If Smoking Is So Bad For Your Health, Then Why Does It Cure Salmon?

Emily Russo, MS, RD, CDN

Written by: Emily Russo, MS, RD, CDN

Smoked salmon or lox, is there a difference? Which one should you try? How can it be incorporated into a fulfilling meal?

Smoked salmon or lox, is there a difference? Which one should you try? How can it be incorporated into a fulfilling meal? Emily Russo, MS, RD, CDN explains the difference between the two and why it’s not just a bagel topper anymore!

 

 

NEW YORKERS AT HEART

My parents were both raised in New York City. They moved to Pennsylvania for my dad’s work when they were expecting me.

Growing up, we continued to hold on to a lot of New York traditions. This included Sunday bagel brunch, which is the epitome of New York family gatherings.

When my grandparents would visit, they would bring a cooler full of food and bags of groceries from New York (though I always thought the food we had in Reading, PA was perfectly fine!).

For special occasions, the visits would be longer and the food more plentiful. In fact, I have some good 80’s video footage of one of these visits for my second birthday.

In the scene, you can see the big cooler, filled to the brim with bagel brunch goodies. An arm reaches into the screen holding out a bagel with lox and cream cheese. I grab it and spend the whole party sitting in a basket gnawing on it.

Perhaps not the typical toddler bonanza, but I seemed content.

 

SMOKED SALMON vs. LOX

When I was younger, I remember telling my friends about my love of lox and getting some confused looks. I started referring to it as smoked salmon because it had a more familiar sound to other kids.

So what is the correct term? There’s actually a right answer for this, and it depends on the preparation. 

  • Lox is a fillet of brined salmon, usually the belly part. It’s derived from the Yiddish word for salmon. It’s salt-cured, with no smoke.
  • Nova lox is lox from Nova Scotia, and is cold-smoked.
  • Gravlax is the Scandinavian preparation with dill, spices, and liquor used during brining.
  • Smoked salmon uses any part of the fish. It can be cold-smoked or hot-smoked, but it certainly has a smoky essence. The hot-smoked variety becomes cooked through during the smoking process, so it looks more like the salmon you’d prepare for dinner and has a drier, meatier texture.

All of the above are delicious. It comes down to personal preference. 

My favorite combination is a toasted sesame bagel with veggie cream cheese, sliced tomato, smoked salmon, capers, dill, a squeeze of lemon, and cracked black pepper.

Sounds kind of boujee, but all the fussy condiments really elevate the flavor. It’s actually the meal over which my now-husband proposed to me, so it will always be special.

You may also want to try Ann’s Avocado Toast with Salmon and Turmeric Egg, which is a delicious take on this breakfast showstopper.

In my opinion, smoked fish, in general, is a once-in-a-while food, not an everyday food. It’s rich, creamy, salty, and decadent, and a little goes a long way. If I have too much, it stops tasting as good.

 

SALMON MANY WAYS

The great thing about recipe building with salmon is that it’s extremely versatile. There are many ingredients that complement it.

For a satisfying meal, add a few slices of smoked salmon to a salad – the protein, fat, salt, color, and texture can be so satiating and are in beautiful contrast with fresh, crunchy, vegetables. It’s my new lunch crave. (I took a quick photo recently to illustrate. ⇩)

For a unique protein and flavor addition to a kale salad, try adding smoked salmon.

You could try your own version using Ann’s Baby Kale Chopped Salad recipe, which lends well to a variety of add-ins, like the farro pictured in the salad above, or a variety of other grains, roasted vegetables, cheeses, nuts, etc.

I also love Ann’s Everything Crusted Salmon, which is a great riff on the bagel sandwich. Simply omit the salt from the seasoning mix if you are concerned about sodium intake.

Speaking of, here are some options to consider if you have certain medical conditions:

  • For those who are immune-suppressed, uncooked salmon, even if smoked or cured, carries a higher risk for food-borne illnesses. Choose any cooked variety along with pre-packaged (not deli-scooped) cream cheese, and then use similar condiments to capture the flavor profile.
  • For those who have heart failure, liver failure, kidney disease, or other medical conditions where excess sodium or fluids need to be monitored, anything cured or brined means lots of salt. In turn, will also make you very thirsty.

Options to modify:

  • Choose a poached or cooked salmon. Serve with sliced tomatoes or as a bagel topper (ideally with a no-salt seasoning such as sesame or poppy).
  • Choose a sushi grade raw salmon, sliced thin. Hit with a squeeze of lemon and fresh chopped herbs.
  • Small amounts of smoked salmon go a long way. Finely chop 1 teaspoon and add to scrambled eggs or top on a bagel for a serious flavor punch.

 

KEY TAKEAWAY

However you choose to eat your bagel or your salmon, enjoy it. Spend the time to make it how you truly want it and savor each bite. There are plenty of options.

These days, you can find salmon everywhere, and you don’t have to bring it back from New York in a cooler!

 

CONTACT ME

We’re very excited to launch our new “Ask Emily” column and invite you, the reader, to engage more deeply into the nutritional aspects of the blog. All food and nutrition-related questions are welcome. Some will be answered through my column, but I will reply to everyone individually. Click emily@fountainavenuekitchen.com to email me directly.

 

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Comments

  1. AvatarNadja

    Interesting! – I share your enthusiasm for smoked salmon, but would like to add that any smoked or brined fish is usually a histamine bomb. I had never paid attention to this until 50 grams (1.76 ounces) of smoked salmon over seasoned cottage cheese became my go-to breakfast during a recent no carb diet (I sometimes cheated with your overnight oats, using more yoghurt and less oatmeal;-)). I can still eat smoked salmon once or twice a week, but more isn’t good for me. My diet worked, I’m my slim self again, but I should have stuck to the good motto “everything in moderation”.

    Reply
    1. Emily RussoEmily Russo Post author

      Wow, Nadja what an incredible revelation you had! I’m impressed that you listened to your body, and have now found the right balance for enjoying smoked salmon. It’s delicious for sure!

      Reply
      1. AvatarNadja

        Thank you for your interesting article, Emily! I’m sharing my story so others won’t make the same mistake. I was always glad to have no food sensitivity or intolerances whatsoever, but my almost daily (organic) smoked salmon for six weeks was apparently too much, and I’ve certainly had my fill of cottage cheese.
        Btw: a little horseradish worked into cream or cottage cheese (plus the traditional lemon squeeze and pepper) complements smoked salmon beautifully (use prepared or horseradish or horseradish sauce, fresh is too strong). T

        Reply
        1. EmilyEmily Post author

          I agree that smoked salmon is a once in a while food for me too, Nadja. And I love the idea of the sharp horseradish with the rich salmon and creamy cheese. Yum!

          Reply