It's usually labeled "smoked salmon," though it might be called "lox" in a Jewish deli. Odds are it's the same. "Lox is not particularly Jewish," says Joan Nathan, author of Jewish Cooking in America.Before refrigeration, salmon was shipped in brine, and customers developed a taste for the salty fish. Today most manufacturers treat frozen salmon with salt and herbs for a few days, then lightly smoke it.
We tasted 40 packages of smoked salmon from area supermarkets and specialty shops. We detected no appreciable differences among salmon from different locations. Nor could we tell much difference between farm-raised and wild. The main difference is price–about $20 to $30 a pound for the best. The worst were cheaper offerings from area supermarkets.
The main flavors are salt, smoke, and fish. The best held the three in balance; sometimes one predominated, but all were present. Another characteristic is texture–the best is firm, silky, and buttery, not oily or flabby. Here's a guide to the best smoked salmon in local stores.
Blue Hill Bay Smoked Atlantic Nova. Costco, $8.99 per pound. Good texture; smoke predominates over salt or fish tastes.
Chef Daniel Boulud Smoked Salmon. Dean & Deluca, $35 per pound. Rosy color, quite smoky–very good with cream cheese.
Ducktrap Kendall Brook Smoked Atlantic Salmon. Whole Foods, $20 per pound. Good texture, almost sweet taste but with no added sugar.
Ducktrap Spruce Point Smoked Atlantic Salmon. Wegmans, $17.98 per pound. Dark in color, saltier than some, mild in flavor.
Kirkland Norwegian Smoked Salmon. Costco, $8.65 per pound. The best buy–great for parties or brunch. A bit soft-textured but good fish and smoke flavors.
Norwegian Smoked Salmon. Balducci's, $23.99 per pound. Dense texture, briny flavor.
Scottish King Salmon. Dean & Deluca, $35 per pound. Complex flavor reminded tasters of salami or pastrami; firm texture.
Wegmans Scottish Smoked Salmon. $25.99 per pound. Hand-cut at traiteur case. Nicely balanced; not too salty; buttery texture.
Wegmans Norweigan Smoked Salmon. $25.99 per pound. Hand-cut. Light color, quite smoky, nice dry texture.
Woodsmoke Provisions Blue Label Smoked Salmon. Dean & Deluca, $28 per pound. Nice balance of fish, salt, and smoke.
Blue Hill Bay Wild Coho Smoked Salmon. Costco, $13.32 per pound. Smoky taste nicely balanced by fish and salt; thickly sliced.
Blue Label Smoked Salmon. Dean & Deluca, $30 per pound. Dense, fleshy texture, mild flavor.
Gaspe Nova Smoked Salmon. Balducci's, $23.99 per pound. Butttery texture, mild flavor.
Spence & Co. Classic Smoked Salmon. Whole Foods, $22 per pound. Dark color, smooth texture, tastes strongly of smoke.