A last-minute Shavuot shoppers on the hunt for whole salmon found unexpected “treasure” at a high-end kosher gourmet market in Brooklyn:
In the highly-charged holiday atmosphere of Jewish Brooklyn just hours before the start of the holiday of Shavuot, a newly-married young couple took mom and the family van this week on a hunt for a sparkling salmon to present as the main entree for guests in their new home.
Racing through one neighborhood after the next with an Arutz Sheva reporter in tow, the family searched every fish store they could find -- but with literally hundreds of thousands of Jews in the area, not one baby salmon was left on the ice. Married less than a week, the new bride was facing her first crisis: what could she and her mother make to impress her new husband for their first holiday meal?
The first stop in Boro Park was a failure, with the store already closed. The second store, not far from the first, no longer existed. A third establishment was tried, this one a high quality place on King's Highway in the Syrian Jewish neighborhood of Flatbush. Busy beyond belief, Avner's was quickly running out of supplies. As customers stood pleading for orders, Israeli-born manager Amnon directed his staff in Hebrew and English while trying to explain the hoped-for fish simply could not be had.
“You don't want this fish,” the harried fish monger told the mom.“You need a baby salmon and we ran out of them this morning. We only have the big ones left. Show her,” he ordered an Asian man half his size. Wordlessly, the older man disappeared into the back and a minute later reappeared with a lovely, bright salmon, which he obligingly rinsed and weighed. "Fourteen and a half pounds,” he announced. “One hundred and forty dollars.”
Amnon shrugged expressively and added in Hebrew, “Don't you think I would have given you one by now if I had one? It is crazy here. There is nothing. Here is my card,” he said, “and next time call me first and let me know what you need, for heavens' sakes. I will even deliver it to you, free of charge. Go look around and if you can't find anything, come back. I will be open for a while yet.”
The bride tensed when she saw mom returning to the vehicle empty-handed. “No fish?”
“Let's go to Pomegranate,” mom replied.
A gourmet supermarket with prices to match, the boutique food emporium has become a mecca for the more upscale hareidi-religious Jewish population that has acquired a wider knowledge of the planet's culinary offerings along with increased income. This is the place where one can easily find a choice piece of steak for up to $100 a pound, more than $200 a kilo, and expect the service to match.
Natty, one of the store's customer service managers, was standing by the display case when mom raced in. He immediately asked how he could help. She didn't bother with niceties. “We need a whole fresh baby salmon, enough for eight at the table, do it butterfly, leave the head and tail.”
Three fish cutters were working feverishly behind the counter. Packages of thick crimson salmon were displayed in the case and customers were coming and going. “Did you call? Do you have an order waiting?” he asked.
Different neighborhood, higher stakes but the same frantic activity and same question on this holiday in which Jews celebrate the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. It is a widespread custom to eat dairy products and fish – anything but meat, in fact – for at least the first meal of the holiday of Shavuot, also known as the Festival of Weeks. The tradition stems from the fact that until the giving of the Torah, which contains the kosher laws, Jews had no specific slaughtering guidelines to follow.
On Shavuot, the first meal commemorates the period immediately following the giving of the Torah, during which Jews ate dairy as they had not yet had time to properly slaughter and prepare meat for their meals.
“There are no whole salmon left,” Natty said.
Mom didn't bat an eyelash. “Okay. We are in an emergency situation here,” she replied, staring him down. “Suggest something.”
Natty had plenty of ideas. There were other options, including a good-sized fresh-water blackfish, a terrific find with firm, white, sweet flesh. Because it was so close to the start of the holiday, which lasts two days outside of Israel, the fish was selling for a lower price at that hour.
“I'll take the blackfish,” mom said. “Butterfly prep, keep the head and tail, and I need it fast.” (Butterfly prep means to remove all the bones, leaving the fish fillets attached to the skin, with the head and tail still intact so it can be stuffed whole. It is an intricate, skilled process with blackfish, which are anatomically complex.)
“And I need to know what to stuff it with – I've never stuffed a blackfish,” she added.
Oops. Natty was stumped. “I'm not the recipe guy. Let's get Shimmy,” he said. “He's great at this.” One of the Pomegranate fish gurus, Shimmy arrived within 30 seconds of the chirp on Natty's walkie talkie.
“Stuffing? I am not sure I would do that with blackfish,” he murmured.“Hmmm... Instead I would sear it with olive oil and dill, lemon and fresh garlic, maybe white wine....”
Mom disagreed. Her daughter wanted a stuffed fish.
“Okay. Then consider using ground fish for the stuffing,” he suggested,“with spices and perhaps toss in some vegetables.”
Natty handed her the butterflied blackfish, its toothy smile still intact, as Shimmy disappeared back into the crowd, walkie talkie chirping. Grabbing a roll of frozen gefilte fish, Mom fought her way to the vegetable section to pick up baby red potatoes, grape tomatoes, fresh ginger root, garlic, dill and red onion. Beer, honey, fresh lemon and olive oil for the marinade was already in good supply at her daughter's home. She raced back to the van.
“Did they have salmon?” her daughter asked. “They had something better,” mom answered, launching a new tradition for the new family with the celebration of the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai.
Holiday and Sabbath Stuffed Blackfish
1 4-5 lb blackfish (2 kg), butterfly prepped
1 roll of frozen gefilte fish, partially thawed
1 qt box red grape tomatoes, sliced in half
1 lg red onion, roughly chopped
2 lg heads fresh garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 3 in piece of fresh ginger root, peeled, thinly sliced and slivered
1 bunch fresh dill, checked and washed, chopped fine
2 bottles light beer
half bottle semi-sweet white wine
4 T honey
1 lime, juiced
¼ c olive oil
1/8 c grapeseed oil
baking twine, cut into three pieces
black pepper, oregano to taste
Marinade: (preferably overnight, or at least 4 hours)
Combine half of the garlic and ginger, half of the lime juice, 2 T honey, 1 bottle of beer, all of the olive oil and pour over and massage into the fish in a pan.
(Gefilte fish should be thawing during this time in refrigerator, if during the day. Otherwise leave in freezer.)
Discard marinade when ready to bake, and start anew.
Place fish back in the pan on its side.
Sprinkle garlic and ginger on the insides, with half the grapeseed oil, a pinch of black pepper, a bit of dill, a squeeze of lime and a drizzle of honey.
Split gefilte fish roll lengthwise, using sharp knife. Spread out the two halves so that the fish fills the blackfish completely.
Close the flap of blackfish so that it is stuffed, and closed.
Tie the fish loosely closed with baking twine at both ends and in the middle.
Pour remaining bottle of beer over the fish.
Add the potatoes, onions, tomatoes, remaining dill, oregano, honey, and lime juice to the pan on both sides of the fish. Pour the white wine over everything, and the remaining grapeseed oil over the fish.
Cover tightly with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees Farenheit for two hours. Uncover and reduce temperature to 325. Bake for half an hour more, basting when necessary with juices from the pan, or more wine. Serve warm or cold, accompanied by chilled Moscato.