For Christmas celebrants, the holiday season may mean Dungeness crabs or eel, bacala and cod. But the sea creature most likely to make an appearance on the Chanukah table is smoked whitefish, which dinner hosts sometimes serve as a dip or salad (or, in edgier crowds, as a pizza or guacamole) to accompany their infernally greasy latkes.
Yet it's not easy for Jews on this coast to score high-quality smoked whitefish. While Seattle's blessed with an abundance of seafood, the city's locavore bent can be tough on home cooks intent on using a fish from afar, as I discovered when I recently went smoked whitefish shopping. Every fishmonger I contacted offered me smoked salmon instead.
While plenty of East Coast purveyors are in the shipping business, it's not cheap to fly a fish thousands of miles: Zabar's charges $55 to deliver half of a smoked whitefish to a Seattle address (an arrangement which writes its own Borscht Beltian joke about wanting the half that's riding for free.) So I was excited to discover that Metropolitan Market sells portions of Acme smoked whitefish by the pound, with whole whitefish and chubs occasionally available.
Acme Smoked Fish is a hugely popular smoked fish producer which supplies Zabar's, Barney Greengrass and Walmart with herring, sable, kippered salmon and whitefish. As reported yesterday in the New York Times by Rebecca Flint Marx - who, incidentally, was in my Hebrew school class - New Yorkers can buy Acme fish directly from the company's 58-year old Greenpoint factory, but eaters elsewhere who don't want to pay exorbitant shipping fees for the stuff are at the mercy of retailers.
That's why Sand Point shoppers petitioned Met Market to carry Acme products when it opened a store in their neighborhood. "Because, obviously, there's a strong Jewish community there," the store's publicist Tamara Wilson explains. Since the location opened in 2006, Acme whitefish has been consistently available at all Met Market locations.
The whitefish I bought ended up in a dip which was a tad short on fish, probably because I sampled the product a little too exuberantly before mixing it into a base of cream cheese and horseradish. As much as I appreciate Seattle's unwavering commitment to local seafood, nothing can take the place of smoked whitefish. Not even salmon.