Since I knew I'd be baking bagels this weekend, I thought I'd make some gravlax that more closely resembled lox than my first batch.
To recap, gravax: take one fillet of salmon, sprinkle it with 1 Tablespoon salt and 1 Tablespoon sugar, add a big pile of dill (and optionally other flavorings), wrap tightly in plastic and press under a heavy weight in the refrigerator for three days, flipping every 12 hours. For this batch I ditched the dill and substituted a generous teaspoon of finely ground lapsang souchon smoked tea. I ground my own from loose leaf, but you could just tear open a teabag or use smoked salt or a few drops of liquid smoke. Or smoked sugar if such a thing exists.
Here it is after the three days were up:
And here it is sliced topping one of my mini-bagels:
The experiment was a success; the flavor is dead-on for lox. I was afraid the smokiness would be overwhelming--it certainly was in the run-off liquid. The amount of tea I added was a pure guess so a screw up was quite possible. But the flavors turned out nicely balanced between the smoke, salt and sweet (and fishy, of course). The smoke is, of course, the most important part, but as I looked up lox recipes the few I found called for brown sugar. I've been using the local organic stuff that, while not brown, is a bit underprocessed so it's off-white which I think has added a note of molasses now that I'm looking for it. I'll need to try full-on brown sugar at some point.
The texture is not quite the same as lox, though. Good quality lox is silky but can be sliced paper thin without tearing. My gravlax tears more easily and is rather denser and meatier. The real lox process is wet brining, freshening with a soak in unsalted water and then cold smoking. No pressing involved, but some drying from the smoke. The silkiness comes from all the retained moisture and it must be that last step that gives it it's structural integrity. I wonder if pressing for just the last 12 hours would approximate that. That's going on my to-do list, but only after I've tried some other fish types and adding other flavors. No reason to try reproducing what I can buy at the corner deli when there's a world of possibilities out there.