Once the sole domain of Eastern European immigrant Jews, lax, and now smoked salmon as well have become ubiquitous.
Lax calls for bagels and maybe a smear (soupcon if you will), of butter. It was at one time a delicacy reserved for Sunday’s extended leisurely breakfast of middle class or rich people.
The difference between lax and smoked salmon has been blurring constantly. Some think both to be the same – far from it!
Smoked salmon and lax are distinctly different both in texture and taste.
Before Norwegian “farmed salmon” invaded the North American market
(ca. 1981), smoked salmon meant Atlantic of Pacific Ocean wild salmon (salmo salar), cured and smoked.
Few people paid attention to the source of the fish, provided it was smoked. Now the situation has changed completely.
Smoked Scottish salmon and Irish salmon are both widely available, as are local
Atlantic, Chilean, of British Columbia farmed and smoked salmon.
Due to the glut of farmed salmon, smoked salmon prices remained relatively stable, although not exactly lunchmeat – cheap.
The first step in smoke salmon production is filleting and curing. There are two ways to cure, and innumerable recipes, brine a mixture of water, sugar and salt, or a mixture of herbs and spices applied to filets.
After the pre-determined period curing, fillets are washed and dried to be smoked.
There are two techniques of smoking – cold and hot.
Cold smoking takes place at 70 f (21 c) for eight hours using hickory and maple wood.
In Scotland some smokers employ old, decommissioned oloroso sherry pipes (barrels) used for single malt whisky aging. The wood imparts a particularly pleasant and distinct flavour.
North European, particularly Scandinavian and Dutch smokers are considered masters.
they prefer cold-smoked fish claiming that it imparts a more delicate and subtle taste as well as texture.
Hot smoking (180 f or 70 c) for only a few hours gives the fish a flaky texture and baked flavour. It is rich and pleasantly smoky, with denser salmon flavour than cold-smoked products pending the skill of the smoker.
In Canada, Montreal and Toronto are fish smoking centers. The first nations of British Columbia create their delicious, chewy, firm and deeply-flavoured “salmon candy” by first filleting then curing, and subsequently subjecting them to
The smoke of open fire. The fillets are staked and placed at a distance from the fire in a circular fashion. As the fillets acquire flavour and some the distance is shortened, until desired texture and flavour are achieved.
Lax on the other hand is simply cured salmon.
in the past, pacific salmon was placed in a brine and packed in barrels to be shipped to New York. After 90 days the fillets were removed, thoroughly soaked, then washed to remove the salt. This was lox, the root of which is “lachs” (salmon in German).
Then there is nova salmon which is really an apple or cherry wood smoked salmon at 76 f ( 35 c) for 12 hours.
Originally nova came from nova scotia, now extinct for commercial fishing.
Smoked salmon was and remains a delicacy, never inexpensive and most enjoyable by gourmets and ordinary people when they can afford it.
It must be treated with reverence and due care.
Quality smoked salmon has its price!
if you are for smoked salmon well below market value you must reconsider. (dark red glazed and hard smoked salmon must be considered sub-standard and rejected!)
Pre-sliced and skin removed smoked salmon tends to dry out. Be sure to look for properly smoked fillets that are delivered (whole and properly packaged).
Smoked salmon and lox require refrigeration but should be consumed at room temperature to appreciate their delicacy and flavour.
It is best to serve smoked salmon with a few superfine capers, a little extra virgin olive oil, a drop or two of lemon, and buttered rye bread. All other “paraphernalia” generally served with it like chopped hard boiled egg whites, and yolks, red onions add nothing to the taste. Some gourmets will even argue that they change the taste unfavourably.
Smoked salmon can be served in a number of ways on canapés as tartar (chopped smoked salmon, mixed with diced celery, shallots, lemon juice, chopped flat leaf parsley, and extra virgin olive oil on toast points or on Belgium endive leaves), pinwheels, chopped and with spaghetti.
For lax, most connoisseurs agree that the best accompaniment is bagel spread with butter or Russian pumpernickel bread.