The Kosher Cure

Reinventing the Meaty Jewish Charcuterie Tradition

More Than Deli: The charcuterie board at the Prime Grill borrows from French tradition.
daniel krieger
More Than Deli: The charcuterie board at the Prime Grill borrows from French tradition.

By Devra Ferst

Published July 18, 2012, issue of July 27, 2012.
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Perhaps no chef of a kosher restaurant is as intimately familiar with the flavor of pork as Michael Solomonov, who will open the kosher restaurant Citron and Rose outside of Philadelphia later this summer. Solmonov, chef of the acclaimed Israeli restaurant Zahav is also the owner of Percy Street Barbeque — whose menu includes a country ham plate, along with pork cheeks, belly and ribs. (Because Solomonov owns a non-kosher restaurant, he will technically “consult,” and not own, Citron and Rose in order to stay with in line with kosher restrictions.)

Citron and Rose’s team will be “experimenting with different kosher salamis and sausages, air-cured loins of beef, duck and goose. And probably some plays on chicken liver,” he told me in April.

Despite Solomonov’s experience with the hog, he won’t be looking to recreate its flavor. Rather, he is working as part chef and part culinary preservationist looking to revive disappearing recipes and customs of Jewish charcuterie from Europe.

On a recent research trip to Jewish restaurants and butcher shops in Budapest and Paris, Solomonov sampled goose breast prepared like bresaola in a private home. In Paris at a Jewish charcuterie shop in the Marais neighborhood, he snacked on cured veal breast and at another stop sampled luscious chopped liver topped with a balsamic gelée. These dishes and others will inspire his menu at Citron and Rose.

When I spoke with Jewish food historian and writer Joan Nathan about Jewish charcuterie she explained that Italian and French Jews developed their own traditions of kosher charcuterie, substituting goose, duck and at times beef for pork. Jews who moved to Alsace between the World Wars created a particularly rich tradition of cured meats. In “Quiches, Kugels and Couscous,” Nathan’s most recent cookbook on French Jewish cuisine, she quotes the 1929 book “Gastronomie Juive”: “Enter a Russian or Alsatian Jewish pastry-charcuterie shop and see beautiful beef tongues, pink and velvety smoked meat or pickelfleisch veined with yellow fat, preserved goose breasts… salamis and pyramids of sausages.”

Throughout Europe, Jews developed their own traditions of cured meat. And, while deli has reigned supreme in the arena of Jewish cured meats in America, that wasn’t the case as recently as a century ago, according to David Sax, author of “Save the Deli.” When waves of Jewish immigrants arrived in the 1880s and ’90s they brought with them numerous types of smoked and cured meats from different homelands. “The German meats were different from the Polish meats and so on,” explained Sax. But things changed: “It was all about quantity and scale. Cured goose and duck… gave way to beef because it was more plentiful here.” Both the deli and the communities’ tastes evolved.

Sax went on to say that the difference between deli and charcuterie is like the “difference between erotica and pornography: You know it when you see it.”

Chef Mark Spangenthal, of Kutsher’s Tribeca, a contemporary Jewish restaurant in Manhattan, has created a savory bridge between the two curing traditions, perfectly suited for the forward-thinking American Jewish diner. His “deli charcuterie” platter includes house-cured beef and duck pastrami, smoked veal tongue and spicy salami that arrive thickly, though carefully, sliced on a wooden board. “We treat it like charcuterie, but it’s delicatessen meats,” he said.

The flavor of these Jewish charcuteries may be different from what I tried that night in Italy, but when done well, they are just as luscious, profoundly full of flavor and seductive as a mouthful of that prosciutto — only without the guilt. So now I say to you, “Dai, provalo!”

Devra Ferst is the Food Editor of the Forward. Contact her at ferst@forward.com and on twitter @devraferst


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