(last updated: December 17, 2015)
Troubled times call for serious thought. It seems we are barely done with one crisis when we have to get busy rationalizing our fears from the next. As I write this with Paris on my mind, I am staring at a view of the San Bernardino Mountains from the desert in eastern California. Christmas lights ring the palm trees on El Paseo. The holidays are in the air. At a time when suspicion reigns supreme I wonder what good tidings could I possibly bring? This of course led me to think about salmon.
The Ichthys, which you most likely recognize from the bumper sticker on a car, is one of the most visible symbols of Christianity. According to the Quran, the fish is a symbol of eternal life and knowledge. McDonald’s invented the Filet-O-Fish sandwich to honor the Catholic tradition of no meat on Fridays. And in Judaism, the fish is considered a symbol of fertility and luck.
Fish to me during the holiday season says one thing: Gravlax! It was probably the first “fancy” food I ever learned to cook. Now it is one of the top requests I receive when I am invited to a holiday party. “Can you do your fish?” Thank you Georges Lang, Café des Artistes, and The New Basics Cookbook for teaching me that it is easy to impress.
Holiday season means something else to me, as well. I’ve lit Hanukkah candles in Dubai and blessed the bread in halting Hebrew in Albuquerque. Being welcomed makes you welcoming. I’ve lived in plenty of places where I was a million miles from home, but I was never alone. It was always open door policy. Call everyone you know, tell them to bring something, and have plenty of paper plates and plastic silverware on hand. If your table is too small, people can eat on couches. The floor works, too.
So, in this season of joy and questioning, I offer this:
Look around you. Trust, don’t fear. And if someone you know is far from home, open your door. Set a place. And celebrate the goodness of the human spirit, along with a good meal. It is, indeed, the universal prayer.
Peace. Eat. Enjoy.
Gravlax for The Holiday Party
- 2 lbs. filet of salmon
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup kosher salt
- 2 or 3 tsp of coarse ground pepper
- 1 tsp of vodka
- 1 brick
–Cut salmon into two equal pieces, leaving the skin on
–Mix sugar, salt and pepper thoroughly in a small glass bowl
–Dry the fleshy side of salmon and rub with just enough vodka to make it glisten
–Spread the salt/sugar mixture evenly on the flesh, coating it barely
–Do the same to the skin side of the fish as well
–Clap the two flesh sides of the seasoned salmon together like a handshake, forming one thick fish
–Wrap tightly in Saran wrap and place on a flat plate
–Using a brick, or anything large and flat (a half gallon milk container works), place it squarely on top of the wrapped fish
–Place the fish under the weight in the fridge
–Turn every 12 hours or so for two days. Drain liquid in plate as necessary
–After 48 hours or more, separate fillets. Scrape off seasoning. Lay on cutting board
–With your sharpest knife, slice thinly along the bias
–Create a beautiful serving plate. Garnish with ground pepper, sprigs of dill, or go plain. Serve with sliced baguette or very special crackers.