Salmon is the quintessential Jewish fish—if you go to Russ and Daughters in New York City, there are a dozen different kinds for sale, cured and smoked, from all different parts of the world. The great thing about salmon is that it’s so forgiving. Any beginner cook knows this; even if you leave it under the broiler too long, it still comes out moist because of all that luscious fat. That fattiness is what makes salmon such a good choice for home-curing, too. It just won’t dry out.
Some varieties of salmon are fattier than others; we use king salmon for making lox at the deli, and always the farmed variety, not wild. That’s because wild salmon—especially if it’s caught during “running”—tends to be too lean for curing. Too little fat will cause the salt mixture to “burn” the surface of the salmon and stop the cure from penetrating. This recipe is a case where you really want to be selective about where you buy your fish, and where it came from. This is a pretty light cure, meaning the qualities of the fresh fish really come through in the finished product. So you want top quality salmon.
Allow the fillet to rest a day after rinsing off the curing mixture, sort of like you would with a fine steak after taking it off the grill (only longer). Resting allows the fish to continue “cooking”—that is, it lets the curing compounds distribute themselves evenly throughout the salmon after they’ve penetrated the flesh. Also note that using good kosher salt (we recommend Diamond Crystal) is absolutely essential.
At Mile End we use our house-made lox for two of our signature breakfast dishes, the Beauty and the Mish-Mash, but it’s great for lunch sandwiches, finger foods and all sorts of other preparations. One of my favorite simple pleasures is a thickly cut slice of challah (recipe posted yesterday) schmeared with cream cheese and topped with a layer of lox.
1/3 cup whole black peppercorns
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup Diamond Crystal kosher salt
1 bunch of dill