|Cured Salmon from BlackSalt Fish Market|
Gravlax comes from the Scandinavian word meaning 'from the grave'. This is not due to the fact that the dish was only served during a burial, but because once cured the salmon would be buried in the ground near the ocean where the high tide reaches the shore. Today the salmon is not buried in the ground, I just don't think the FDA would support this, but rather buried in the fridge in a traditional Scandinavian mixture that usually includes dill, sugar, salt, and chopped herbs. Here's where it gets a little confusing; today most of the commercially sold gravlax gets a light smoke after curing. Traditionally the light smoke is not used and the salmon is prepared with only the herb/salt mixture. Either way, gravlax is usually distinguished by the presence of some remaining herbs in the package, though during the typical process the fish is rinsed after curing.
Nova or nova lox gets it name from the wild Nova Scotia salmon that used to inhabit the waters in the Canadian maritimes. Now farmed salmon is used to make nova lox, but the process is still the same. When making nova lox a wet brine mixture is used and the fish is usually cured for up to 5 days. After curing, the fish is rinsed and then cold smoked for 10-15 hours. The flavor is milder than lox, less salty, and lightly smoky.
Smoked salmon can be either cold or hot smoked. Usually cold smoked salmon is sliced thin and used as a breakfast food. This is the product that you will find packaged in most markets labeled smoked salmon. Hot smoked salmon is much denser and less moist and is usually accompanied with a creamy sauce. Hot smoked salmon is also the typical product used to make cakes, dips, and salads. Either way, smoked salmon is never cured. The resulting flavors are smoky and reminiscent of whatever wood is used, usually cherry, hickory, or oak.
Ok, so there you go, you are now ready to hit the markets and restaurants armed with the knowledge that will ensure that you are purchasing exactly the item you are looking for. Whether it be Katz's deli or your local fish market, you can have confidence when you ask for lox, nova, gravlax, or smoked salmon that you know what you are going to get. Also, this information can also make you look like a true connoisseur of the finer things at your next cocktail event.