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Originally published June 3, 2014 at 6:03 AM | Page modified June 3, 2014 at 4:29 PM

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Artisanal Jewish delis, where everything new is old again

Chefs and artisans are embracing the quickly disappearing Jewish deli foods of their grandparents — blintzes and babka, kasha and knishes — and jolting them back to strength with an infusion of modern culinary ideas.


The New York Times

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NEW YORK — Artisanal gefilte fish. Slow-fermented bagels. Organic chopped liver. Sustainable schmaltz.

These aren’t punch lines to a fresh crop of Jewish jokes. They are real foods that recently arrived on the food scene. And they are proof of a sudden and strong movement among young cooks, mostly Jewish Americans, to embrace and redeem the foods of their forebears.

“It turns out that our ancestors knew what they were doing,” said Jeffrey Yoskovitz, an owner of Gefilteria, a company that makes unorthodox versions of gefilte fish and is branching out into slow-brined pickles and strudel. “The recipes and techniques are almost gone, and we have to capture the knowledge before it’s lost.”

The chefs and artisans behind these new enterprises are embracing the quickly disappearing foods of their grandparents — blintzes and babka, kasha and knishes — and jolting them back to strength with an infusion of modern culinary ideas.

Those foods became punch lines in the 1970s, when the health consequences of a steady diet of meat, salt, bread and cream became apparent, and when strong, smelly foods like garlic dill pickles and herring with raw onion seemed dated, even embarrassing.

“Food rejection was part of the assimilation process,” said Devra Ferst, editor of the food blog The Jew & The Carrot.

But now, as the values of the food revolution (fresh, local, sustainable, seasonal) have inspired a whole generation of young Jewish-Americans, they have found ways to bring the two camps together.

“Kosher food didn’t reflect our generation or our tastes,” said Yoskowitz; he and his partner, Liz Alpern, are 29. “And modern food didn’t reflect our history.”

There are new artisanal Jewish delis in Atlanta (The General Muir), Los Angeles (Wexler’s Deli), Mercer Island (Stopsky’s) and San Francisco, the West Coast epicenter, where Shorty Goldstein’s and Wise Sons and the Old World Food Truck compete not only in storefronts but on the streets.

Their goal is preservation, closely followed by improvisation.

They are learning to smoke fish, ferment pickles and bake pumpernickel bread in the ways their ancestors did.

They are holding pop-up Sabbath dinners on Friday nights, where the challah might be swirled with cheddar or drizzled with harissa oil.

And in kitchens and social media, they are building a hive of relationships, skills and ideas that can be described as a virtual shtetl.

SMOKED WHITEFISH SALAD WITH CRÈME FRAÎCHE AND CAPERS

4 to 6 servings

1 small whole smoked whitefish, about 1 pound, or 12 ounces smoked trout, cod or sturgeon fillets

1 cup (8 ounces) crème fraîche

2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion, more to taste

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, more to taste

2 tablespoons drained capers

¼ cup finely chopped dill

¼ cup finely chopped parsley

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, more to taste

1. Using your fingers, pick the meat off the skeleton of the fish, shredding it into a bowl. Discard bones and skin. If using fillets, use your fingers to coarsely shred the meat.

2. In a separate bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients. Gently fold fish into cream mixture until well combined. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes or up to two hours.

3. Before serving, taste and add more onion, mustard or pepper if needed.

— Adapted by The New York Times from Peck’s, New York

SCALLION CREAM CHEESE, BAGEL SHOP STYLE

6 to 8 servings

1 pound cream cheese, preferably without additives or fillers, such as Ben’s or Gina Marie

½ to ¾ cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons freshly chopped scallions or chives

1. Place cream cheese in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix at low speed until smooth. Pour in ½ cup heavy cream and raise the speed to medium-low. Mix until whipped and fluffy, adding more cream if needed to loosen the mixture.

2. At low speed, fold in scallions just until combined. Scrape into a serving bowl and keep refrigerated until ready to serve. (Can be made up to one day ahead.)

— Adapted by The New York Times from Baz Bagel & Restaurant, New York

CHOCOLATE BABKA BREAD PUDDING

8 to 10 servings

Butter for pan

½ loaf challah, at least 1 day old

½ loaf chocolate or cinnamon babka, at least 1 day old

8 eggs

¾ cup sugar

2 cups whole milk

1 cup heavy cream

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch of salt

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a deep 9- by 13-inch baking dish or disposable foil pan. Cut the challah and babka into cubes, about 1 inch square.

2. In a very large bowl, whisk together eggs, sugar, milk, cream, cinnamon and salt. Add the cubed bread and gently mix together, using your hands or a rubber spatula, until the egg mixture is absorbed. Transfer to the prepared pan and distribute evenly, pressing gently to level the top. Bake for 45 minutes, or until firm and crusty on top.

3. Let rest at least 15 minutes before serving. Cut into squares or scoop with a large spoon.

— Adapted by The New York Times from Baz Bagel & Restaurant, New York



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