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What’s the Difference Between Lox, Gravlax, and Nova?

Photo: Laurey W. Glenn Styling: Kathleen Cook Varner

Here’s what to know before you buy, and how to build a killer breakfast spread with whatever you choose. 

Thinly sliced cured salmon is a thing of beauty. A gentle salt cure gives the fish a wonderful salty flavor and an almost velvety texture. We love it on bagels, naturally, and also on stunning appetizers and crispy, mile-high potato casseroles. You’ll find it in vacuum-sealed packages next to the fish counter at your supermarket or sliced to a near translucent thinness at old school Jewish delis.

Lox, gravlax, and nova are all made from salmon and involve some kind of cure. Where they differ is in the kind of seasoning and if they are cold smoked or not. Cold smoking uses wood smoke to add flavor, just at a very low temperature (around 80°). Since the temp is too low to actually cook the fish, it is cured first. This is how you get the thin, silky, vibrant pink salmon slices. Hot smoked salmon, also delicious, is cooked in the smoker and will look like a cooked salmon fillet. 

Lox

A deli staple, lox is traditionally unsmoked and made from the salmon’s fatty belly, making for the silkiest slices. It’s best to buy this kind of lox right at the source—any mass produced lox will usually involve some kind of cold smoke and come from any part of the fish.

How to Make Roasted Salmon with Kale-Quinoa Salad

Gravlax

This Scandinavian-style cured salmon is also unsmoked. The seasoning is a bit more aggressive, with fresh dill, sugar, citrus, whole spices, and a floral alcohol like aquavit or gin. Gravlax is actually incredibly easy to make at home (no smoke house or special equipment required), and a visual stunner, especially when fresh beets are added to the cure.

Nova

The name for this salmon comes from its origin, in Nova Scotia, Canada, where salmon is cured and then cold smoked. The color is a much deeper pink, almost a burnt orange, compared to other cured salmon. The fish flavor is also a bit more intense than lox or gravlax.

How to Build a Board

Start with a bready base like bagels or slices of a hearty dark bread like rye or pumpernickel. Creamy spreads like cream cheese or whole milk yogurt won’t compete with other salty and pungent toppers. Briny capers, juicy tomatoes, and crunchy red onion and cucumber cut through the rich, velvety salmon and build a more substantial main. You can fill out the board with hard-cooked eggs and pickle spears if you like, but keep it simple: the beauty of a smoked salmon brunch is that assembly is all that’s required.