Refrigerator Smoked Fish

Well, sort of “Refrigerator Smoked Fish”.  This is actually a recipe for making homemade lox.  I’m not advocating using the fridge for a smoker.  What I AM suggesting is to find yourself some Salish to use to do a basic salt cure of some fish. ˈsāliSH is named for the American Indian peoples inhabiting areas of the northwestern US and British Columbia that make it.  It’s sea salt that’s been smoked over an alderwood fire.  After a sprinkle of this stuff, you’ll swear off “Liquid Smoke” forever.

What we’re going to do is a basic salt cure. This process was invented by Swedish fishermen that would bury their fresh catch in the salty shores and leave it to ferment.  “Grav” means is a grave or a hole in the ground in the Scandinavian languages, and “lax” is salmon.  In any language, gravlax is delicious.

The recipe for homemade smoked fish is to mix up a cure of equal parts table salt, salish, and brown sugar.  Spread it out on a plate and top with the fish.  I’m using tilapia because it’s cheap and this is an experiment at this point.  Cover the fish with the same mixture.

Refrigerator Smoked Fish
Salting the Raw fillets

After a couple of minutes, you’ll see the salt go to work!  Curing has begun.  What we’re doing is using salt to suck the moisture out of the fish.  Traditionally, this was done to preserve the fish by creating an environment in the fish that bacteria and mold would not find hospitable: dry and salty.

Refrigerator Smoked Fish
Salt starting to do its thing

Once you’re done watching, you can bag this all up in a zip-top bag and stash it in the fridge.  Once a day, take it out and give the bag a little shake and smush the salt mixture around.  This process is called “overhauling.”  You should feel the fish firming up as the water is pulled out and mixing into the salt, creating a brine.

Refrigerator Smoked Fish
Into the Brine!

After a week in the fridge, we’re nearing Nirvana.  Give the fish a good rinse and dry.  Sharpen your longest slicer and slice off the thinnest little bits.

Slicing the "smoked" fish
Slicing the “smoked” fish

Salmon cured like this is called lox. I’m not sure what this would be called, but my homemade Gravröding recipe is delicious wrapped around some celery sticks!

About John MacDowall

I was born in Poughkeepsie, NY. We moved to a farm during middle school where I learned about raising animals and growing food. Now, I live in the affluent suburbs of Washington, DC and wonder why people eat the way they do.


  1. Looks great! when you say equal amounts, is that by weight or volume? Weight with the salt seems to make sense, but I’m not so sure about the sugar. Have some Alderwood Smoked Sea Salt on order.

    • I did it by volume. It’s really to taste. The first batch was way too smoky, so I cut the smoked salt with table salt.

  2. ahhhh… so, 1/2 part salish, 1 1/2 parts table salt (kosher ok?) and 1 part brown sugar? I’m thinking some dill in there would be niiicee.

    • The revised recipe IS equal parts of the 3. The too smoky recipe was equal parts salish and brown sugar. Dill is good. Citrus zest is better.

  3. Lemon I would imagine… what’s the verdict on the tilapia?

  4. I like the bag approach… I’ve tried this in the past in a pan, wrapped in plastic, with a weight on it… too many moving parts.

    • You can see this started out that way, but got dumped in a bag. My wife is a pastry chef and shelf space is at a premium in the refrigerator on wedding cake days. Tilapia is tilapia. You get out what you put in, ya’ know?

  5. Sounds delicious! I will try it.

    I haven’t done it like this before, but I have done a “quick cure”, slicing salmon thin, then rubbing with salt, sugar, cognac, and dill, then leaving in the fridge for several hours to a few days.

    The other thought…I have heard that when eating salmon and some other kinds of fish raw, it’s important to freeze them first, either at a ridiculously low temperature or for at least two weeks, to kill off any parasites. I don’t know whether the cure makes this unnecessary.

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