I won’t go into why it does or doesn’t make sense to follow dietary restrictions created by some dudes thousands of years ago. And even if God created them, I can’t explain why he would care if we ate bacon. (In fact, I might say that a loving and compassionate god would want his children to experience the joys of bacon on a regular basis.) Suffice it to say though, that for whatever reason, there are at least a couple of million people in the world who choose to keep kosher. And there are many millions more who observe Muslim dietary restrictions which also mean pork is out.
For the Jews, the joy of curing and salting meat is not foreign to us. If you’re confused, go have a real pastrami sandwich and see what I’m talking about. We’re not fucking around. That said, because of additional dietary restrictions, (the prohibition on mixing milk with meat) having cured meat, even of a kosher variety, for breakfast, is just not quite right. You need butter, you need cheese, maybe some yogurt, etc. It just doesn’t work. Enter smoked and cured fish.
My grandmother use to make carp for us. My dad (and I’m sure his father) eat/ate lots of pickled herring. My grandparents (and before them my great grandparents) ran a friggin’ fish market. (And they actually sold fish and not software.) And it took me trying sushi to finally realize the joys of smoked salmon and lox specifically. I was so thrilled to realize that this wonderfulness came from my peeps. And as much as I love lox (my fave is gravlax), and a nice smoked whitefish salad, I can’t help but miss bacon.
What is salmon bacon you ask? Oh, you didn’t ask. That’s ok, I’m gonna tell you anyway.
Salmon bacon is:
- my people’s attempt at having a bacon substitute?
- an attempt to create a new revenue stream by a kosher fish company in Massachusetts?
- a delicious salty component in my breakfast bagel?
Before I answer, I should offer full disclosure. I’m told that some people mistake blogging for journalism and that being honest about your influences, biases, and sources, is key to being taken credibly. More importantly I’m told that some people mistake food journalism for actual journalism — and that’s just silly. (Although in many cases over the last decade I think people have mistaken the “news” we see on TV and in newspapers for actual journalism. So who even knows what’s what anymore.) But enough of that. I was trying to come clean.
Feel free to ignore my recommendations because:
- I am always on the lookout for new kosher products that expand the selection that kosher kitchens can choose from when trying to create really good meals
- Because the selection kosher food (especially cured meat) is so poor, I’m likely to like just about anything that comes my way in this category
- The nice people at the Springfield Smoked Fish Company fedexed me some free lox. I asked them for it when i read that they were trying to make a new product called Salmon Bacon and they generously complied.
This new product is called “Brekfish“. OK. The name is wacky. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. Or does it. Actually, I think this name doesn’t matter that much. But the tagline of the product is “Salmon Bacon”. And I think that does matter. For some insane reason, I thought there would be some baconesque quality to the “bacon” and even though it was made of salmon, I couldn’t get the expectation of bacon out of my head. Salmon bacon does not in fact taste like bacon. However, once I got past my expectations I was free to enjoy it for what it was — a fryable, crispy, super salty, perfect addition to my bagel and cream cheese or bagel and egg sandwich. (In the faux Judaism that is Noah’s bagels – not good bagels – you would call that ‘bagel mit egg’.)
At first I was surprised at how salty the Brekfish was. Because I grabbed some of it almost straight from the frying pan and chomped on it. But in fact, I think it was not much saltier than some cuts of bacon I’ve had with nothing else. But it’s when the Brekfish is put in the sandwich that the magic happens. The couple of slices I fried brought my sandwich to life. The saltiness was muted and replaced with a smokey sharp counterpart to the smooth bagel flavor and eggy goodness. My bagel was some crap from the supermarket, but the salmon bacon made it delicious. Imagine what it could do with a good bagel. I dare to dream!
Along with the salmon bacon, I got a couple of its cousins. The whitefish spread was super oily in a good way. It especially worked spread generously on my toasted bagel. But the lox they sent was superlative. Normally I’m not a huge fan of mild flavors, but this lox had a slightly thicker cut, and the best way to describe the slices on my tongue is ‘creamy’. Just lovely.
The number of food producers trying to innovate in the kosher food space is tiny. There are many cool products that could easily be kosher, but the producers don’t take the time. The market isn’t big enough, or at least they think this. And frankly, the folks who validate food as kosher are often perceived as not much better than an extortion racket to keep certain sects of orthodox Jews in the money. A local example to Seattle:
In February, Leah’s Bakery and Café, the only kosher retail bakery in Seattle, closed its doors. Leah’s had been providing the local community with freshly prepared challahs, knishes and kugels, as well as making sandwiches and soups, for 10 years. Owner Leah Jaffee sited chronic financial concerns as the primary reason for the bakery’s closure.
“We liked making those things, but it was sort of a community service, as far as profit margins went,” Jaffee said.
The bakery had always been a money-loser, according to Jaffee. But she said that the additional costs associated with new policies recently adopted by the Va’ad concerning fruits and vegetables pushed the enterprise beyond financial feasibility.
“I just couldn’t justify having someone come in and wash one head of lettuce for $20 if I was only making six box lunches,” Jaffee said. “That’s more than $3 per sandwich just for your lettuce.” — JT News, July 2008
That said, the folks at Springfield Smoked Fish are trying. And for that, I salute them. And for the fact that they’re succeeding, I thank them and recommend that you buy some of their fish. These small specialty producers need all the help they can get and should be rewarded with your patronage. I think that once you try their products you’ll keep coming back simply because they’re excellent.
p.s. Anyone who wants to open up a company that does nothing but try to emulate fantastic pork products and create gorgeous cured meats and sausages out of kosher ingredients (I think turkey comes the closest to pork in many cases) will get my undying love and numerous biased posts recommending their products on this website.