Like pasta, guacamole and other menu favorites with immigrant origins, bagels with cream cheese and lox have become part of American culinary culture. Although bagels and lox have Jewish roots, it’s no longer unusual to see red and green bagels for Christmas and green ones on St. Patrick’s Day!
No one knows for sure who created the winning trifecta of a bagel, cream cheese, and lox, but we know the components came to America with Eastern European Jews in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The connection is apparent in the Yiddish word laks which means salmon, the Polish word bajgiel and the luscious layer of cream cheese known as a schmear. Bagels are distinguished from other rolls by their ring shape and the process of boiling them in water before baking them, resulting in a crisp exterior and chewy inside.
Beyond its Jewish-American connection, the history of lox also has strong links to Scandinavia, where, in the days before refrigeration, fishermen mastered the art of preserving salmon in a saltwater brine. Today the Scandinavian version is called gravlax. Scotts, on the other hand, are known for their distinctly smoked version, simply called Scottish salmon. No matter what it’s called, traditional lox is thinly sliced salmon fillet cured in a salty brine.
That’s not the end of the story. Because lox cured in salty brine has a strong, salty taste, today it is usually cured with a lighter salt and then smoked, creating the milder “Nova” that’s so popular in New York-style delis like TooJay’s.
With its silky texture and pleasing flavor, Nova salmon is a versatile addition to many delicious dishes, such as TooJay’s popular Nova Latkes starter, a plate of three crispy mini potato pancakes topped with sliced Nova and sour cream and finished with arugula, diced red onion and capers.
For breakfast and brunch, TooJay’s Nova Salmon Benedict puts a flavorful spin on a classic, combining the flavors of Nova salmon, tomato, red onions and capers, topped with hollandaise sauce. If you prefer a more traditional breakfast, there’s the always popular Nova, Eggs & Onions Omelet. For catering at home or in the office, TooJay’s Nova platters with all the fixings and a selection of bagels is a crowd-pleasing top-seller.
And now a nondenominational joke to conclude the story of bagels:
The children were lined up in the cafeteria of a religious school for lunch. At the head of the table was a large tray of bagels. The teacher posted a sign on the bagel tray: “Take only one. God is watching.”
Further along the lunch line, at the other end of the table was a plate of chocolate chip cookies. One child whispered to another, “Take all you want. God is watching the bagels.”