Duck Breast Prosciutto (Photo/Aubrie Pick from “Cured Meat, Smoked Fish & Pickled Eggs” by Karen Solomon)
Duck Breast Prosciutto (Photo/Aubrie Pick from “Cured Meat, Smoked Fish & Pickled Eggs” by Karen Solomon)

Preserved foods were the ‘Hamburger Helper of ancient times’

Karen Solomon’s new cookbook, “Cured Meat, Smoked Fish & Pickled Eggs: Recipes and Techniques for Preserving Protein-Packed Foods,” is, on the one hand, very Jewish. Ashkenazi Jews have been at the forefront of food preservation for generations and will appreciate recipes for gravlax, several types of herring and “Killer Smoked Fish Salad.” The book also has recipes for prosciutto made from duck, and for pastrami that Solomon considers one of her top crowd-pleasers.

“People just love it,” she said. “There are certain things I make that make people really happy. Bacon tops the list, but that pastrami recipe is right up there.”

And there’s the other hand right there. The pork section is 30-plus pages, so if recipes for ham and pork rinds and pork belly confit are going to bother you, you might want to skip through these pages.

Cover of “Cured Meat, Smoked Fish & Pickled Eggs,” by Karen SolomonAmong the herring recipes is one that comes straight from Solomon’s grandmother. “The baked chopped herring and the salmon croquettes are pure Bubbe [Sayde] Franks,” she said. When Solomon’s mom received her copy of the cookbook, “she called me up practically screaming” with excitement that the baked chopped herring loaf was included.

It starts with pickled herring mixed with celery and apples, followed by cracker crumbs and eggs to bind it. Finally cinnamon and sugar are sprinkled on top before it is baked.

It’s something of an acquired taste, she admits. One of her sons loves it (as does she), while her partner and other son “find it revolting. It’s kind of like tuna casserole. You either love it or hate it. You can have nostalgia for it and find it delicious or totally the opposite. But I hope that people will try it.”

Now a San Francisco-based food writer, Solomon grew up in South Florida in a family full of cooks.

“They were food appreciators at a time when not a lot of people were doing that,” she said. As a result, she said she’s always been a food person, too, a fresser (big eater, in Yiddish).

One of her grandparents’ homes was kosher; the other was not — and that is where she was introduced to bacon, Sizzlean and the most exotic of all, canned ham.

This is Solomon’s fourth cookbook with a similar theme: “Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It: And Other Cooking Projects,” “Can It, Bottle It, Smoke It: And Other Kitchen Projects,” and “Asian Pickles: Sweet, Sour, Salty, Cured, and Fermented Preserves from Korea, Japan, China, India and Beyond.”

While such homesteading projects are definitely in fashion, Solomon said she hopes it’s not a “flash in the pan.”

“It feels like tapping into history for me,” she said. “These days it’s a luxury, but it wasn’t always that way, and in many parts of the world it’s not that way. If you don’t preserve, you don’t eat.”

Author Karen Solomon has just released her fourth cookbook. (Photo/Aubrie Pick from “Cured Meat, Smoked Fish & Pickled Eggs” by Karen Solomon)
Author Karen Solomon has just released her fourth cookbook. (Photo/Aubrie Pick from “Cured Meat, Smoked Fish & Pickled Eggs” by Karen Solomon)

In addition to the history, she also loves the simplicity of preserving, noting that “it’s both baffling and alluring that food plus salt plus time equals a completely different food, and something that will taste completely different, with a totally different flavor and texture profile.”

Another bonus is that “it can make your day-to-day cooking more flavorful. Preserved foods are the original fast food, the Hamburger Helper of ancient times.”

Plus, “there’s a joy for me in the sweat equity of creating something that’s unexpected. People expect you to make a pot roast or pasta or a roast chicken. They aren’t necessarily expecting you to pull a jar of homemade sardines from your fridge.”

For “Cured Meat,” Solomon dove deep into other cultures, looking at their traditions for preserving food, like pemmican, a Native American dried fruit and meat snack, biltong, a South African dried meat, and the more well-known bacalao, a Spanish salted cod.

One of her favorite recipes in the new book is Moroccan preserved lamb, called khlea. Lamb is cured with cumin and then preserved in fat.

“It’s so stinking delicious. If I had to pick one recipe, it’s really one of my favorites. People don’t think about drying and then confiting lamb, but it’s so flavorful and traditionally Moroccan. Cooked into scrambled eggs, it’s so tasty.”


Duck Breast Prosciutto

Excerpt from “Cured Meat, Smoked Fish & Pickled Eggs,” by Karen Solomon

Makes 10–12 ounces
Time: At least 1 week
Method: Dry Curing

This is about as effortless as home-cured meat can get. A little salt and sugar now will yield you a whole lot of flavor later. Not only is the flavor rich and fragrant, but the prosciutto also presents beautifully on a cutting board with crackers or crostini, aged cheese, pickles, and almonds. Save this for company, use it like you would pancetta to give flavor to roasted vegetables or pasta dishes, or serve it on a sandwich or a salad. It will be ready to eat after about 1 week, but I prefer to age it for 2 weeks or so in the refrigerator so that the texture is firmer.

  • 2 duck breasts (about 8 ounces each)
  • ½ cup light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons finely minced orange zest
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground sage
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1. Diagonally score the skin side of the duck breasts by lightly drawing a very sharp knife across the skin and through the fat cap, making the cuts about ½ inch apart. Make a second set of diagonal cuts in the opposite direction so that the skin and fat are scored to make a diamond pattern.

2. Pat the breasts dry with paper towels until they are a bit tacky to the touch. Place them in a shallow dish that can hold the duck flat in a single layer.

3. Combine the sugar, salt, orange zest, coriander, sage, and pepper in a small bowl. Rub this cure all over both sides of the duck, including into the crevices of the skin. Place the duck back in the dish, skin side up. Cover the dish tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 days. After a day or so, you’ll notice a lot of liquid in the bottom of the dish; this is normal and expected.

4. Flip the duck breasts and cover the dish tightly with the plastic wrap again. Refrigerate for another 3 days.

5. At this point, the duck should have a dark red color and feel firm all over, like a well-done steak. This means that your meat is cured. If it still feels very soft, flip the meat again and let it sit for another day or two.

6. Preheat your oven to 200°F (90°C). Place a rack over a rimmed baking sheet.

7. To ensure that your duck is safe to eat, place it on the rack, fat side up, in the preheated oven. Heat the duck for about 25 minutes, or until it reaches an internal temperature of 160°F (70°C).

8. Rinse the duck well and pat it very dry. Slice it razor-thin before serving.

Storage

Wrap your finished duck breast in waxed paper or parchment paper and store it in the cheese compartment of your refrigerator. If it gets too firm and dried out, shield it from the elements in a well-sealed ziplock bag. Wrapped well, it will keep in the refrigerator for at least 6 months.

How to Zest Citrus Fruit

This recipe, and undoubtedly many others that will cross your kitchen counter, asks for finely minced zest. Zest is the very thin outermost layer of the fruit — the part with color. The white part just beneath is the pith, and this stuff is bitingly bitter and lacks the delicious and flavorful oils of the thin skin. When zesting, do your best to include as little of the pith as possible.

My favorite way to extract zest is with a Microplane. I don’t use many gadgets, but this is a goodie that’s both inexpensive and small to store. You will soon start using it for grating ginger, nutmeg, and chocolate for drinks, and for creating a snow flurry of cheese atop your pasta.

If you don’t have a Microplane on hand, any grater will do. Rub the orange against the grate in short bursts, turning it frequently, as this is the best way to stay away from the dreaded pith. And if all you have is a vegetable peeler, go forth and peel thinly, then use a knife to mince the zest to smithereens.


Baked Chopped Herring

Excerpt from “Cured Meat, Smoked Fish & Pickled Eggs,” by Karen Solomon

Makes 12 servings

Time: About 1½ hours

This recipe is an excellent use for pickled herring. It is Depression-era cooking at its best, and my grandmother, Bubby Franks, used to make this beloved family favorite often. This is her recipe, passed along to me from my Aunt Simmie, with some minor modifications (Weetabix instead of breadcrumbs or saltine crumbs and butter instead of margarine for better flavor). It is economical, eco-friendly, and pure nostalgia for fish lovers. Eat it warm from the oven or cold from the fridge, either with a fork and knife (as you would meatloaf) or as a spread on crackers (which makes it portable!). I know the cinnamon and sugar on top may seem at odds with the fish flavor, but trust me — they are as at home here as ketchup on meatloaf.

  • 12 ounces Pickled Herring, drained, brine reserved
  • 2 large celery stalks, trimmed and cut into quarters
  • 1 medium apple, peeled, cored, and cut into quarters
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 2 Weetabix cereal wafers, crumbled, or ¼- ½ cup breadcrumbs or cracker crumbs
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Ground cinnamon, for sprinkling
  • Sugar, for sprinkling 

1. Preheat your oven to 375°F (190°C) and oil an 8-inch square pan.

2. Combine the drained herring (with its pickled onions), celery, and apple in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture is chopped and combined but still quite coarse. Scrape the mixture into a medium bowl.

3. Add the eggs and melted butter to the herring mixture. Add one of the crumbled Weetabix and stir until the mixture is somewhat stiff — it should hold its shape like the mixture for a meatloaf. If it’s still too wet, add additional Weetabix as needed. And if it gets too dry, add some of the pickle brine, 1 tablespoon at a time. Stir in the salt and season with pepper to taste.

4. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the top evenly. Sprinkle it with cinnamon and sugar. Place on the middle rack in the oven and bake for about 50 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.

5. Let cool for 15 minutes before eating. Or cool and refrigerate until completely cold. Cut into squares and serve on its own or as a spread.

Storage

This will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for at least 1 week.


Solomon will teach how to make gravlax, bacon and beef jerky at FarmCurious in Berkeley on Sept. 23. Register: farmcurious.com

Headshot of Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."