Correcting the record

by Henry Farrell on September 18, 2003

Egregious disinformation abounds on the Internet, but I was a little disappointed to see Josh Chafetz “talking smack”: about smoked salmon. He advances the self-evidently preposterous thesis that

bq. smoked salmon must be eaten with a bagel, cream cheese, and red onion.

Wrong. As any fule kno, smoked salmon ought to be eaten on lightly buttered brown bread, with a couple of drops of lemon juice squeezed over it. The butter should be Irish, and mildly salted (Kerrygold butter is widely available in the UK, continental Europe, US and Canada, and will do quite nicely). Ideally, the brown bread should be made by my mother. Since very few of you have had the privilege of eating my mother’s brown bread (Chris and, obviously, Maria are the lucky exceptions), I’ll share the recipe.


2 ounces butter
1 litre buttermilk
4 cups coarse brown flour (in the US, we’ve found that stoneground whole wheat works quite nicely)
2 cups white flour (cream flour if you can get it, normal white flour if you can’t)
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 tablespoons sugar

Pre-heat the oven to 400 Fahrenheit. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Then pour in the buttermilk and add the butter. Stir until an even consistency is reached. Then grease two rectangular baking trays with butter, and add the mixture to them. Put the trays in the oven – they should take about 30 minutes or so to bake through. Check to make sure that the bread has cooked all the way through (stick a knife in – if the knife brings up liquid you need to cook a little longer). When ready, allow to cool for a few minutes – it should then be ready to serve.



Kieran Healy 09.18.03 at 6:55 am

I was with you until the bit about your mother making it. You need to meet my granny.

But leaving that aside, we can add the following: For god’s sake don’t knead the mixture. It isn’t sourdough you’re making. And you could also make a round loaf, scoring it with a cross before you put it in the oven.


Chris 09.18.03 at 7:10 am

If a product endorsement from me is worth anything – here it is!


Maria 09.18.03 at 7:14 am

And the salmon? None of that Scottish or Norwegian farmed stuff; full of sea lice (when alive), does nasty things to the environement (whatever the economist says), has the texture of striated rubber and tastes like the bottom of an ash tray.

It’s got to be wild Irish salmon, ideally from Cromane, Co. Kerry.

Plus, beware the labelling. Smoked Irish Salmon is what you want. ‘Irish Smoked Salmon’ only means it was smoked in Ireland – the thing probably speaks Norwegian.


Mark 09.18.03 at 10:17 am

Can I have some capers on mine?


Jeremy Osner` 09.18.03 at 2:12 pm

Thanks for the info — here in New Jersey and New York, “Irish Soda Bread” refers to a nasty dry whitish stuff. It is good to see there is an actual traditional recipe lurking behind the corrupted terminology — I will endeavor to make some soon and try it out. You ought to try sometime, a good bagel (see my last night’s blog entry for specifics) with lox and cream cheese and onion — the distinction between “smoked salmon” and “lox” is critical, I am not sure how the process of making lox differs but it is much saltier and has a coarser texture than smoked salmon.


Avram 09.18.03 at 3:12 pm

The difference is that lox isn’t smoked, it’s brine-cured. And it’s very difficult to find outside of NYC. (Not all that easy to find inside either, unless you know where to look. Try Zabar’s, or Russ and Daughters, or Murray’s Bagels. Ask for “belly lox” to be sure of getting the right stuff.)


Terry 09.18.03 at 3:26 pm

I’m with Mark: Without capers you may as well be eating that salmon off of the pavement.


clew 09.18.03 at 7:08 pm

Cream flour, in the States, seems to be “short patent” milled flour:

and can probably be approximated with all-purpose and cake flour

From experiments with a home mill and James Beard’s Irish-soda-bread recipes, using soft wheat is as important as the sifting after milling. With the right wheat, the bread is rich straw-yellow and tender, even using whole unsifted flour.


Pete Guither 09.18.03 at 8:27 pm

I’ll have one of each, please. (and give me a chunk of that salmon on the pavement, too)


Scott Martens 09.18.03 at 10:43 pm

Brown bread? Nonsense. Russian Mennonite peasant rye bread is the only way to go. And Irish wild salmon? Please! Do you know what they put in the North Sea? Arctic char – a breed of salmon particular to places like Canada – is easily the best.

Irish butter though… you may have a point there. And it really isn’t the same if you don’t have alfafa to put on your smoked salmon.


zizka 09.19.03 at 1:20 am

Rye crackers. “Ry Krisp” is the generic US version, but much better actual Swedish rye crackers are still exported from Sweden and can be found under various names.


zizka 09.19.03 at 1:25 am

Around here in Oregon we still have salmon caught locally and smoked by Native Americans using traditional methods*, but I really don’t care. If it’s not too dry or too greasy, smoked salmon is always good.

*Methods are traditional to someone or other — possibly native Americans, possibly Norwegians, possibly pioneers from Missouri. But definitely low-tech.


Maria 09.19.03 at 7:12 am

North Sea?!!! Check a map Scott – we fish for our salmon in the Atlantic. But from anywhere’s fine,I suppose, as long as it’s not farmed.


Chris 09.19.03 at 8:53 am

I’m sorry to have to report that the British supermarket chain Waitrose is currently running a series of TV ads for _Scottish_ smoked salmon with Thin Lizzy’s version of “Whiskey in the Jar” playing as soundtrack. Shome mishtake shurely.


Scott Martens 09.19.03 at 4:20 pm

Maria… well, I would think that the North Sea bleeds out into adjacent waters, but I stand corrected. I remember reading a paper once about measuring the level of Prozac in the North Sea and discussing the potential environmental consequences, and I’ve hesitated before buying Scandianvian fish ever since. (Although since we’re talking parts per trillion, I usually go ahead and buy the fish anyway.)

I agree that farmed salmon just doesn’t cut it though.

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