Salmon is the quintessential Jewish fish—if you go to Russ and Daughters in New York City, there are a dozen different kinds for sale, cured and smoked, from all different parts of the world. The great thing about salmon is that it’s so forgiving. Any beginner cook knows this; even if you leave it under the broiler too long, it still comes out moist because of all that luscious fat. That fattiness is what makes salmon such a good choice for home-curing, too. It just won’t dry out.
Some varieties of salmon are fattier than others; we use king salmon for making lox at the deli, and always the farmed variety, not wild. That’s because wild salmon—especially if it’s caught during “running”—tends to be too lean for curing. Too little fat will cause the salt mixture to “burn” the surface of the salmon and stop the cure from penetrating. This recipe is a case where you really want to be selective about where you buy your fish, and where it came from. This is a pretty light cure, meaning the qualities of the fresh fish really come through in the finished product. So you want top quality salmon.
Allow the fillet to rest a day after rinsing off the curing mixture, sort of like you would with a fine steak after taking it off the grill (only longer). Resting allows the fish to continue “cooking”—that is, it lets the curing compounds distribute themselves evenly throughout the salmon after they’ve penetrated the flesh. Also note that using good kosher salt (we recommend Diamond Crystal) is absolutely essential.
At Mile End we use our house-made lox for two of our signature breakfast dishes, the Beauty and the Mish-Mash, but it’s great for lunch sandwiches, finger foods and all sorts of other preparations. One of my favorite simple pleasures is a thickly cut slice of challah (recipe posted yesterday) schmeared with cream cheese and topped with a layer of lox.
1/3 cup whole black peppercorns
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup Diamond Crystal kosher salt
1 bunch of dill
1 2-pound boneless king salmon fillet, with skin
Combine the peppercorns, sugar, and salt in a bowl and stir to combine. Place 2 or 3 sprigs of the dill in the bottom of a nonreactive baking dish, and sprinkle about ¼ cup of the salt mixture evenly over the bottom of the dish.
Make 2 or 3 shallow cuts in the skin of the salmon fillet. Place the salmon, skin side down, on top of the salt and dill, and place a few more sprigs of dill on top of the salmon. Sprinkle the salmon all over with another ¼ cup of the salt mixture. Reserve the remaining salt mixture. Loosely cover the baking dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate it overnight.
Carefully pour off any liquid that has accumulated in the baking dish. Add another ¼ cup of the salt mixture to the bottom of the dish, and sprinkle ¼ cup more over the salmon. Replace the dill sprigs with new ones if they’ve wilted. Cover the dish and refrigerate overnight.
Repeat this process 2 more times over 2 more days.
On the fifth day, remove the salmon, rinse it thoroughly, and pat it dry with paper towels. Place the salmon on a small drying rack set inside a clean baking dish or over a couple of layers of paper towels. Refrigerate, uncovered, overnight.
To serve, slice very thinly and carefully at a shallow angle, working from the front of the fillet toward the tail.
Makes about 1½ pounds
Last year in Berkeley, Rae and I attended the Deli Summit to discuss the direction of Jewish food and deli culture, and since then we’ve been working on a way to continue the conversation. On October 12th we’ll be hosting a Shabbat dinner for the NYC Wine and Food Festival and we’ve invited friends from around the country to join us in preparing an epic nine-course meal. It only seems fitting since the Shabbat table and my Nana Lee’s kitchen are my very first memories of food and cooking—Me, sitting on the counter, her, presiding over the stove like any great chef. That sense of time, place, and ritual gave meaning to my family’s week as the Shabbat table has for so many Jews, both secular and religious. It is a place to ask questions, to air grievances, to express gratitude, and sometimes, to simply close the week at peace with a warm bowl of chicken soup. I hope this Friday’s opportunity to gather around our Shabbat table will bring to light the potential for Jewish cooking as food that we eat during special occasions and everyday at home. Similarly, we wish to inspire those attending to question the core of Jewish foodways and to strengthen their commitment to its survival.
The next day, on Saturday October 13th, along with Tablet Magazine and ABC Home we’re presenting the Future of Jewish Food, a tasting and talk with the country’s foremost practitioners, thinkers and critics. From 5:30 – 9 PM at the ABC Home Mezzanine we’ll bring together Gail Simmons, Mitchell Davis, Jordana Rothman and Josh Ozersky for a panel moderated by Joan Nathan about Jewish food in the home and then we’ll have a second panel with the deli men from Wise Sons (SF), Kenny & Zuke’s (PDX), Saul’s (Berkeley), and Mile End moderated by David Sax. Unlike the night before where the food will do the talking, this discussion is an amazing gathering of some of the finest practitioners of Jewish cooking — people who have committed themselves to examining and celebrating our rich culinary history while simultaneously innovating and moving forward the conversation about its future. With a variety of opinions and perspectives, I’m expecting a very lively conversation.
After all the eating and talking there will be more eating with a tasting of house made pastrami and smoked meat from each of the delis plus a book signing with all of the panelists.
Recipe: Twice-Baked Challah Continue reading
We just wrote a cookbook filled with recipes, stories and ideas from our restaurants.
When we opened Mile End Delicatessen in January of 2010, we had little sense of how our style of Jewish comfort food from scratch would resonate. The decision to open a 430 square foot deli on a side street in Brooklyn was a gamble for a couple of twentysomethings with no industry experience. With all of the other operational elements outside of our comfort zone, the food was the intensely personal and familiar constant.
If we didn’t foresee how deep the love of liver ran prior to opening, we soon found out. The warm memories and harsh critiques were aplenty from our Jewish and non-Jewish customers alike. We didn’t put chicken soup on the menu for the first few months for fear of treading on Bubbie’s sacred tablespace.
With nearly 3 years of slinging smoked meat sandwiches behind, us we recognized that we had hundreds of recipes and countless more stories about where they come from, how we use them and why we love them. The hope is that we summarized generations of tradition and years of kitchen experience into a handy and timeless guide to cooking Jewish comfort food. Obviously that’s a tall order, and only time will tell if the recipes and techniques are adopted and utilized by our peers and progenitors.
The process of putting together a cookbook is a trying one. Of course conceiving of a format that’s friendly to casual and advanced cooks alike, while scaling down recipes usually made by the boat load, is challenging, but even more so was striking the balance between reverence for history and tradition, personal anecdote and modern relevance.
In all truth, it took us a couple strikes to finally hit the look, feel and focus that we were going for. In fact, much fell into place once we agreed that it should be called ‘The Mile End Cookbook‘. For months we attempted to come up with an alternative name that would be descriptive to browsers unfamiliar with our brand, one that wasn’t as regional or restaurant specific. We loved the humor in ‘A Nice Jewish Cookbook’ and felt like ‘Schmaltz’ really represented our approach to cooking, but after literally hundreds of attempts on the title and cover design we finally concluded that we should roll with our namesake.