We were packing up our table at a healing and psychic fair when a couple, Jane and Charles, stopped by. I pulled out information to share with them and that was the beginning of an enjoyable and interesting conversation, which wound up with us talking about bagels, lox, and cream cheese. As those of you who have been reading this blog for a while know, lox and cream cheese, especially TempTee cream cheese holds a place near and dear to my heart. Charles and I were talking about how hard it was to find good lox in Rochester and how it inspired me to learn how to make it. “How do you smoke it?’ he asked. “ I don’t, I brine it for three days.” I replied. “Oh, so you’re a loxsmith,” he responded and the seed was planted as I found myself staring at these beautiful wild Alaskan salmon fillets at the store the other day, but knowing this was not the week where I would have the time to pull out all those pin bones. I could have also gone with the farm-raised salmon, which tend not to have the pin bones, but some things are worth paying a little bit more for. Even paying more for the wild salmon is still considerably less then what I would pay for the pre-packaged lox, so I would be saving money and giving myself a special treat to enjoy for the week to come.
I always found lox to be a contrast to the other fish foods we grew up eating, such as gefilte fish and herrings. The latter two are made from quite inexpensive fishes. Salmon, however, has always tended to cost more. So when we would make it, something my mother and I rarely did, it was a rarity. Making lox is a lesson in patience. It takes three days for the curing process to occur. My mother would say it cost twice as much to make lox because while we were watching it cure in the refrigerator, my mother and I would have to go to the store to get some to eat then. It seems neither of us was patient at the time, at least when it came to our lox and cream cheese.
Deciding on what kind of salmon to buy is not just a cost issue, but also about my spiritual relationship with the environment. Most salmon these days are farm raised, or as a friend of mine says factory raised, and harmful to the fish and to the environment. It is also unclear of all the health effects of eating factory-raised foods, especially with the introduction of genetically modified fishes, including salmon. The decision, for me, then begins with issues of sustainability and the health of the fish and the environment in which it was raised.
Patience is another one of the lessons I learned from making lox. It was never easy, and is still not, waiting patiently for this delicacy for me to speak to me and let me know the curing process is complete. A transformation process occurs within the fish while it sits for three days releasing its fluids and taking in the flavors in which it has been packed. You cannot rush the curing process; it happens in its own time frame.
Making lox has also taught me to pay attention to details. One of the first things I have to do is spend time with tweezers pulling out the pin bones from the salmon. It is not that this is an all day process, but it is important to make sure they are removed and that they are taken out in the direction they are facing. As the name suggests these bones are tiny, so it is important that I develop a relationship with my fish looking and feeling for the bones and removing them. Another opportunity for me to practice being, what my son calls the P word, patient.
Making lox is like creating life. We have aspects of our life that are sweet, those that are salty, and those that add flavor to our life. Such are the ingredients for making lox:
1 1/2 -
2 lbs. salmon filet, boneless, with the skin on
1 cup kosher salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 bunch dill, stemmed and leaves washed
The easiest part of the process is constructing what my mother would call the sandwich. She would cut the salmon in half, so we had two equal pieces. Then we would make the “filling,” mixing the salt and sugar in a bowl. We would place the salmon on a piece of plastic wrap, pile the “filling” on top of both pieces, top it with dill, then close the “sandwich” up by putting the two pieces of fish on top of each other. The sandwich would then be wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, put into a large plastic bag. I use a gallon sized Ziploc bag and push all the air out. We would then place it in a dish and weigh it down with heavy cans to help the process. At the end of each day, we would drain off any liquid and flip the “sandwich” over so that it was weighted down on both sides. My mother would tell me it was like making a grilled cheese sandwich; you have to cook it on both sides.
Not only was the waiting process important, but the weighing process as it allowed for the transformation within the salmon to occur. It has always reminded me of life. Sometimes we go through times in our life that weigh us down. In the process, however, I have found that there is a similar curing process happening within me. Something, which I no longer need leaves and is replaced by something new.
The final stage before eating the lox is to “baptize” it in water, washing away all that is not the salmon. It is about removing the salt and sugar, the impurities, which if they remained present would ruin the experience and the taste. Going through this process with my salmon reminds me of the importance of doing so in my own life. The salt, sugar and flavoring in my life have served their purposes and taught me the lessons they were sent to teach, but continuing to keep them in my present can prevent me from being fully present and experiencing all life has to offer.