Smoked salmon is a holiday favorite, an indulgence served at parties and breakfasts. Often mislabeled as lox (which is unsmoked, wet-cured salmon), or gravlax (unsmoked and dry-cured), smoked salmon is actually fresh salmon—either farmed Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) or one of five wild Pacific salmon species (chum, coho, pink, sockeye, or Chinook)—that is cured with salt, sugar, and seasonings and then cold-smoked at temperatures below 80°F. Unlike hot-smoking, cold-smoking doesn’t cook the fish, so the result is the silky, delicate texture we expect from smoked salmon.
But which brand to buy? To find out, we tried eight of the country’s top mail-order cold-smoked salmons in a blind taste test. We were looking for pleasantly smoky, not too salty succulent smoked salmon that we’d be happy to serve at our holiday celebrations. The four here fit the bill.
Browne Trading Company's Scotch-cured smoked Scottish salmon ($23 for 8 oz., sliced; $45 for 1 lb., sliced; Brownetrading.com) comes from farmed Atlantic salmon wet-cured with Scotch whisky and smoked over Maine fruitwoods. We found it a touch sweet, a touch salty, and nicely smoky. Its texture was very close to that of raw salmon, which was a plus for several tasters.
Russ & Daughters' Gaspe Nova ($30 per lb., sliced; Russanddaughters.com) was incredibly smooth and rich, starting out with a salty bite but finishing with gentle smoke. This salmon originates in the Gaspe Bay of Quebec, Canada. It's called Nova as shorthand for the traditional Nova Scotia nomenclature for smoked Atlantic salmon originating from fisheries in that area. Also wet-cured in brine, this style of smoked salmon would make a lovely canape topping or a lush partner for crackers, creme fraiche, and capers.