Christmas is the one time of year that I culinarily lament not being Catholic.
It’s the holiday when Roman Catholics traditionally eat a feast of seven different types of fish — often each has its own course. While many Jews chow down on a feast of lo mein and spring rolls on Christmas, my family meets somewhere in the middle: We feast on my Latvian great-grandmother’s recipe for fligls on Christmas morning.
Fligl literally means wing in Yiddish. The word is mostly used to describe a chicken wing, but it can also be used for the wing or the fin of a fish — in this case, the fin of smoked salmon. The area around the fin and at the side of the lox filet is meaty, a bit bony, lusciously fatty and packed with flavor that nearly transports you to the Baltic, where the recipe is originally from.
Few delis still carry the delicacy, as most only purchase the side of lox we are used to seeing on our Sunday bagel. However, to honor the Old World, certain delis and specialty shops will order fligls upon request. In New York, Russ and Daughter’s on the Lower East Side carries fligls and Zabar’s on the Upper West Side will order them for customers, if given a few days notice.
What follows is our family recipe for fligls.
Fligls from Nova Scotia smoked salmon and from lox, smoked for flavor, 2–3 fligls per person. (depending upon size of the fligls)
1 large sweet onion
2 small or medium sized new potatoes for each fligl
A bunch of fresh dill
1 teaspoon of good peppercorns such as tellicherry
1 bay leaf
1 pint sour cream
1). Chop up dill and set aside.2). Wash and cut the unpeeled new potatoes into 3-inch cubes and cover in cold water in a bowl and set aside.3). Slice the onion and sauté in unsalted butter in a large heavy soup pot until the onions are translucent.4). Drain the cut potatoes.5). Add the potatoes, pepper, bay leaf and fligls to the onions in the soup pot. Cover with water a couple of inches above the ingredients and simmer for a half hour or so until the potatoes are cooked but reasonably firm. 6). Use a slotted spoon to ladle the potatoes and fligls into soup bowls. 7). Garnish with the chopped dill and sour cream.
Hat tip to my father, Walter Ferst, for the recipe and for keeping the tradition alive.