Mar 16, 2022Liked by Andrew Janjigian

Andrew, I'm so glad you opened up this conversation about lox.

I grew up eating belly lox from the kosher fish shops in Lakewood, NJ. Belly, Nova and whole whitefish were the holy trinity of our Hasidic town.

Barrow's recipe for belly lox is essentially the same as every other recipe I've found over the last 20 years (including Cooks Illustrated), which is to say it's exactly not the kind of traditional belly that I grew up eating. It's delicious to be sure, but it's a dry cure, and slightly sweet from the sugar.

True belly lox, of the type that was sold by Jewish vendors from pushcarts in the early 1900s, is luxuriously silky and moist, ideally sliced paper thin with visible zebra stripes of fat, and not a hint of sweetness. It's virtually impossible to find this style of lox outside the NYC metro area, and to date I've found it only at one place in Los Angeles (Barney Greengrass deli, which has since closed).

Do you have a recipe, or do you know of any resources to make a true wet brined belly?

And why do you suspect that this 100+ year old recipe does not exist anywhere online? The only place I know if that still makes it is Acme Smoked Fish in Brooklyn. They supply Russ & Daughters (and I suspect many other ships around NYC). I even purchased their pre-packaged belly once by mail order, but was completely disheartened to see the thick clumpy slicing and lack of fatty zebra striping that is the hallmark of top quality belly lox. I even asked if they would sell me a side of salmon so I could slice it myself, but they don't sell that via retail.

Any guidance you could provide would be unbelievably helpful. Thanks, Andrew.

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This is interesting, but not at all my wheelhouse! (I didn't know there were different styles of lox.) Maybe Cathy (who is a subscriber here) wants to weigh in, I'll mention your comment to her.

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Good morning, Andrew and Mr. Taster, Thanks for this question. Belly lox, from the thickest piece of the salmon side, preferably with those lovely white streaks of fat through it, is most often dry cured with an equal portion of sugar and salt. Mr. Taster, you're correct, true belly lox was often cured with salt only, but that sugar/salt mixture became the norm around 1980. I prefer the taste with a little sugar, but if you like it better with salt only, use my recipe and omit the sugar. The salmon will cure under a blanket of salt -- the sugar is simply for flavor. I've never heard of a wet-brine being used, but if you want to give that a try, simply make a salt water solution (start with 5%), as you might bring a turkey. Personally, I prefer dry brine so the salmon stays tight, dry, and easy to slice. Hope you give it a try and please report back. I'm very curious. -- Cathy

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Hi Cathy, the wet brine is the old world method of curing salmon, and I fear the method is being lost to time which is why I was hoping you might have access to the traditional methods and share them.

There are precious few makers of true belly lox nowadays, and evidence of its demise is right there when even experts like yourself haven't even heard of this kind of cure.

Belly packs a very brine-forward punch and as such it is best used almost as a condiment (almost as you might use wasabi on sushi). If you're used to piling nova on your bagel, this is not that. However for those who grew up eating it like me, I do enjoy the super briney flavor tempered by a generous schmear of cream cheese.

If any of this interests you in the slightest, I would urge you to dig into this a bit and try to learn the traditional secrets of how true wet brined belly is made. You would likely be the first to publish a recipe recreating this historic, vanishing method for curing fish. I, for one, would be grateful for the effort (and would buy that book immediately!)

From my meager understanding, there is a particular method to getting the silky, luxurious texture. Supposedly it's due not just to the brine %, but also the temperature at which it is held.

Note this description from the Acme Smoked Fish webpage (Acme is the 100+ year old Brooklyn based supplier of cured and smoked fish). But if you do taste it, please order it from Russ & Daughter's or Zabar's fish counter-- as I said previously, the retail version I received from Acme was not sliced thinly enough, nor was it cut from a properly fatty cut.

"This is THE true lox, not smoked salmon. And yes, it’s salty, very salty.

This 3 oz. package of pre-sliced salmon packs a big punch. It might have a milder cure if we brined it in sun-dried salt straight from the Dead Sea. But those who know, know that lox is an old-world specialty appreciated by all generations with a particular palate for its bold flavor profile.

Before refrigeration, Pacific and North Atlantic salmon species were transported long distances made possible by heavy salting (don’t try this at home). Our salty lox is a new age vestige of this age-old process."

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One additional thing-- I wanted to emphasize that I lived in Los Angeles for many years off Fairfax, around the corner from a Hasidic owned kosher fish shop (the kind that old ladies would go into and have freshly ground gefilte fish handed to them in plastic bags). This must have been about 15 years ago when I asked the owner whether they sold belly lox (as I mentioned, I've been seeking it out for a very long time), and even they had never heard of it before.

It seems that true traditional belly really is a local specialty of the NY metro area.

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