By Michael Gardiner
About the time I finally realized I was not going to live forever I found myself exploring my Ashkenazi culinary roots. I’m not sure which was the chicken and which the egg. Somehow, though, the homey comfort foods of childhood play particularly well with uncomfortable realizations like that of mortality.
And what Ashkenazi dish could be a greater comfort food than the knish, that Eastern European snack of a filling—classically ground meat and mashed potatoes—wrapped in dough and either deep fried or baked. But while meat and/or potato fillings are most common for knishes, there’s no reason it could not be something else, something more creative.
One of my Jewish deli favorites is smoked whitefish. The simple, smoky flavor works perfectly on salads or bagels. If it isn’t a traditional knish filling I figured it might be time to start a new tradition. While whitefish (a fresh water fish) is not commonly found in Southern California waters, excellent fresh yellowtail is readily available.
To smoke the fish I used one of my new favorite toys: a smoking gun. If there isn’t one of those hanging around in your kitchen (or a trip to Sur La Table isn’t on your docket), there are other ways to go about it. You could brine the fish and smoke it for two hours in your smoker/BBQ. Or you could use any good quality smoked salmon or the wonderful smoked fish from, for example, Catalina Offshore Products.
Smoked Yellowtail Knish with Poached Egg
For the Knish Dough:
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon table salt
1 large egg
½ cup grapeseed (or other neutral) oil
1 teaspoon white vinegar
½ cup water
For the Smoked Yellowtail:
1 carrot, roughly chopped
2 stalk celery, roughly chopped
1 small onion, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon Kosher salt
1 ½ cup white wine
1 ½ cup water
1 pound yellowtail fillet
Smoker chips of choice
For the Filling:
3 cups peeled baking potato, cut into 1-inch-thick slices (about 2 large potatoes)
1/3 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon thyme off the stalk
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 ounces smoked yellowtail (or smoked whitefish or salmon), finely chopped
3 tablespoons grapeseed (or other neutral) oil
1 ½ cups finely chopped yellow onion (about 1 medium)
For the Poached Eggs:
Dash of vinegar
1 teaspoon Kosher salt
For the Garnish:
1 spirg of thyme off the stalks
Hot sauce of your choice
Finishing salt (Maldon, for example)
- Make the Knish Dough. Stir together your dry ingredients in the bottom of a mixing bowl. In another bowl, whisk together the egg, oil, vinegar and water. Pour it over the dry ingredients and stir to combine. Once the mixture is a craggy, uneven mass, knead until smooth, about a minute. Place the dough back in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside for an hour (or in the fridge, up to 3 days).
- Poach the Yellowtail. In a large, deep, straight-sided skillet or heavy pot, combine carrots, celery, onion, wine and Kosher salt. Bring to a boil then reduce and simmer covered for 8 minutes. Season the fish with salt and gently lower into simmering liquid (which should just cover fish). Cover and cook until the fish is opaque throughout, about 5 minutes. Remove fish from the liquid and refrigerate.
- Smoke the Yellowtail. When the fish is cool, shred it and place it in a metal bowl large enough to contain the fish with room to spare. Place the smoking chips of your choice (alder is a good option) in your smoking gun and operate according to the manufacturer’s instructions, covering the bowl with plastic wrap. Allow to sit for at least five minutes.
- Make the Filling. Place the potatoes in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat and simmer 15 minutes or until tender. Drain the potatoes and combine with broth, thyme, kosher salt, pepper, and smoked yellowtail in a large bowl; mash until well combined.
- Begin Assembling the Knishes. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat oven to 375° Fahrenheit. If your dough has sweated some beads of oil while resting, knead it back into an even mass. Divide the dough in half. Working on a well-floured surface, roll the first half into a very thin sheet (roughly a one foot square). For moderate size knish create a 2-inch thick log from half your potato/fish filling across the bottom of your dough. Roll the filling up in the dough like you were rolling a cigarette but not too tight—a bit of slack keep the dough from opening in the oven—until the log has been wrapped twice in dough. Trim any unrolled length and add it to the second half of the dough. Repeat with the second half of the dough and filling.
- Finish Assembling the Knishes. Trim the ends of the dough so they’re even with the potato filling. Make indentations on the log every 3 inches or so (about 3 for a foot long log) and twist the dough at these points, as if you making sausage links. Snip the dough at each twist, pinch one of the ends of each segment together to form a sealed knish base. Use the palm of your hand to flatten the knish a bit into a squat bun shape. Pinch together the tops as you did the bottom to seal them, indenting them with a small dimple to discourage them from opening in the oven.
- Bake the Knishes. Arrange the knishes on a prepared baking sheet so that they don’t touch. Whisk egg yolk and water together to form a glaze and brush it over the knish dough. Bake the knishes for about 45 minutes, rotating the tray if needed for them to bake into an even golden brown color.
- Poach the Eggs. Add the vinegar and salt to a pot of boiling water and reduce the heat to a simmer. Crack an egg into a custard cup or small ramekin. Use the handle of a spatula or spoon to quickly stir the water in one direction until it’s all smoothly spinning around. Carefully drop the egg into the center of the whirlpool. The swirling water will help prevent the white from “feathering,” or spreading out in the pan. Poach the egg in the gently simmering water for 3 minutes. Move the egg to an ice bath and refrigerate up to 8 hours. Reheat in warm water just before serving.
- Plate the Dish. Place a knish in the center of each plate. Top each knish with a poached egg. Sprinkle some hot sauce on the top of each egg and garnish with thyme leaves and finishing salt.