Russ and Daughters Press
February 1, 2003
by Jeffrey Steingarten
Smoked salmon may be ubiquitous and cheap but it’s rarely the delicacy it should be. Jeffrey Steingarten goes fishing for the secrets of the few who still know how to make the very best.
“Like so many thousands before me, I launched my voyage of rediscovery on Houston Street in New York City, near the corner of Orchard, at a famous old shop called Russ & Daughters, founded 88 years ago by one Joel Russ as what was then known as an “appetizing store” specializing in preserved fish—salted, smoked, dried and pickled. And Russ & Daughters is still, as is were, the Mecca for lovers of preserved fish—especially salmon. Russ & Daughters is now headed by Mark Russ Federman, 57, a lawyer for nine years whose mother is one of Joel Russ’s three daughters. In Mark’s crowded office, we had a little salmon tasting prepared by Herman Vargas, 41, beatified by Calvin Trillin as the “artistic slicer.” Herman is much more than a slicer. Born in the Dominican Republic, Herman is unaccountably the only person in the entire shop who speaks Yiddish.
We nibbled on wild Pacific “Nova,” wilde Pacific salt-cured lox, Scottish (farmed and smoked in Scotland), “Norwegian” (farmed in Norwar but smoked in upstate New York), a “Scottish-style” smoked salmon called Shetland (farmed in Scotland, dry-cured and smoked upstate), and Gaspe (large filletsfarmed in Norway and smoked in Brooklyn). Maybe it was more than a nibble, and maybe it was I who did all the nibbling. Maybe we had some herring, too, and a slice of sable (cold-smokedblack cod), and what they call “baked salmon,” which is really kippered salmon—hot—smoked wild albino king salmon.”