Get Whitefish On Your Bagel
Nothing else will do.
What do I order on a bagel? Easy. Whitefish salad. Good whitefish salad. Not the the upscale stuff with big chunks of fish and green-onions or whatever. The standard stuff at the bagel shop. Smooth, creamy, speckled with a few strands of fish-skin that didn’t make it through the filet. Heavy on the mayo. Salty, fishy, eminently spreadable. Think about it now, on a fresh everything, the heat rising up through the whitefish, softening up the mayo just at tiny bit.
And before you ask “what kind of fish is whitefish, anyway?” forget about it. Whitefish is whitefish. Go into a kosher deli and look under the glass and you’ll find some whole fishes with golden-crispy skin peeled back to reveal off-white flesh underneath. That’s smoked whitefish. Some take the whole fish home and eat it like that, forking the meat right off the bone. But if you take that silky, smokey goodness and toss it up with some mayo you’ve got whitefish salad. Simple, delicious, perfect on a bagel.
There are other things to get on a bagel, many of them quite good. But nothing really hits the spot like whitefish salad.
Cream cheese? Sure, why not. Totally acceptable. I like scallion, personally. Nothing like the texture of cream cheese, that tarty-tang, the way it melts into a bagel’s toasted dough when it’s been sitting in the wrapper during the walk home from the bagel shop. Also great as a base for your smoked/cured fish topping of choice — lox, sable, sturgeon, whatever.
But don’t get ahead of yourself — cream cheese is no whitefish salad. Why get a schmear that you top with smoked fish, when you can get a schmear with the smoked fish in it?
Bacon egg and cheese? Fuck yeah. All-time classic. Great on a bagel — maybe an egg-onion, if your local spot makes a good one. Hangover cure, morning power-up, old-standby. Can’t argue with a bacon egg and cheese. But it doesn’t need to be on a bagel, necessarily. The bagel, in this scenario, is just a vessel — easily replaced by a kaiser role or a tortilla or an english muffin.
The bagel should never be just a vessel. The bagel should meld with its topping perfectly. It should be impossible to imagine the bagel itself without the thing you put on it.
Cold cuts? Lettuce and tomato? An aioli of some sort? I certainly won’t stop you. I’ve had great sandwiches on bagels and I hope to have many more. Turkey breast, avocado, roasted peppers, maybe some slices of fresh mozz — throw it on a multigrain. Easy way to level up your sandwich game. But a cold-cut sandwich is the country-club-WASP of food-items. Couldn’t get more goyish if you tried.
And I’m not trying to be exclusionary here — the bagel is a treat for all boys and girls, of all backgrounds and creeds — but you’re fooling nobody if the stuff you put on your bagel could do just as well between some slices of white-bread.
What you want for your bagel is something that’s undeniably schmear, that you can dollop on with a quick flick of a butter knife. Something creamy and decidedly on the savory side. You want to involve some kind of smoked fish, because you want to honor your Jewish ancestors and also because you want something flaky, oily, and salty. You want something that works, structurally, on a bagel, that will give when you bite into it without too much spillage. You want’s something cold, so that the bagel’s toasty warmth is elevated through contrast.
You want whitefish salad. Nothing else will do.