Bagels, Their History and Lox and Smoked Salmon

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20120505-FoodBagels and Lox.jpg
Bagels and Lox (fillet of brined salmon),
a Jewish American invention
Bagels as we know them today are for the most part an American Jewish invention. They are dense, chewy, boiled-then-baked rolls with a hole, traditionally topped with cream cheese and lox. They originated in eastern Europe and were popularized in New York by Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe in the early 20th century. Good bagels should be chewy enough that your jaws get tired. The idea is the more you chew the more the flavor soaks in. Bagels have traditionally been topped with poppy seeds or sesame seeds and eaten with cream cheese and lox (smoked salmon) or other fish spreads made with herring or whitefish. Blueberry, chocolate chip and Dutch apple bagels found at modern bagel shops are regarded as little more the dense, chewy donuts. Bialys are small bagel-like roll. Named after Bialystok, a city in northeast Poland near the Belarus border, they have matted finish, no hole and almost always stuffed with cooked onions.

Ed Levine wrote in the New York Times: “But what is a bagel, really? What makes it more than simply, as an article in The New York Times declared in 1960, ''an unsweetened doughnut with rigor mortis''? A bagel is a round bread made of simple, elegant ingredients: high-gluten flour, salt, water, yeast and malt. Its dough is boiled, then baked, and the result should be a rich caramel color; it should not be pale and blond. A bagel should weigh four ounces or less and should make a slight cracking sound when you bite into it instead of a whoosh. A bagel should be eaten warm and, ideally, should be no more than four or five hours old when consumed. All else is not a bagel. [Source: Ed Levine, New York Times, December 31, 2003 ]

“A few more stipulations. Bagels do not need six ounces of cream cheese on them. They only need a schmear. Cream cheese made without guar gum is optimal, but it is hard to find...On the subject of salmon, it should be Nova, and it should be sliced to order. A good bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon does not have to be toasted, as contrast with the fat and salt will be provided by the crunchy crust of a properly made bagel exterior. But a buttered bagel should almost always be toasted, so that you get that great, rich melted butter taste. Better yet, you can achieve the same effect if you buy your bagels fresh, still warm from the oven. No toasting needed!”

According to Judaism 101: “Those chewy hockey pucks that you find in your grocer's freezer bear little resemblance to a real bagel. A real bagel is soft, warm and spongy inside, lightly crispy outside. A fresh bagel does not need to be toasted, and should not be. Toasting is a sorry attempt to compensate for a sub-standard bagel.”

Websites and Resources: Virtual Jewish Library ; Judaism101 ; ; Yivo Institute of Jewish Research ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook ; ; Jewish Museum London

New York and the Early History of Bagels

Plain bagel
Ed Levine wrote in the New York Times: “Paris has its baguettes and Dublin its soda bread. San Francisco trades heavily in sourdough, while New Orleans greets each morning with beignets. It wouldn't be Philadelphia without soft pretzels and it couldn't be Bonn without pumpernickel. But no city, perhaps in the history of the world, is so closely identified with a breadstuff as New York is with the bagel. [Source: Ed Levine, New York Times, December 31, 2003 ]

“The bagel is to a Sunday in Manhattan as the mint julep is to Louisville, Ky., on the first Saturday in May — an indispensable accompaniment to ritual, whether that be a brunch on the Upper West Side or the Kentucky Derby itself. Whether eaten plain or with a ''schmear'' of cream cheese, with whitefish salad or a slice of Nova, with sesame seeds or salt, toasted or untoasted, by Jew, gentile, Muslim, Buddhist or agnostic, the bagel has, for more than a century, helped define breakfast in New York.

The bagel has been a part of Jewish cuisine for at least 400 years. According to Leo Rosten's “The Joys of Yiddish,” there are references to it as far back as Poland in 1610. Eastern European Jews brought bagels to the U.S. in the 1880s. Levine wrote: “The derivation of the word bagel is unclear. Joan Nathan, the author of ''Jewish Cooking in America'' (Knopf, 1998), says it comes from the German verb ''biegen,'' ''to bend.'' The late Alan Davidson wrote in his ''Oxford Companion to Food'' that the word arose from the Yiddish ''beygel,'' itself taken from the German ''beugel,'' meaning ring or bracelet. One bit of bagel lore has it that the bagel was invented in 1683, when a Jewish baker in Vienna baked a hard roll in the shape of a stirrup — ''bügel'' in German — as a thank-you gesture to the cavalry-leading King John III Sobieski of Poland, who had saved the city from Turkish invaders.”

Early History of Bagels and Local 338

Levine wrote in the New York Times: “It is indisputable that Eastern European immigrants arriving in the United States at the turn of the 20th century brought the bagel with them to the streets of the Lower East Side, where they were baked and sold on the street stacked on sticks. And it is likewise indisputable that in the manner of so many great American movements, the rise of the bagel is inextricably tied to that of a trade union, specifically Bagel Bakers Local 338, a federation of nearly 300 bagel craftsmen formed in Manhattan in the early 1900's. [Source: Ed Levine, New York Times, December 31, 2003 ]

19th century vendor of bagels and other baked goods

“Local 338 was by all accounts a tough and unswerving union, set up according to strict rules that limited new membership to the sons of current members. By 1915 it controlled 36 bagel bakeries in New York and New Jersey. These produced the original New York bagels, the standard against which all others are still, in some manner, judged.

“What did they look like? At a mere three ounces, about half the size of the bagel you'll find at a corner coffee cart in Midtown Manhattan, union bagels were smaller and denser than their modern descendants, with a crustier crust and a chewier interior. They were made entirely by hand, of high-gluten flour, water, yeast, salt and malt syrup, mixed together in a hopper. Rollers would then take two-inch strips of dough and shape them. A designated bagel boiler would boil the bagels in an industrial kettle for less than a minute, which gave the bagel its tight skin and eventual shine. Finally, a third bagel man would put the bagels on thick redwood slats covered with burlap and place them in a brick or stone-lined oven. The finished bagels were put on strings five dozen at a time and left on the doorknobs of retail accounts.

“Local 338 held its ironclad grip on the bagel market for nearly half a century, until industrial bagel-making machines were introduced to the market in the early 1960's. According to Mike Edelstein, who is an owner of Bagel Oasis, and a bagel maker for more than 40 years, ''A machine could roll 300 dozen bagels an hour with one man operating it, while two experienced hand rollers could only produce 125 dozen in the same amount of time.''

“The introduction of industrial bagel machines meant any retailer or retail-bakery owner could make bagels with nonunion help. Local 338 was essentially broken. Only a few bagel bakers — the best bagel bakers, is how I think of them — would uphold its ideals.”

Daniel Thompson, Inventor of the Automated Bagel-making Machine

Daniel Thompson, who died in 2015 at the age of 94, is credited with inventing the automated bagel-making machine. Lily Rothman wrote in the Washington Post: One of Union 338’s “staunchest beliefs was that a machine could never make a bagel. In 1963, Daniel Thompson, a World War II vet and the son of a bagel man, proved them wrong. His machine could produce about 2,500 bagels in an hour. He contacted the nation’s largest bagel bakeries about leasing prototypes. All three — Lender’s, Abel’s Bagels of Buffalo and Bagel Kings of Hialeah near Miami — were experimenting with freezing, which would allow surplus production and long-distance shipping. But all three were having trouble baking enough bagels to expand their reach.” [Source:Lily Rothman, Washington Post, March 23, 2012]

Thompson and his bagel machine

Avishay Artsy wrote on, Daniel’s father Mickey Thompson owned a bakery in Boyle Heights, then the heart of LA’s Jewish community, and he watched his dad futz around for decades to figure out bagel mechanization. His dad could never produce a satisfying bagel, but Daniel Thompson – a math teacher – achieved his dad’s dream and built the first commercially-viable prototype in 1958. [Source: Avishay Artsy,, October 20, 2016]

“Until the mid-1960s, if you wanted a bagel, you’d have to go to a heavily Jewish city.” Also, “When it comes to bagels, it’s a given that an old-school handmade bagel is going to taste way better than a mass-produced one bought at a supermarket. But rolling and shaping the dough before boiling it in water and then baking it is a real chore. ...After Thompson leased his first machine to another entrepreneur, Murray Lender, that changed forever. You can find Lender’s Bagels and other brands at grocery stores and cafés around the world. But that’s not all Thompson accomplished. The fold-up Ping Pong table? He came up with that one, too.”

Murray Lender, the Man Who Popularized Bagels

Lily Rothman wrote in the Washington Post: “We can’t know who baked the first bagel. The path from when the first circle of malty dough was moved from a vat of boiling water into an oven to now, to you with your lox spread and Sunday paper, is murky. But we can be sure that Murray Lender, who died at 81 in March 2012, , was the most important man in the modern history of bagels. Lender’s bagels may taste like white bread with a hole, but what they lack in authenticity they make up for in meaning. [Source: Lily Rothman, Washington Post, March 23, 2012 ++]

“When Murray Lender’s father opened a bakery in New Haven, Conn., in 1927, he was one of many bakers who brought the staple from Eastern Europe to Jewish neighborhoods in the United States. Bagels were a niche food, but their production was sophisticated. The International Bagel Bakers Unionformed in 1907, and New York City’s Local 338 had a lock on the breakfast bread; at its height, the union comprised about 300 workers, each of whom was an original member or the son of a member. The bakers — benchmen who rolled dough, kettlers who boiled and ovenmen who executed the final step — protected the secrets of their craft. It took years to develop a proper bagel muscle on the outside of the elbow. ++

Murray Lender

“The union was powerful and effective. The Jewish Bakers’ Voice, their newspaper, noted after a strike in 1953 that bagels had “become domesticated in America and [are] today a 100 per cent American product like spaghetti and chow mein... In consequence, the bagel strike was a national event, which hit the front pages of the newspapers.” But in those newspaper articles, the writers took care to explain what exactly the workers were fighting over. After all, most readers outside New York had never seen a bagel, much less tasted one.” ++

After Daniel Thompson invented the bagel-making machine in 1963, “Only Lender’s, with Murray Lender as chief executive, saw the future. Lender’s became the first bakery to mass-produce and freeze bagels. By the late 1960s, the company produced thousands a day to be sold across the nation. Bagels became a reality in corners of the country where they had previously been a rumor, a whisper in the wind off New York Harbor. The union tried to fight back, but it was too late. It shriveled and Lender’s kept growing, shaping the bagel literally and metaphorically. By the end of the 1970s, more than 80 percent of the million bagels made each day by Lender’s were sold to non-Jewish households. Americans of all stripes knew and loved bagels. ++

“But what about the taste? At first the bagel machine had an unintended consequence: The dough gummed up the works, so it was changed to be less sticky. Then it turned out that, to sell bagels to people around the country, it helped to make them taste like white bread. Then people wanted “flavors.” Murray Lender’s bagel was very different from what his father would have made in the old country. In 1997, Eric Asimov described in the New York Times the Lender’s Line, an “informal border” between those who eat supermarket bagels and those who know better. And just this month, when Consumer Reports announced that Lender’s Original was one of the best bagels available, the New York Post lashed out at the foolishness of such an idea. ++

“But Murray Lender is not a villain. His frozen toroids opened the door for the proliferation of bagel shops. Consumers across the world met the bagel through Lender’s and later demanded hot, fresh, New York-style bagels. And in the towns where those shops are yet to open, they still have Lender’s. New Yorkers can be proud of their bagel heritage and still recognize that Lender was a bagel big shot. ++

“Barry Ansel, a close friend of the Lender family and vice president of sales at Lender’s from 1976 to 1994, told me years ago, when I started researching the history of the bagel, that Murray Lender’s genius was to convince the world that bagels were a good alternative to toast or English muffins. It was a simple idea but was also full of chutzpah, an innovation that would forever change the history of noshing. “He saw that it didn’t matter if you were Irish or English or whatever,” Ansel said. “Everybody could enjoy a bagel.”“ ++

Big, Multi-Flavored Bagels

rainbow bagel

Levine wrote; “How and why did bagels get so big? The bagel sold at the excellent Ess-a-Bagel on First Avenue is a whopping seven ounces now, or more than twice the size of the traditional union bagel of yore. (It's a pretty good bagel, truth to tell, though sweetened with honey.) The ones at H&H Bagels on the Upper West Side aren't much smaller than that, and are baked with so much sugar that they almost qualify as a dessert. [Source: Ed Levine, New York Times, December 31, 2003]

Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, a professor of performance studies at New York University who is working on a social history of the bagel, said, ''The increase in size was an attempt to make a more competitive and more profitable product consistent with the supersized trend'' of the 1980's. Bagel cafes, she explained, were a trendy, quick-service franchise concept that spread the gospel of fresh bagels across the country. The bagels served by chains like Bagel Nosh, Einstein Brothers and Bruegger's gradually became bigger and bigger as the notion of supersizing spread, and as the businesses morphed from breakfast and coffee operations into full-fledged sandwich-making restaurants. The bagels needed to be bigger to hold the fillings. New York's independent bagelries soon followed suit.

“Chain bagel shops also popularized the seemingly inexhaustible array of bagel flavors. Mr. Edelstein of Bagel Oasis said that when he began baking bagels, there were only plain, salt, poppy and sesame bagels, and that he made 10 plain bagels for every salted, poppy or sesame bagel. Now, there are bagels flavored with blueberry, cranberry-orange and pesto, even curry. I'm begrudgingly willing to let cinnamon-raisin into the bagel pantheon, and certainly pumpernickel, even ''everything.'' But if God had wanted sun-dried tomatoes put into bagels, he would have put more bagel bakers in Italy.”

Best and Worst Bagels in New York

Ed Levine wrote in the New York Times: “Where can you find the best bagel in New York City? It was with” that question “and more in mind that I set out, scarcely a month ago, to eat bagels in all five boroughs and to determine, to the best of my palate's ability, what makes a great and authentic New York bagel. I visited more than 50 establishments. I ate more than three times that number of bagels. In the process, I both horrified practitioners of the carbohydrate-phobic Atkins diet and discovered no less than half a dozen varieties of bagel so good they need no cheese, butter or smoked fish to accompany them. [Source: Ed Levine, New York Times, December 31, 2003]

Absolute Bagels

“Absolute Bagels on the Upper West Side, I salute you! Terrace Bagels, in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn, huzzah! Cheers to Bagel Oasis, in Fresh Meadows, Queens, and to Murray's Bagels in Chelsea. Hot Bialys in Jamaica, Queens? Bagelry in Murray Hill? They are all superb. But I also had bagels so despicably bad the people responsible for baking them should be incarcerated. New York may be the nation's bagel capital, but street vendors selling rubbery steamed bagels abound, not to mention local McDonald's franchises selling bagels topped with egg, cheese and bacon. Even such Midwestern depredations as blueberry bagels have gained a stronghold in certain precincts of New York City. The bagel as concept is ubiquitous in New York. But not all bagels are the same. Some are to be derided.

“Sam Thongkrieng of Absolute Bagels on the Upper West Side is... a member of a large group of Thai bagel makers spread throughout New York's most prominent bagel shops. Mr. Thongkrieng came to New York in 1980 via Bangkok and college in London, and immediately, he said, started working in bagel shops. ''The moment I ate a bagel,'' he remembered, ''I said to myself 'This is something different.' '' After apprenticing at a chain bagel restaurant called Bagel Nosh, then at Zaro's and Ess-a-Bagel, he opened Absolute in 1990. If you ask for a dark, well-baked bagel there, you'll taste something near perfection: a bagel that is crunchy, not too dense or sweet, and just chewy enough. But still quite large. For a real retro taste, it is necessary to order Mr. Thongkrieng's minibagel — a perfect simulacrum of the 1950's New York bagel.

“Also in Manhattan, there is Murray's Bagels, Adam Pomerantz's minichain of excellent and beautifully appointed bagelries, named for his bagel-loving father. Mr. Pomerantz left a successful career on Wall Street to open Murray's, but he surely has his dad's soul. His hand-rolled bagels are crisp and chewy and dark, with a terrific shine. They would be even better, I think, if he used malt to sweeten them, not sugar.

“The Bagelry is the third of Manhattan's triumvirate of bagel gems, owned by Bobby Madorski, whose grandfather was also a bagel man, and who won the family's first bagel bakery in a poker game 60 years ago. The younger Mr. Madorski seems to be a bit of a gambler himself. He is the first serious bagel baker in New York to make his regular-size bagels exclusively by machine (he still hand rolls his minibagels, which must be special ordered). The gamble has paid off. Mr. Madorski's bagels are about the smallest regular-size bagels available in New York, and they are absolutely delicious; crusty, chewy and just salty enough. (Not to speak heresy, but his flat bagels, perfect for vertical toasting, are also fantastic, crunchy and just barely pliant.)

modern bagel machine

“Terrace Bagels, which sits regally near a corner of Prospect Park in Brooklyn, across from the storied Farrell's bar, is a wonderful example of New York food purveyors at their maddening best: it is lamb dressed as mutton. The bagel bins are small. There is no evidence anywhere that bagels have been boiled, much less baked. Most of the other food on display is Italian, rather than Jewish. But the bagels that miraculously materialize from Louis Thompson's hidden ovens are extremely flavorful; yeasty, with just a hint of sourness. Mr. Thompson's principal bagel roller is Vicharn Tangchitsumran (also known as Boone), who has been hand rolling bagels for more than 30 years. As the Michelin guides put it, he is worth a detour.

“As is a trip up to Fresh Meadows, Queens, where Mike Edelstein and Abe Moskowitz run the incomparable Bagel Oasis, overlooking the nearby Long Island Expressway. Mr. Edelstein and Mr. Moskowitz are former members of Local 338, and together they have more than 100 years of experience baking bagels. The result is a bagel that is fairly petite by today's standards, that has decent chew, excellent flavor, and manages to be dense without being leaden. Marvelous. They also make a fine bagel twist and a terrific pretzel made of bagel dough. If you like that sort of thing, that is.

“I don't much like the eponymous bialys at Hot Bialys, Kitti Phongtankuel's little shop on Queens Boulevard, a stone's throw from the Queens County Courthouse, but I sure do admire the bagels. Mr. Phongtankuel, another alumnus of Bagel Nosh, bought the place in 1983 from Nettie Berkowitz — and promptly set about making fabulous bagels, including a newfangled flat bagel he calls a Bagel Delite. Some malt in the recipe would improve things, but these are still terrific bagels, far superior to the large doughy orbs that many New Yorkers have come to think of, incorrectly, as ''good bagels.''

Six Worth Their Salt. Here are six sources for traditional, and excellent, bagels in New York City: 1) Absolute Bagels — 2788 Broadway (between 107th and 108th Streets), (212) 932-2052; 2) Bagelry — 429 Third Avenue (at 30th Street), (212) 679-9845; 3) Murray's Bagels -- 242 Eighth Avenue (between 22nd and 23rd Streets), (646) 638-1335; and 500 Sixth Avenue (between 12th and 13th Streets), (212) 462-2830; 4)Terrace Bagels -- 224 Prospect Park West (at Windsor Place), Brooklyn; (718) 768-3943; 5) Bagel Oasis -- 183-12 Horace Harding Expressway, Fresh Meadows, Queens; (718) 359-9245; 6) Hot Bialys -- 116-63 Queens Boulevard (at 78th Avenue), Forest Hills, Queens; (718) 544-0900.

Lox, Bagels and Smoked Salmon

lox on a bagel

As to when lox, cream cheese and bagels became a team, Judith Weinraub wrote in the Washington Post, “According to Kraft Foods, which owns Philadelphia Cream Cheese, the first ad that mentions the marriage was in 1954. ("With a fresh, well-baked bagel and delicious lox — nothing will do but the very best cream cheese you can buy.") But anecdotally, many families remember serving the two together earlier than that.” Fish producer David “Sklar speculates that somebody probably came up with the notion that lox, which was quite salty, would benefit from a healthy dose of bland cream cheese. As for when the happy couple met the bagel, well, who knows? "That just came naturally I guess," says Sklar. "It wasn't designed that way. Somebody probably wanted a lox sandwich, and was told there wasn't any bread, but there were bagels. "I guess it's like when a boy and a girl meet, and it works out fine." [Source: Judith Weinraub, Washington Post, December 31, 2003 /=]

Lox is a fillet of brined salmon. Traditionally, lox is served on a bagel with cream cheese, and is usually garnished with tomato, sliced red onion, cucumbers and sometimes capers. The word lox is derived from the Yiddish word for salmon (laks), which is ultimately derived from the Indo-European word for salmon (laks). The word lox has cognates in numerous Indo-European languages. For example, cured salmon in Scotland and Scandinavian countries is known by different versions of the name Gravlax or gravad laks. (lax or laks means 'salmon' in the Scandinavian countries.) A "lox and a schmear" refers to a bagel and cream cheese with lox. [Source: Wikipedia]

Lox and smoked salmon are sometimes used interchangeably and are regarded as the same thing. But technically they are not. According to Food Republic: “Smoked salmon is a blanket term for any salmon: wild, farmed, fillet, steak, cured with hot or cold smoke. Lox refers to salmon cured in a salt-sugar rub or brine (like gravlax). Nova is cured and then cold-smoked (unlike lox or gravlax). There’s also hot-smoked salmon, which is cured, then fully cooked with heated wood smoke. [Source: Food Republic, January 21, 2013 +/]

“Now, to acknowledge the purists. Real, authentic lox is made from only the belly portion of the salmon. Yup, like pork, the belly of the fish is typically the richest, fattiest and most succulent portion. Cured and smoked, it’s saltier and more…uh…”aromatic” than its milder non-belly counterpart, and if you’re lucky enough to try it on a bagel with cream cheese, it’s hard to go back. When you buy lox anywhere other than an old-school appetizing counter, even if it’s clearly labeled “lox,” what you’re almost certainly getting is simply smoked salmon. And frankly, that’s fine by us.” +/

First-Rate Smoked Salmon

smoked salmon

On what is required for first rate smoked salmon, Avi Attias, the proprietor of Banner Smoked Fish in Brooklyn, one of the oldest fish smokehouses in the country, told the Washington Post "The reality is that salmon are like people — all different," he says. “Different colors. Different styles. You have to taste it. If it looks good, you buy it the first time. If it tastes good, you buy it the second time." Attias doesn't sell fish directly to consumers. He buys salmon from many parts of the world and then cures, smokes, slices and packages them in whatever ways his steady clients want. [Source: Judith Weinraub, Washington Post, December 31, 2003 /=]

Mark Federman of Russ & Daughters on Manhattan's Lower East Side told the Post: "When I joined the business and asked my father if he would teach me how to tell a good fish from a bad fish, I was under the impression that he would tell me everything, and then I would know...After 10 years, you may know a good fish from a bad fish. It takes that long to have a palate and get that sense of feel and touch for the salmon." /=\

Judith Weinraub wrote in the Washington Post, Listening to the two professionals reveals some useful guidelines for buying high-quality smoked salmon — especially if the salmon is sliced in front of the consumer. (Presliced, packaged salmon ranges from that secondary market referred to by Attias to high-end "designer" salmon, where the labels provide useful information about where the fish come from and how they've been handled.): 1) Freshness: In an ideal world, it's best to purchase fish within 24 hours after it's been smoked. (For example, freshly smoked fish arrives at Russ & Daughters four or five days each week; some of it is directly shipped to customers). However, refrigerated, smoked salmon will be fine for a week. If you're in doubt, ask. 2) Fatness: One of the few cases where a fat belly is good. Farmed salmon (and most of the smoked salmon in this country is farmed) are more likely to be fat because their food — proteins, oils, fats — are provided to them; they don't have to fend for themselves in the wild. 3) Moistness: Dry sides of salmon will naturally taste dry. Moist fish is preferred by most people. 4) Texture: A firm side of salmon is desirable; a hard one is not. 5) Complexion: No blood clots. No bruises either. /=\

one way of smoking salmon

“Knowing the different styles of curing salmon is helpful too, although not a deal-breaker. "It's a matter of preference, of taste," says Attias. A wet cure means the fish have been submerged in a salty brine before being smoked. A dry cure indicates that salt has been rubbed directly into the flesh of the fish. In each case, the fish is rinsed before smoking. A wet cure often yields a better looking salmon and is the predominant curing method today. A dry cure, however, is often used for high-end smoked salmon, especially those that emphasize particular spicing. A dry cure is also sought by certain delicatessens and bagel stores that like to provide very long slices of fish. Dry cured salmon is likely to be a little leaner than wet cured (salmon lose more body fat during the dry-curing process).” /=\

Making First-Rate Smoked Salmon

Describing a place where quality smoked salmon is made,Judith Weinraub wrote in the Washington Post, “Banner Smoked Fish in Coney Island, which processes 40,000 to 50,000 pounds of fish each week, is a full-service operation: curing, smoking, slicing (if desired) and packing. Water (on the floors) and smoke (in the air) pervade the place. There's a wet room where the fish are thawed (if frozen), hosed down and cured, and two tables for splitting and cleaning. There's a smoking room with five wood-fired ovens, run by two computers, for both hot- and cold-smoked fish. (According to Attias, it really doesn't matter what kind of wood is used. What does matter is the temperature: the ovens are heated to 175 degrees Fahrenheit for hot-smoked salmon and no more than 73 to 75 degrees F. for cold-smoked. Hot-smoking fish is a speedy process; the fish goes from a raw to a cured to a smoked state in 24 hours. Cold smoking takes longer, maybe two to five days for the curing process, depending on size, and 12 hours more for the smoking. [Source:Judith Weinraub, Washington Post, December 31, 2003 /=]

“It's a Tuesday — well before the weekend rush when stores demand freshly smoked salmon. So Attias and Federman can make time to talk. Huddled between trolleys stacked with trays of farmed Norwegian, wet-cured Nova Scotia-Style salmon on one side and European-style, dry-cured smoked salmon on the other, the two old friends go though a regular routine. Federman is pickier than most. He wants to know whether Attias will have the fish he needs for the week. At what stage of the processing is it? — In the brine? About to be smoked? Ready for sale? — and he takes a look at it. Together, the men examine already smoked sides of salmon looking at details such as blemishes and blood clots (not appealing to customers), moisture or dryness, texture, even the "figure" of the fish (and in this case, fat is good). That's particularly important with wild salmon, which are usually leaner and more variable. They feel the fish too — especially the belly. "It has to be firm but tender," says Federman. "We don't want it too soft, too hard or mushy." Then if the fish passes Federman's eye and feel inspection, he buys it, sometimes asking Attias to remove the back of the fish and sell him just the belly. "I pay premium prices," he says, "but that's what I want." /=\

another way of smoking salmon

“On this day Attias steers Federman away from a good-looking, lustrous side of salmon with, alas, a slight crack. "Otherwise it would have been perfect," he says. "Cracks make it more difficult for the retailer to sell," explains Federman. They both agree on the merits of one plump-bellied, unblemished side of salmon. "This one's a 90 on a scale of exceptional quality," says Attias. "Maybe an 89 after the bones and trims. But it's still the same fish." /=\

“When Attias tries to sell Federman a particular side of fish, and Federman wavers (maybe every fourth or fifth fish), he tastes it — not off the top, though. That would ruin it for other purchasers. Sometimes the sample comes from the back, where the fish has already been scored in the thickest part for an even cure. Some of the salmon he's shown he rejects as too thin. Others, which have good belly fat in the center, but are otherwise lean, he asks purveyors like Banner to butcher for him, so he can buy only the bellys. "The lean part of the fish takes on more salt," he says. "I'd have to throw it out." That of course, leaves those thin slabs for Attias to deal with. He shrugs. "There's a market for all different kinds of fish, from the top to the bottom," he says. /=\

The less-than-superstar sides of fish will go to the secondary market: mass purveyors of presliced packaged fish such as supermarkets chains. There are many more of them than the ones Federman is after, especially if they're line-caught wild salmon, which thrash around more than net-caught farmed fish. "It's hard to find a perfect one," says Federman. "They're like people."” /=\

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons except Thompson and his bagel machine, New York Times, and Absolute Bagels, Trip Advisor

Text Sources: Internet Jewish History Sourcebook; “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Old Testament Life and Literature” by Gerald A. Larue, New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Wikipedia, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine,, London, Library of Congress, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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