Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Comfort Me With Mackerel

The first time I heard the phrase "comfort food," I was ten years old. My family and I were having lunch at a trendy new South Florida restaurant that served kitschy diner food in metal TV trays. I was not comforted, and it was barely food.

Since then, I've learned what comfort food really means to me: mackerel. Specifically, smoked mackerel, on a bagel, with a schmear and a thin strata of onion. Granted, my photo above features toast and lettuce, as Jay has pointed out.

I would be eating smoked salmon instead except for what I call the "twice dyed" factor. First, farm raised Chilean Salmon are fed food pellets with beta carotene to improve the color of their flesh, which would otherwise be a dull gray. When that meat is then turned into lox, colors with numbers start showing up. Sure you can get the good stuff, but it'll cost you. And they might still be lying.

Conversely, I can get locally caught and smoked mackerel at Pemberton Farms for under four bucks. I've had a soft spot for this greasy little fish ever since one formative summer during college. Living on our own for the first time, mackerel was the only seafood we could afford besides crab with a "k." We ate it "fresh" from the local grocery store in Waltham, as sushi in Maryland, canned during a hike in West Virginia, and caught with a pink, children's fishing pole in Maine.

Historically, salmon isn't the be all and end all de rigueur smoked fish that we think it is anyway. In fact, you may remember that we didn't eat a whole lot of salmon until about eight years ago, when an explosion of information about it's health benefits made it the pomegranate of 2000. Conveniently, that's also when massive amounts of the farmed raised stuff started flooding in, and when I first became aware of twice dyed lox.

Sure, people have been eating smoked salmon for thousands of years, but it was a lot better than the stuff you're getting blended into your cream cheese. And while it's heavily associated with Jewish food, "my people" were just as likely to be smoking and eating whatever finned and scaled fish they could get their hands on while scattered around the world. And when I build my smoker, I'm going to do the same.

That's a bottle of home brewed kombucha in the background. It imparts that citric tang I crave when I eat bagels and fish, thanks to growing up with ample access to Florida orange juice. Also, it's kind of Russian.

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Jay said...

That doesn't look like any bagel I've ever seen (unless you homegrown hippies have started making oval bagels). And that's not a thin strata of onion, it's a thick slab of lettuce (or something). This sandwich is more green than mackerel and I want no part of it! Keep this up and you'll be stripped of your Jewstripes (which funny enough actually involves putting something back).

Karen B said...

dave and I just had a Zabar's smoked fish eating experience--I highly recommend the white fish--nice and fatty like the mackerel. I've had the sable before too and it's amazing. And, I admit it, the homemade gravlox was a treat--much better than mine, which I think I "overcooked" in the fridge.

There was an article in Vogue a few months ago about salmon farming.

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