Much like any supermarket around the country, ordering anything from the deli department at Fairway can require a wait of some duration on the weekends, and you just have to roll with the punches and try not to shoot too many death glares at the hapless dad ordering half the case’s contents a quarter pound at a time. Being a New York supermarket, though, Fairway also has a smoked fish counter right next to the deli where you don’t have to take a number and usually it’s a very simple in-and-out process…until you get stuck behind the mom ordering two pounds of smoked salmon for her brunch that day, and they don’t bring in another person to help alleviate the growing line behind her as the slicer stands there methodically making her way through the enormous salmon fillet (and then another fillet because one was not enough). I guess it was to be expected–it was Saturday morning on the Upper West Side, after all–but when you only need someone to spoon some alici into a plastic dish and hand it over to you, your patience wears ever thinner as each expertly-cut slice of pink fish is added to the pile.
The mom turned to us with an apologetic smile on her face–at least she waited with us, I suppose–and remarked that maybe she should have just gotten some pizzas or sandwiches after all. I silently grumbled that Fairway has a catering office so she could have at least called ahead, but by then it was a cow’s opinion so it didn’t matter either way. (Incidentally, one way I entertain myself while waiting for such things is mentally flipping through my internal encyclopedia of pop-culture references. That leads me to giggle for no reason, but at least that ‘s better than giving strangers the stink-eye, right?)
That particular shopping trip came to mind when I was slicing through our little piece of gravlax last week, as I was only trying to slice enough to top half a bagel each for Michael and I as a mid-afternoon snack. Getting those gorgeous slices is not nearly as easy as it looks–no wonder the pros slice at the pace they do.
Perhaps I should backtrack a bit–so at the beginning of the month the kind folks at Copper River sent us some Sockeye salmon to play with, and so Michael and I wanted to try out a few new (to us) preparation methods. He took half of a fillet to try his hand at hot smoking and I took mine to turn into gravlax. While his first foray into fish smoking wasn’t entirely successful (the fillet got cooked instead of simply smoked, but we have another fillet in the freezer to try it again), my experiment worked kind of beautifully. My recipe originally came from the New York Times but I got a little “creative” in that I used a lot more pepper than the recipe called for, and no fennel or dill whatsoever.
Fortunately our friend Diana inadvertently reassured my worries when she told me on Facebook that gravlax could basically be made with anything so long as salt and sugar were both used. Those, thankfully, I used in the correct proportions and while the fish had some spice it was not overwhelming (the tarragon I thought was more assertive). I wish I had remembered the fennel, but at the same time I wonder if the fish would have too much of an anise taste even for a licorice-lover like me. And my love of kosher dill pickles notwithstanding, but I’m not much of a dill person after the one bunch we purchased managed to perfume a lot of other things in the fridge during the short time it sat there. Dill-scented tortillas are not the tastiest things out there, in case you were wondering.
So this wasn’t a traditional gravlax–not by a long shot–but on a Fairway pumpernickel bagel slathered with some goat cheese, it was damn tasty. All it requires is a gorgeous piece of fish and a little bit of patience, but you too can be in charge of your own fish counter.
adapted from The New York Times/Melissa Clark
- 1 lb fillet of salmon, skin-on (here we used Alaskan Sockeye), pinbones removed
- 2 tablespoons peppercorns
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 1 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons tarragon leaves