Filets

Freshening the salmon fillets with cold, running water. Brining and freshening are the two most critical steps. For details, visit the main LoxMania page.


Sampling the Freshened Filets

Don't rely blindly on the stated freshening times: well before the requisite time, start slicing off samples, and remove the salmon fillets when they suit your taste.

Painting the Filets

Prepare a "paint" of Meyer's rum and brown sugar; make it syrupy-thick, which requires heating, but make sure it doesn't catch fire!


Drying the Lox Filets

Salmon fillets laid out on towels, with a fan to dry them. Properly drying the "paint" results in a shiny pellicle on the surface. Note the heap of plastic bins in the corner. You can never have too many.

Protruding Pin Bones

After drying, the flesh will have shrunken somewhat, exposing the "pin bones." These bones are soft; you can leave them in if you want, or take the time to remove them. The bones are as soft as sardine bones, but Grade-A Lox must have them removed.


Needle Nose Pliers

Use the right tool for the job: a needle nose pliers. If you're good at it, you can grab and extract 3-4 pin bones at once.

Needle Nose Pliers in Use

Needle nose pliers in action. This is very time-consuming, so you can pay your kids 25 cents an hour to do it for you.


Loading the Smoker

Now it's time to load the smoker with the salmon fillets. Never let the temperature of the fillets exceed 85° F!

Smoker Loaded and Fired Up

Smoker firing up! This baby will hold 60 lbs. of salmon fillets.


Smoker in Action

Smoker in Action. The blue electrical cord runs to a fan to circulate the smoke.

Prime Dill

Prime fresh dill! Dill is an option when making lox. Some people like it, others loathe it. But if you are going to use dill, get the freshest you can, or grow it yourself!

Liquid Smoke

A Big No-No: Liquid Smoke. Your Salmon Deserves REAL Smoke! Anyone using this will end up in the Lox Hall of Shame.

Vacuum Packed Lox

The finished product, King Salmon Lox, vacuum-packed with dill. Vacuum-packed fresh salmon will last no more than 6 months in the freezer, but vacuum packed lox will last for 2+ years. Count on getting only 50-60% of the "poundage" of the salmon you started with. Cleaning the salmon, dehydration by brine and air-drying all contribute to the loss of poundage, one reason lox is so expensive.

Sliceable Lox!

The Ultimate Test of Lox: Can It Be Sliced? If you've done it right, you can slice it thin enough to read through it. If you've messed up, it will "smear" when you try to slice it. The key to good sliceability is proper brining. Under-brined lox will always "smear" on slicing. Scoring the skin side of the salmon fillets is essential to obtain proper brine penetration with through-and-through curing of the fillets.

That's it: lots of steps, lots of time (count on 48 hours from cleaning the salmon to packing the lox), some pricey ingredients (King Salmon goes for $5.00/lb. "in the round," meaning the whole, uncleaned salmon), sharp knives and lots of plastic bins.

Got the idea? Well, if you did not and still have questions, you can always contact me, the LoxMeister, 24/7. I am here to facilitate your inaurguration into the Mysteries of Lox Making! The LoxMania email hotline is available at all hours around the globe. No charge for advice!

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