I felt kind of bad touting the benefits of mascarpone on a bagel yesterday, like I was betraying my city, my people and my favorite spread all at once. What's that you say? I totally was? Great. I'm glad I turn to our readers for support when I'm ready to admit I may have gone too far. Know what? Mascarpone on a bagel IS delicious. I stand by it. But whether you go the fuller-fat route or stick with classy Philly, sometimes it's not the spread's fault you're bored. Good thing there are other smoked fish.
Smoked salmon, more affectionately known as lox, is a pretty user-friendly protein. It's silky and transluscent, rather than chalky and overly pungent like other smoked fish can be. But ever since people stopped identifying it as purely Scandinavian, Russian or Jewish, it's become pretty mainstream. That's why it's time to move on. You can find it pre-packaged in a variety of manners — cracked pepper, herbed like gravlax, smoked over various woods — at any decent supermarket. Heck, I even found it in the Midwest. I was on a road trip and needed something classy for my Ritz crackers. The unnaturally opaque, slightly slimy slices were a far cry from the delicate, paper-thin wisps of the old-school appetizing masters, with their crazy fish swords and whatnot, but it scratched the itch.
Lately, I've gravitated away from the translucent orange-pink and towards the creamy ivory of whitefish, trout and especially sturgeon. Yes, the fish that houses caviar tastes pretty awesome too. The fine men at Barney Greengrass absolutely hate when I do this, but due to the sky-high price of old-school smoked sturgeon I typically request a single hefty slice of the good stuff (even though it says "1/4-lb minimum order" right on the glass case) to top a single hefty slice of good, rustic bread with a generous schmear of whipped cream cheese. That is Sunday breakfast right there. And with a smile that conveys how truly sincere I am about the fact that I only have, like, $4 for a slice of perfect sturgeon from the absolute bestest most awesome appetizing store in the whole wide world…well, sometimes they'll make an exception.
The other smoked fish I'm pretty into right now is the Spanish stuff in cans. LaMonica is a pretty solid label for smoked calamari and oysters. I've had luck with delicious razor clams, mussels and especially octopus from a variety of other imported brands like Matiz. Basically, as long as it's from that neck of the woods — Spain or Portugal — you're safe. What do you do with a Spanish can of really tasty, high-quality shellfish? Take a cracker, smear it with or dip it in something good (like hot sauce, fresh salsa or romesco) and top it with the best fish out of a can you've ever had. It's also great in kedgeree.
While I'll always go back to the old standby of salmon, it's good to know there's a world of other smoked fish out there. Check out DJ Markus Shulz's, for example.