“We hope this book gets others excited about the future of Jewish deli and helps them enjoy the way Jewish deli used to be, even if they don’t live near one of these artisan delis,” says Nick Zukin, the “Zuke” in Portland’s Jewish deli Kenny & Zuke’s Delicatessen and co-author of The Artisan Jewish Deli at Home.
In their new cookbook, authors Zukin and Michael C. Zusman, a state court judge by day and a freelance restaurant and food writer at night, highlight the resurgence in deli craftsmanship and the DIY spirit in Jewish food culture. They also include both traditional and inventive recipes, along with information about the historical and cultural background of Jewish deli.
Arts & Life had the opportunity to ask Zukin about the cookbook, artisan Jewish deli and the three holiday recipes he shared with us. (Click on the links below to download PDF copies of the recipes.)
Arts & Life: Please tell us about the holiday recipes you are sharing with us: Fall Brisket: Cider and Butternut Squash; Crispy Potato Latkes with Chunky Ginger Applesauce; and Chocolate-Dipped Coconut Macaroons.
Nick Zukin: The crispy potato latkes and the coconut macaroons are very classic dishes. They’ll be familiar to anyone who grew up eating Jewish foods. The autumn pot roast, which uses apple cider vinegar and butternut squash, is a great ‘Thanksgivvukuh’ turn on traditional fare. It is very seasonal and has flavors that represent both Jewish deli and Thanksgiving.
A&L: What is “artisan Jewish deli”?
NZ: To put it most simply: it’s deli the way it was 100 years ago. Post World War II, the emphasis in deli was more and more on price and portions. Quality became secondary, and delis began outsourcing their products to factories making their breads, meats and pickles.
There are a lot of delis that still serve Jewish staples like pastrami, corned beef, brisket, slaw, blintzes, latkes and so on, but you ask and you find out they’re shipping everything in from Hebrew National or the like. Even most of the big-name delis don’t make their pastrami or breads.
… Several Jewish delicatessens have sprung up around North America (and even outside in places like London) where the craft of Jewish deli has returned to its roots. These places are making their own rye bread, making their own bagels, making their own corned beef and pastrami, making their own pickles, making everything they put on a plate. And the people behind these places truly care about quality and ingredients and it shows. They’re using organic, local and natural ingredients. They’re shopping at farmers markets. They’re not taking shortcuts.
A&L: Why did you decide to publish this cookbook?
NZ: There were some deli books out there, mostly focused on one deli or another. But we wanted to talk as much about this resurgence in true deli craftsmanship and highlight this DIY trend that we were a part of. When Ken and I started this thing, we didn’t even think about there being a trend. We just knew that finding good pastrami and bagels was nearly impossible in Portland.
Since then other people have had similar ideas and we’ve partnered with them on this book, profiling them and publishing some of their recipes. There’s Stopsky’s on Mercer Island, near Seattle. There’s Caplansky’s in Toronto. There’s Mile End in Brooklyn. And there’s Wise Sons in San Francisco. They’ve shown, along with Kenny & Zuke’s, that deli has a future …
A&L: What types of recipes are found in the cookbook? Whose recipes are they?
NZ: There’s a full range of kosher-style deli recipes from simple things like coconut macaroons, egg salad and chicken salad to more involved things, like home-cured and smoked pastrami, handmade bagels and cured salmon. Most recipes are ones Michael and I developed, some for use in Kenny & Zuke’s, and there are recipes from each of the five delis profiled.
Some of the dishes are very traditional. We even tell people how to render their own schmaltz and make gribenes (the fried bits of chicken skin leftover after making schmaltz). But some dishes are more inventive. For example, Mile End has a recipe for Chinese broccoli and kosher salami, a great mashup of cultures that makes sense to any Jew, especially those from New York. There is, of course, a pastrami burger recipe. And things like challah sticky buns. It’s funny. A pastrami burger is not traditional at all, though it’s not new, being a part of Los Angeles and Salt Lake burger culture. You’re not going to find one at Katz’s or Langer’s or Schwartz’s. But I think all of the delis profiled in our book have one. And I don’t think they were copying each other. I just think it was a natural thing for them.
A&L: What sets your cookbook apart from other Jewish cookbooks?
NZ: It’s specifically about deli food, whereas most Jewish cookbooks are about Jewish regional or home cooking. But it’s also very committed to the modern trend in seasonal and local cooking.
Michael and I are regular farmers market shoppers. I met Michael at the Portland Farmers Market because he was selling bagels there. Ken and I started selling pastrami and pickles at the Hillsdale Farmers Market. Seasonal, local cooking is part of who we are. So a lot of the recipes are very seasonal.
One of my favorite things we got in the book, something I had to fight for, were seasonal variations on classic dishes. For example, there are four different versions of borscht, one for each season. Same with rugelach, blintzes, chicken salad and even pot roast. I think everyone thinks that pot roast all has to be made the same way, but it’s not true. Pot roast has always been a seasonal dish. You put some meat in a pot with various vegetables available to you and cook it until it’s tender and tastes great. I think our pot roasts are fantastic, and each one very different from each other, and the type of thing a home cook would just be doing because they had to 100 years ago. And that’s part of what we’re doing: getting back to the things that made the deli great 100 years ago.
A&L: If you were asked to create a Jewish holiday recipe using kimchi, would you do that? If yes, what would it be? If no, why not?
NZ: Sure, why not? The deli was a fusion cuisine from the beginning. And kimchi is just a spicy Korean pickle, really. Cabbage? That’s not foreign to deli at all. Actually, some kimchi latkes, maybe with small knobs of cream cheese in the batter, and a sriracha-sour cream topping sounds pretty good right now. Or how about a kimchi reuben with the sauerkraut replaced? Damn, I’m getting hungry. Need to go experiment …
A&L: Anything else you would like to add?
NZ: Just that I hope people don’t settle for schtick from their local deli. The deli isn’t just a cultural touchstone; it’s also one of the great American culinary inventions by a wonderful immigrant community who I happen to be blessed to be descended from. Deli should be considered in the same breath as barbecue, Cajun food and New Mexican cuisine. I think places like Wise Sons, Mile End, Stopsky’s, Caplansky’s and Kenny & Zuke’s prove that. There are some others that are joining this trend and I hope it continues and deli never dies.