Trend Spotting: Jewish Cuisine and Pastrami Lox
With “Jewish Fusion” cuisine named one of 2014’s hottest new food trends, I was eager to learn more. Besides the small kosher section at my local grocery and a few intriguing glimpses in recipes and articles I’d been seeing lately, it was a subject I knew next to nothing about.
Where does Jewish food come from?
Obviously, there are Jewish people living in many different countries around the world.
What defines it and makes it different from any other cuisine?
It’s clearly more than just dietary restrictions.
I'll admit, even after some fairly extensive research, I still have questions, but what I found was that generally, what we think of a Jewish cuisine in the US is a mixture of Eastern European Jewish food traditions (German, Polish, Romanian, Hungarian, ect) adapted to local supply by immigrants to America. This particular recipe actually marries two Jewish food traditions together.
Pastrami: Pastrami, while typically thought of as beef in the US, actually refers to a technique which can be used with any sort of meat. Romanian Jewish immigrants who had used it mainly to flavor and preserve goose breast, adapted the method to beef when they found it was cheaper to use in America. At the time, it was called “pastirma,” drawing from the Romanian “a pastra” which means “to preserve,” but eventually, through the popularity of the Italian import salami it became known as “pastrami” - a well-loved staple of the deli we know today. Poultry, beef, pork, lamb, game meat, and even fish can be pastramied. It's all about teachnique and spicing.
Lox: On the other hand, Lox is not only reserved to single meat – fish, it’s reserved to a single fish – salmon. In fact, lox literally means “salmon” in German. The saltwater brining method characteristic of classic lox originates with the Scandinavians, though it’s almost unheard of in the United States now. Today, a Canadian adaptation of this which adds a cold smoking process after the brining, nova lox, is what most of us know simply as lox. (True lox is only brined, nova lox is brined then cold smoked.)
Combined, we’ll take the spices which give pastrami its characteristic flavor with a simple lox using the traditional Scandinavian method called 'gravlax." It’s a three day process so plan ahead, but don’t complain because the wait is well worth it! It’s so crazy good and simple to make, you’re going to want to do this all the time. I’m working on a version of this recipe using assorted shellfish as we speak!
- 1 lb Salmon (skin on)
- 1 tbsp Lemon Juice, fresh squeezed (one lemon should do)
- 1/3 cup Kosher Salt
- 2 tbsp Sugar
- 1 cup Cilantro Leaves and Stems, chopped
- 1 cup Parsley Leaves and Stems, chopped
- 1 Shallot, minced
- 1 Garlic Clove, minced
Pastrami Spice Glaze:
- 2 tbsp Molasses
- 2 Bay Leaves, torn in large pieces
- 1 tsp Ground Cloves
- 1 tsp Ground Allspice
- 1 tsp Smoked Paprika
- 1 tsp Sumac ( Can't find it? Forage you own! Here's how.)
- 1 tsp Ground Black Pepper
- ½ tsp Red Pepper Flakes
- 1 tsp Coriander Seeds
- 1 tsp Caraway Seeds
- 1 tsp Mustard Seeds
Additional Tools: Mortar and Pestle + BBQ Brush
First Day: Gravlax (grav - grave + lax- salmon) Burial
Prep Your Salmon for Burial: Line a small pan or dish with enough tin foil to completely wrap your salmon when we’re done with this. Rinse it under cold water. Pat it dry with a paper towel, and place it skin down in your chosen container. Pour your fresh squeezed lemon juice over the top of it.
Chop The Fresh Stuff: Prep your cilantro and parsley leaves and stems plus your shallot and garlic. No need to be meticulous – this will all be tossed in a few days.
Make Your Salt Grave Topping: In a large mixing bowl, stir your fresh stuff with the salt and sugar. Sprinkle evenly over the top of your salmon. Secure tin foil tightly over the top and leave refrigerated for 2 days. (Some seepage is normal as water forces moisture from the meat. Leave in your dish to prevent disaster in the fridge!)
2 Days Later: Pastrami Glazing
Lose the Topping: Scrape salt burial topping off fish and into the trash. Rinse them in cold water and set aside skin down in a clean dish.
Prep: Measure out your seeds and red pepper flakes then place them in a small cup. Measure out all the rest of your spices besides the bay leaves and set them aside in another cup. Ready your mortar and pestle. Have molasses, bay leaves and another pan to cook it out and ready to go when needed. (This is the way I wish I had done it.)
Lightly Toast Seeds: Heat a small skillet over moderate heat. Pour in seeds. Shaking your pan so they cook evenly, heat seeds for just one minute or until fragrant, then pour into your mortar. Crush well with your pestle. Pour the rest of your spices (minus bay leaves) in and mix.
Simmer Bay Leaf Molasses: Bring molasses with torn bay leavesto a simmer. Remove from heat. Remove bay leaf pieces.
Top it Off: Brush the tops of your salmon with the bay leaf molasses. Sprinkle with the pastrami spice mixture.
Give it Some Air: Leave salmon uncovered in the refrigerator for 12 hours before serving.
12 Hours Later: Chow Time!
Slice thin to serve. Wrap extras and save them for up to one week.
I ate slices alone as a snack as well as enjoying them with a salad. The flavor is salty and very bacon like. Slices are beautiful and nearly translucent. In fact, being pescatarian, we enjoyed it in place of bacon for breakfast one morning! My boyfriend Nick had the idea of dipping it in our favorite ginger dressing - seriously recommend this. Or you know, you could always do the deli thing and slap in on top of some cream cheese schmeared bagel.