Before diving into the glory that is the fish selection, and in particular the cured and cold-smoked salmon on array in the bright, burnished, insanely appetizing micro-emporium that is the nearly century old Russ and Daughters, an elucidation of the distinctions between lox, Nova and smoked salmon is in order: Lox, likely derived from the Yiddish and German word for Salmon, Lachs, is salmon that has been cured in salt for several weeks. The best lox is belly lox, for the same reason that the belly of any beast is its most succulent offering: the ribbons of fat that melt upon meeting the tongue. Nova, so called because most of New York’s salmon used to come from Nova Scotia, is cured in less salt than lox, and is then cold-smoked, unlike lox, which is not smoked at all (the Nordic gravlax is similar in that it is cured, but not smoked). Lastly, smoked salmon is a general term for the variety of cured and cold-smoked salmon on the market, much of which is mediocre (petroleum undertones from industrial oversmoking, musky pellet-fed farmed fish) and barely any of which makes it to the hallowed cases of Russ and Daughters, where a master slicer lovingly renders only the finest wild specimens into translucent sheaves of mellow piscine unctuousness that distill the craft of the artisan and the essence of the fish the way stained glass distills the essence of a saint.
To reach these magnificent heights, is to obsess over every detail in the process, which, in the words of Russ and Daughters, means paying special attention to the nuances in flavor that depend on each varietal’s “sea of origin, diet, size, and smoking process.” In other words, they sample the best smoked fish in the world, then curate the best of those samples for their customers. Should you long to taste the lox of your forefathers, then salty, slightly chewy, unapologetically salmon-y belly lox is the way to go (it even comes with a warning: “novices beware,”), but if it is silky, champagne hued richly smoked luxury you’re after, then the Wild Baltic Salmon from the Bornholm Coast of Denmark is the one for you. Unless of course, you find yourself tempted by the gentle woodsy salinity of the organic Irish smoked salmon, or the robust, cantaloupe colored apple and cherry wood smoked Scottish salmon.
One salmon that is not on the menu, perhaps the ur-cured salmon, appears in one of the greatest epics ever committed to celluloid, Atarnarjuat: The Fast Runner, the first feature film to be produced entirely in the Inuit language of Inuktitut, and for which the director, Zacharias Kunuk, won the 2001 Caméra d’Or. The film, which is both intimate in its depiction of the minutiae of ancient Inuit ritual, and sweeping in its scope, retells an Inuit legend that took place in the Eastern Arctic Wilderness at the start of the first millennium. It also depicts fermented salmon that has been buried in frozen earth for months, then exhumed and eaten – not for novices to be sure, but based on age-old traditions and techniques, and the universal need for preservation, not too far from the earthy ancestors of Russ and Daughter’s now rarified elegance. And like the passion, dedication and artistry on display at New York’s finest smoked fish purveyor, Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner is a monumental labor of love that stands the test of time. The only question is what kind of fantastic smoked salmon will you mail order (or, if you’re lucky enough, procure locally), to enjoy with friends for a bagels and lox extravaganza, while you watch an epic about a people who revered the salmon so much they worshipped a salmon-god. After experiencing Russ and Daughters, you might too.
RUSS AND DAUGHTERS
The finest purveyor of real lox and smoked fish in America.
Gaspe Nova Smoked Salmon, Wild Baltic Smoked Salmon, Norwegian Smoked Salmon, Belly Lox, Sturgeon, Sable, French Herring, Swedish Matjes Herring.
Spotless and heavenly. Appetizing has never been more appetizing.
Knowledgeable and warm.
Happy chirps of satisfied fish fressers.
179 E Houston St (between East Houston St & 2nd Ave) New York, NY 10002 (212) 475-4880 russanddaughters.com
Mon-Fri 8am-8pm Sat 9am-7pm Sun 8am-5:30pm. Credit cards accepted. Street parking.
ATANARJUAT: THE FAST RUNNER (2001). Directed by Zacharias Kunuk. Written by Paul Apak Angilirq, Norman Cohn, Zacharias Kunuk, Herve Paniaq, Pauloosie Qulitalik. Starring Natar Ungalaaq, Sylvia Ivalu, Peter-Henry Arnatsiaq.