This ham’s not kosher. But it’s not exactly treyf.
That’s because the ruby-red, sweetly smoky ham at New York’s Ducks Eatery is a watermelon. As in, the fruit.
The East Village eatery, which has built a fanatic following for experiments with plant-based foods, has been battling to keep up with demand for its new smoked watermelon ham, which takes as long as five days to make.
Outlets from the UK’s Daily Mail to the Today show have touted the ham as one of the year’s biggest food moments (“The Whole Smoked Watermelon ‘Ham’ Has a 30 Day Waiting List”, Food & Wine declared breathlessly).
“We didn’t expect this kind of response,” Ducks co-owner Will Horowitz told the Forward. “It wasn’t part of a planned campaign. It’s simply the type of experimenting we try to do. We’ve never had a PR agent.”
To create the ham, watermelon gets brined in coriander, oregano, and ash, then smoked over oak, dried, and scored to create those telltale criss-cross patterns. In photos, the smoked fruit looks virtually indistinguishable from its pork counterpart.
Ducks, he explained, operates a small food lab near its small storefront where Horowitz and his team explore “adding value to food waste, and creating highly sustainable food.” In January, Ducks’ mad scientists created a well-received cantaloupe “hamburger”; other greatest hits include “beef jerky” made from seaweed. Last year, Horowitz said, he entered a fermented radish in a meat charcuterie competition “and nearly won.”
With his sister Julie, Horowitz also runs Harry & Ida’s, the back-to-the-future Jewish-inspired deli famed for a towering pastrami sandwich of locally sourced beef. “Because of our original background, we’re known for smoked meat, so there’s something very intriguing about coming at it from a different angle,” Horowitz said. “We’re applying these old techniques of preserving and smoking foods to whole vegetables and fruit.”
Did he have kosher consumers in mind when he created the smoked watermelon ham? “We didn’t think of the kosher audience, but I didn’t have anyone specific in mind,” Horowitz said. “Julie and I both grew up going to Jewish schools. We spend a lot of our childhood around kosher households. It’s always in the background for us. But the most targeted part of this for us is sustainability. We don’t necessarily believe in vegan diets, just in reducing the amount of meat in restaurants.”
Next: Look for a smoked watermelon ham at Harry & Ida’s. “We want to bring these options to as many people as possible,” Horowitz said. “And we’re having a lot of fun.”
This story "Smoked Watermelon Ham at Ducks Eatery" was written by Michael Kaminer.