Welcome back to The Bite, Sheepshead Bites’ weekly column where we explore the foodstuffs of Sheepshead Bay. Each week we check out a different offering from one of the many restaurants, delis, food carts, bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, or grocers in our neighborhood. If it’s edible, we’ll take a bite.
I have a confession to make. I’m a smoker. Yes, I hear your gasps of disbelief and disapproval. “How can the man behind the greatest food column in Brooklyn be a smoker?” “Doesn’t smoking affect his taste buds?” “How can we ever trust his opinion about food again?”
Well, don’t jump to conclusions my friends. I am a smoker, but I don’t smoke cigarettes, cigars or pipes. I smoke food. I’ve been known to smoke just about anything and everything and most times it turns out pretty good. But the one thing I’ve never attempted to make is lox. I’ve left that for the experts.
While Knapp Street Bagel Cafe (2145 Knapp Street) doesn’t make its own lox, they do a great take on the classic cream cheese and lox on a bagel. And they do bake their own bagels.
A bagel with “fresh” lox, as most delis around here refer to it, is almost a cliche of Jewish cuisine. But oh, what a wonderful cliche it is. Give me a chewy bagel, topped sweet cream cheese, red onions and salty fish and I’m in heaven.
For the goyum out there, lox is brined salmon. It is usually brined, soaked and then cold smoked. Cold smoking, at temperatures under 70 degrees, helps produce the luxurious, almost silky texture of the fish. The salts and sugars in the brine heighten the beautiful pink color of the fish.
According to James McNair in his cookbook, James McNair’s Salmon Cookbook, the lox we get around here is “the most popular preserved salmon, that it is generally Pacific species that is cured in brine, soaked to remove the salt, then sometimes still lightly smoked after soaking it, as it always was in the past.”
There are a few other methods of preserving salmon and they are available in the better delis around here. There’s kippered salmon which is hot-smoked, Nova, which is cold-smoked using salmon from the waters off eastern Canada. There’s Scottish, Irish or Norwegian, which are all cold-smoked Atlantic salmon, but are not salty at all. And of course there is gravlax, which is a traditional Scandinavian method of curing salmon with salt, sugar,and dill. This fish is completely cooked by the brine and never sees any smoke at all.
So, if Knapp Street Bagel Cafe doesn’t make their own lox, what makes this dish so special? It’s the bagel and the ratio of fish vs. cream cheese vs. bread. The foundation for this dish is the bagel. It needs to light, but chewy and exceptionally fresh. The cream cheese needs to be cold and creamy, and the lox thinly-sliced with none of the skin present.
With each bite, all the flavors need to blend, but the lox needs to be the star. The bagel and the cream cheese have important parts to play, but they are the bit players, filling out the flavors and textures, but never dominating. Knapp Street Bagel Cafe has mastered this combination.
I’ve been checking out Knapp Street Bagels since we reported on the NY Times story naming Knapp Street Bagel Cafe’s egg and cheese sandwich best and I think they’re on to something here. The bagels here are some of the best I’ve ever had. They’re slightly sweeter than others in our neighborhood and stand up well on their own and make some excellent sandwiches. Be sure to check them out, and tell them Sheepshead Bites sent you!
Knapp Street Bagel Cafe, 2145 Knapp Street, (718) 943-1525