Whitefish salad comes by way of Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants from Europe and Russia. When they first arrived in the United States, they discovered that the freshwater whitefish of the Great Lakes was very similar to the freshwater whitefish of Europe. Freshwater whitefish is ideal for smoking, as its oily consistency and mild flavor easily absorbs the salty, smoky and sweet flavors that come from the curing and smoking process. In the early 20th century, it became popular to make mayonnaise dressed salads like tuna and chicken salad. Smoked whitefish got the same treatment and quickly became a staple of Jewish delis, as well as a coveted item at any Yom Kippur break-fast spread.
Typically, Lake Whitefish (coregonus clupeaformis), a freshwater fish from the Great Lakes, is used for smoked whitefish. The fish is commonly shipped to New York where it gets brined, dried and smoked. Once smoked, the white fish skin turns golden yellow. Smoked whitefish is most often sold either whole or as a simple premade salad. While wildly popular on the East Coast, it’s harder to find smoked whitefish on the West Coast, or in parts of the country with smaller Jewish communities. If you struggle to find whole whitefish in your local market, you can easily substitute whitefish with smoked sable or smoked trout for an equally delicious salad.
There’s nothing wrong with traditional whitefish salad, but I love to add a few extra ingredients to my whitefish salad to brighten up its salty smoky flavors. Mayonnaise is essential, but I also add sour cream for tangy creaminess (you can skip the dairy and substitute it with more mayo if desired). Fresh dill and parsley give the salad lightness and herbaceousness, and lemon zest and juice add citrusy acidity and flavor. However you like to make it, you can never go wrong serving whitefish salad at your next holiday spread.
- 8 oz. smoked whitefish (or smoked trout or sablefish)
- ¼ cup mayonnaise, or to taste
- 2-3 Tbsp sour cream
- 1 Tbsp chopped parsley
- 1 Tbsp chopped dill
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- ½ tsp lemon zest
- Black pepper, to taste
- Start by crumbling the fish off its skin into small pieces. Make sure to remove any bones in the process, especially if using a whole fish.
- Add mayonnaise, sour cream (if using), parsley, dill, lemon juice, lemon zest, and pepper to the fish. Taste and adjust to your liking. Salad will keep for up to 1 week refrigerated.