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Book Excerpt: Cathy Barrow's 'Bagels, Schmears, and a Nice Piece of Fish'
Three schmears and a lox
Schmear Master Recipe
Makes 9 Oz [255 G]
8 oz [225 g] full-fat cream cheese, softened
2 tbsp sour cream or crème fraiche
1⁄2 tsp fresh lemon juice
At the breakfast table, it’s perfectly acceptable to serve up a rectangular brick of Philadelphia cream cheese in its original form. It has the same familiarity as a cylinder of canned cranberry sauce on the Thanksgiving table. A bagel brunch, though, deserves a schmear, which is different from that block of cream cheese. It is more spreadable and creamy, and is the vehicle for flavorful additions.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, sour cream, and lemon juice, increasing the speed as the ingredients combine, until fluffy, lightened, and spreadable, just 1 to 2 minutes. Alternatively, use a medium mixing bowl and a stiff spoon to combine and then stir and whip vigorously to aerate and lighten the mixture.
Pack the schmear into a ramekin or two, cover, and chill until ready to serve. It will keep for 1 week in the refrigerator.
Makes 10 Oz [280 G]
1/3 cup [20 g] finely chopped scallions, white and light green parts only
1 Schmear Master recipe
1⁄4 tsp kosher salt
When chives are no longer in season, I turn to scallion cream cheese for a similarly zingy onion flavor. But scallions carry a little too much oomph for me, so I soak them in cold water for a few minutes to mellow some of the bite. Make sure to dry the scallions on a cloth towel before adding to the schmear. (Never terrycloth, and not paper towels. The scallion bits stick. Very annoying.)
In a small bowl, cover the chopped scallions with cold water for 10 minutes. Drain and dry the scallions on a cloth towel.
In a medium bowl, add the schmear, scallions, and salt. Stir with a fork until thoroughly combined.
Pack the scallion cheese into a ramekin or two, cover and chill until ready to serve. It will keep for about 2 days in the refrigerator before the oniony flavor becomes overwhelming.
Makes 10 Oz [280 G]
1 Schmear Master recipe
1⁄2 cup [90 g] mini chocolate chips
1⁄4 cup [56 g] candied orange rind, chopped
3 tbsp mascarpone cheese
3 tbsp confectioners’ sugar
1⁄2 tsp freshly grated orange zest
Reminiscent of sweetened citrus-scented cannoli filling, this schmear is delicious on any sweet bagel. It’s possible to make the candied orange rind at home, but it’s also available at candy shops, at cake supply shops, and online. Candied Meyer lemon is particularly floral, sweet, and tart and a nice swap for the orange rind in this recipe, if you can find it.
In a medium bowl, combine the schmear, chocolate chips, candied orange rind, mascarpone, confectioners’ sugar, and orange zest using a stiff spatula. Stir until thoroughly combined.
Pack the cannoli cheese into a ramekin or two, cover, and chill until ready to serve. It will keep for about 3 days in the refrigerator.
Home-Cured Lox (Cured Salmon)
1 lb [500 g] skin-on, center-cut salmon fillet 1⁄4 cup [50 g] granulated sugar
1⁄4 cup [32 g] kosher salt
Traditional lox, or cured salmon, is made with salmon belly, the thickest, fattiest part of the fish. A nice fat piece of salmon is glorious, but I’ll cure any part of the salmon I’m given. If it’s the thinner tail end, I simply plan for less time to achieve the silky, firm joy that is lox. Lox is never smoked, only cured in a simple mixture of salt and sugar where neither the salt nor the sugar should be noticeable.
Place a long sheet of aluminum foil on a clean work surface and cover it with a long sheet of plastic wrap. Set the salmon skin-side down on the plastic wrap. Inspect the salmon for any pin bones and use a pair of tweezers to remove them.
In a small bowl, combine the sugar and salt. Press the mixture into the flesh side of the salmon. Use the plastic wrap to snugly enclose the fillet, then double-wrap it with the foil.
Place the packet flat in a shallow glass or ceramic dish. Place another dish on top of the wrapped fish and add cans of tomatoes or jars of pickles or whatever weight will balance securely in the refrigerator and provide significant heft. (I keep a foil-wrapped masonry brick in the pantry and use it only for this purpose.)
After 24 hours, dispose of any juices that may have gathered in the bottom of the dish. Flip the fish packet over and reapply the weight.
Unwrap and check the fish after 48 hours; it should be firm all the way through. Press with your fingertips to check the thickest part of the fish to see if the texture has changed from tender to firm, raw to cured; there should be some resistance and the color will deepen. If it seems to need more time, rewrap it, flip it over, and replace the weight. Check again in 12 hours, and again 12 hours later, if needed. The fish will never take more than 72 hours to cure.
Unwrap the fish and brush away the salt-sugar mixture. The fish should be firm and deeply pink. Pat the fish with a paper towel to remove any remaining cure. Slice off a little of the lox to taste because you earned it.
Serve, thinly sliced, at room temperature or very slightly cold.
Lox will keep for 1 week in the refrigerator. I often slice and portion the fish, wrapping it tightly and freezing it in 2 oz [55 g] portions, just enough for a bagel. Defrost the lox in the refrigerator overnight and be rewarded at breakfast. Lox will keep for 3 months in the freezer.
Cathy Barrow is an award-winning author and cook. She has written four cookbooks, Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry, Pie Squared, When Pies Fly, and her newest: Bagels, Schmears, and a Nice Piece of Fish. Cathy won an IACP award for best single-subject cookbook for Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry and was nominated for a James Beard Award in the Baking category for Pie Squared. She writes a monthly food column for the Washington Post Food section and has been published by the New York Times, Serious Eats, FOOD52, The Local Palate, Garden & Gun, Southern Living, NPR, and National Geographic.
Reprinted from Bagels, Schmears, and a Nice Piece of Fish by Cathy Barrow with permission from Chronicle Books, 2022. Photographs © Linda Xiao.