When putting together a menu for a holiday weekend brunch, a good egg strata is at the top of my list. This Rye and Lox Strata hits all the high marks: it is easy to make, has an impressive presentation and is delicious enough to make every egg lover at your holiday table beg for more.

An egg strata, also called egg bake or egg casserole, is typically made with pieces of crusty, or even stale, bread combined with a custard mixture of eggs, milk and cheese. Stale or day-old bread is ideal for a strata, as it has lost much of its own moisture and can thus absorb the egg custard mixture better than fresh bread. The bread will absorb nearly all of the liquid as it chills, so don’t be alarmed when you find very little liquid remaining in the dish upon removing it from the refrigerator.

If you only have fresh bread on hand, you can still create the day-old texture by toasting the slices in the oven for about 10 minutes until it appears lightly toasted and crusty. Locally, you can find excellent rye bread at BernBaum’s (pictured here) and Breadsmith, both in Fargo.

Sarah's Rye and Lox Strata is made with rye bread (pictured here from BernBaum's in Fargo), lox-style smoked salmon, fresh dill, sour cream, shredded havarti cheese and 10 eggs. Garnishes to accompany the strata include capers, thinly sliced red onion and fresh lemon. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Sarah's Rye and Lox Strata is made with rye bread (pictured here from BernBaum's in Fargo), lox-style smoked salmon, fresh dill, sour cream, shredded havarti cheese and 10 eggs. Garnishes to accompany the strata include capers, thinly sliced red onion and fresh lemon. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

The rye flavor is a signature of this strata, but any dense, sliced bread will work. You can also adjust the size of the casserole dish or the flavor of the cheese, depending on your taste.

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Unlike my other strata recipes, which call for the bread to be cut into cubes, this strata features slices of bread arranged vertically like shingles, with slices of smoked salmon, also known as lox, layered in between. You can find good-quality, affordable smoked salmon at both Sam’s Club and Costco, and you will need between 12 to 16 ounces depending on the size of your casserole dish.

Slice the rye bread into slices 1/2-inch thick and shingle them vertically throughout the baking dish before adding in layers of smoked salmon. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
Slice the rye bread into slices 1/2-inch thick and shingle them vertically throughout the baking dish before adding in layers of smoked salmon. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

In addition to rye bread and smoked salmon, this recipe includes a generous sprinkling of havarti cheese. Havarti is a mellow, creamy semi-soft cheese that melts into the strata and adds a terrific richness to the custard without overpowering the main flavors.

The simple custard is rounded out with a bit of sour cream and fresh dill, which complement the savory smoked salmon.

The rye bread slices will puff up as the strata bakes, and then deflate somewhat once it is pulled from the oven. The strata should rest for about five to 10 minutes before serving, which allows it to set up so that it is easy to serve. You can enjoy it just as it is, or serve it with capers, red onion and lemon on the side.

In addition to its amazing flavor, one of my favorite features of this Rye and Lox Strata is that it can be prepared up to a day in advance so that all you need to do in the morning is pop it in the oven and get ready for the feast. Now, that is my kind of brunch dish.

From my oven to yours, I wish you all a very merry and peaceful Christmas.

The strata bakes in the oven for about 30 minutes until the havarti cheese is fully melted and the bread is a toasty golden brown. Sarah Nasello / The Forum
The strata bakes in the oven for about 30 minutes until the havarti cheese is fully melted and the bread is a toasty golden brown. Sarah Nasello / The Forum

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Rye and Lox Strata

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Serves: 8 to 10

Ingredients:

1 loaf day-old rye bread, sliced 1/2-inch thick

12 to 16 ounces smoked salmon slices (Norwegian lox style)

1 1/2 cups Havarti cheese, shredded (about 6 ounces)

10 large eggs

1/2 cup sour cream

1 1/2 cups whole milk

2 tablespoons fresh dill, fronds only, chopped

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Garnishes:

Capers

Lemon wedges

Thinly sliced red onion

Directions:

In a large casserole dish (about 3 quarts or 8-by-12 inches), layer the bread and salmon shingle-style (vertically) until the dish is filled. Sprinkle the havarti evenly over the top.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs, sour cream, milk, dill, salt and pepper until well-combined. Pour the mixture over the shingles of rye and salmon, then cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours before baking. The bread will absorb all or nearly all of the liquid as the strata chills.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and position the rack in the center. Bake the strata until the cheese is fully melted and the bread is golden brown and puffed up, about 30 to 40 minutes, depending on your oven.

Let cool for 5 to 10 minutes (which helps the strata to set), then serve with garnishes.

Sarah’s tips:

  • Day-old bread is ideal for making an egg strata, as the reduced moisture helps the bread absorb the egg mixture and expand as it bakes. If using fresh bread, I recommend slicing and toasting it at 300 degrees for about 10 minutes before assembling the strata.
  • This recipe calls for rye bread, and you can use any variety including seeded, pumpernickel, marble, etc., or any dense sliced bread will work.

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“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at sarahnasello@gmail.com.