Although I’m an Italian Catholic, my childhood was spent in the “Five Towns” of long Island- a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. Of course, our Jewish neighbors became dear friends of the family and it didn’t take long to realize that Italians and Jews have one very big thing in common: we are obsessed with food!With the Jewish holidays upon us, I wanted to talk about one of their signature dishes: smoked fish. Working in the culinary industry, I am lucky to have many friends with specialized trades, and Brett Portier is the guy with whom to discuss Salmon and all things smoked.Brett owns Smokehouse of NY: a family-run establishment that’s been around for over 30 years. Who better to answer my questions about salmon than him? He has been in the kitchen since birth- just like his father and grandfather, who was a Michelin Star rated chef in France. He entered the family business at age 12- and has turned it into one of the most successful smokehouses in the world- emphasizing the highest quality products. It was also recently named one of “Oprah’s Favorite things.” Here’s what Brett had to say:
What tips do you have for those shopping for smoked salmon?
- Look at the packaging. A lot of these smoked salmon bags are all blacked out with with some writing and marketing material on the front of it. You can’t actually see the fish. My bags are completely clear on the front. You can see the product, see the quality, and see what you’re purchasing.
- Ask the origin of the salmon. Our salmon is farmed in some of the better regions of the world: Norway, Scotland, and Faroe Islands. Stay away from salmon that has been farmed in Canada, Chili, and the West Coast in the Pacific. Because of their methods, the fish are stressed out and the mercury levels are through the roof
- Look for no nitrates, benzoates, or preservatives. Salmon doesn’t have much of a shelf life when it’s cold smoked because it never reaches 82F degrees. A lot of smokers use preservatives to give it a longer shelf life, as opposed to our products.
Do you always recommend wild salmon over farm-raised?
- Any day of the week, I recommend wild over farmed. 100%.
What if wild is not an option. Among the farmed- is there one that’s better than another?
- Yes, salmon from regions of Europe use higher quality and better methods of raising the fish. They tend to use all-natural feed, which ensures the product being parasite free. The West Coast fish tend to have a lot of diseases.
What is the best way to get your salmon?
The Jewish Holidays are coming up. Do you make anything special during this time?
- We have done custom platters for over 35 years for the “Break-fast” for Yom Kippur. We are a 9 time Double Gold Medal Winner by “Chefs in America” for our smoked fish and “Best of Westchester” as well. We only produce a 100% all-natural product and we still practice the traditional method of hand carving all of our salmon.
Word on the street is you are one serious mixologist. Is that true?
- Haha, yes it is. It’s something I’ve always loved to do. I love being behind the bar, love to cook, love the experience. I was actually picked as the number 2 bartender in the USA by Diageo.
So what drink would you recommend with your product?
- Champagne, wine, or a good martini.
What profession other than yours would you like to attempt?
- I come from a long line of chefs. My grandfather was a Michelin star, my father was trained underneath him, and my father raised me in the kitchen. My brother is a 3rd level master sommelier. When it comes to wine and food: I’m a foodie at heart and I’m a wine snob. My real passion is being creative with dishes and pairing wines with food. I’d love to open my own café or restaurant eventually.
That’s wonderful! And now you’re a father- how did becoming a husband and father change you in business?
- It gave me direction. It changed my perspective on life. Unfortunately, as you know, in our line of work it’s ungodly hours, and when the holidays come: I don’t sleep and I’m here 22-24 hours straight. Every time I think I’m too tired to do it, I walk into my kids’ rooms and look a their faces. They give me the energy and strength I need. I know that what I’m doing today is for them and for their future.
Speaking of kids- my son is obsessed with your salmon! So last question- because everyone is always asking me for more salmon recipes- what is your favorite?
BRETT’ S FAVORITE WAY TO COOK SALMON
- Marinate 8 ounce filet cut of New Zealand Organic King Salmon (available at The Smokehouse of NY) in fresh squeezed orange juice
- Roll salmon in whole fennel seeds, then drizzle honey and soy sauce over the top
- Roll salmon on grill for about 1-2 minutes each meat side, and finish for another 2-3 minutes skin side down to crisp skin and produce a nice med rare to medium finish
- I accompany my salmon with a nicely shaved raw fennel salad, tossed in olive oil, apple cider vinegar, red onion, cherry tomatoes and a touch of parmesan
- For cooking the salmon inside, place under high broiler (450 degrees.) Bake about two inches away from flame for approximately 7-8mins for medium rare to medium finish. The broiler produces a beautiful char on the salmon from its fat lines and caramelizes the orange juice and honey.