Smoked Fish, Bacon of the Sea

Why this egg-less, bacon-less meal is just like pasta carbonara.

In retrospect it wasn’t surprising that my two-year-old likes smoked eel: One of her favorite meals in New York is the sable (smoked black cod) from the miraculous fish emporium Russ and Daughters, of which she has been known to eat $5 worth at a sitting. And because she’s had a wicked case of jet lag and a hard time eating regularly, we’ve been trying to find things we know she’ll like. This means, in turn, that we’ve been hanging around the smoked fish stall at our local market. This week we bought a whole smoked Artic char, which Squishy found both incredibly funny (she made fishy faces at it and put her finger in its mouth) and enormously tasty. She did leave us some, though, and we used it to make ourselves feel at home after a rough week.

The first New Year’s Eve I spent with my wife, we cooked an elaborate multi-course meal for another couple. We were trying to impress one another, I guess, and Tara won any contest hands down when she served a delicate fresh pasta that she’d tossed with crème fraîche, thin ribbons of smoked salmon, and paddlefish roe. (The latter is a cured roe, similar to caviar, that neither breaks the bank nor causes pangs of guilt.) The pasta is a simple dish with elaborate flavors: creamy richness from the crème fraîche and fatty richness from the fish against smoke and the snap and salty bite of the fish roe. It’s a lot like pasta carbonara, if you imagine smoked fish like bacon and crème fraîche like eggs, only lighter and more decadent.

Squishy’s nap strike and jet lag meant that she had a pretty sleep-deprived, and anyone with a toddler can tell you that’s no fun to be around. So late on Saturday night, exhausted from arguing with someone who’s 85 cm tall, it was all I could do to make pasta. Fortunately, I found the smoked fish while rooting around for something, anything to make a sauce with. I didn’t have any roe, but I did have some lovely, sharp spring onions, so I softened the diced bulbs in a pan just until the worst of the bite was gone then added the tops and let them wilt. I didn’t have any crème fraîche, either, but I did have a little left-over cream and some sharp yoghurt, so I added those to the onions along with the fish and heated everything through until the cream infused.

At about 10 we collapsed into chairs on the balcony with bowls of pasta and glasses of not-quite-dry German Riesling. Our mood lightened almost instantly. They sky was still light, the city quiet enough that we could hear the birds in the trees. We ate a meal we associate with celebration and thought about how lucky we are to be here.

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