The Perfect Sandwich…And Then Some
We had the perfect memorial for my mother on May 11, and we had the perfect smoked fish platter from Fairway, which included tubs of creamy pickled herring, nova lox as well as baked smoked salmon, two huge white fish, and that most delectable buttery fish that one only encounters at the finest appetizing joints, smoked sablefish. And, Jewish mother that I am, I became so afraid that one platter would not suffice that I threw in a pound of Zabar’s silken “novie.” Mom would have loved it.
But as usual when we host an event, I’m too jittery to eat, and especially an event that was as fraught as a memorial for my larger-than-life mom. I kept circling the room with a half eaten bagel on my plate. Finally, when all the words were said and the tears were shed, our family took a post-prandial stroll in Riverside Park. Down in the park’s lower level, my sister and I both turned to each other and said, “I’m famished.” Our family came back to our apartment and stuffed ourselves with more nova, more whitefish, and bagels. But after our gorging, alas, one whole uneaten whitefish stared me in the eye as if to say: “so, now waddaya gonna do with me?” Even after sending siblings home with doggy bags, we were left with a surfeit of smoked fish and an infinite number of cream cheese tubs.
One of the Chef’s talents is to use what we have. A stump of cabbage will become part of a soup base. Limp romaine will be sauteed to fill a savory omelette, and a few stiff edge pieces of prosciutto will flavor a pasta sauce. So when death gave the Chef smoked fish, he got cooking and I made sandwiches. First I made them for my son, since it’s my tradition to get up at 5:45 AM to make him a perfect sandwich for the 8:00 AM 11-hour train journey back to Montreal. During the workweek, I’d return from library writing sessions to sandwiches of Novie or whitefish and generous schmears of cream cheese on toasted pumpernickel bread. Note: As I’ve recommended before, use Orwashers raisin walnut pumpernickel (top left), a bread with heft, not floppy pre-sliced store brands.
It got so that every time I opened up the refrigerator door I felt like I was living in a fish smokehouse. The remaining whitefish on the plate in the fridge continued to stare at me through its Saran wrap sarong. First, we went from my Jewish heritage to the Chef’s Italian culinary stomping grounds, when he made a smoked salmon alfredo sauce with fettucini. Rich and yummy, and apparently a dish Italian boyfriends use to woo their girlfriends on Valentine’s Day. Then the Chef turned to his native English traditions and opened Jane Grigson’s Fish Book and transformed the last chunks of the baked smoked salmon into Mrs. Nixon’s potted char, a delicate mousse that we served on toast with thinly sliced cucumbers on top. Then as a fitting fish finale, he made kedgeree, a particularly wonderful English melange of basmati rice, boiled eggs, sultanas, curry and Finnan Haddie, basically cold smoked haddock. Well, the Chef swapped in that obstinate whitefish for Finnan Haddie and we learned an important lesson: white fish doesn’t work in a kedgeree. It’s too mushy. Also, for the authentic English curry taste, try to find a curry from Charwood’s or Crosse & Blackwood (“La Flor” curry powder just didn’t make the grade).
After the kedgeree dinner. I just couldn’t face the scraps of lox, the whitefish, disemboweled but still staring with its cloudy eye, the herring (still marinating in tubs of cream). I found myself throwing the last portion of sable into the compost and hoped that I’d someday regain my appetite for all these classic “appetizing” foods.