One of the rituals we look forward to as the cold weather holidays approach is stocking up on and indulging in all varieties of delicious smoked and cured fish and a few kinds of fish roe—they pair perfectly with a glass of cold Champagne. At the “appetizing” shops in New York City (“appetizing” being the term for stores that sell fish and dairy that traditionally start off a meal), everything comes beautifully prepared and ready to eat: silky, buttery smoked salmons, pickled herring filets, affordable jewel-like orange trout and salmon eggs, and expensive grey-black caviars, too. We rely on one of the oldest appetizing shops in the country, Russ & Daughters, established in 1914—a New York City institution on the Lower East Side.

And every year we assemble our version of the famed smørrebrød
(Danish for “buttered bread” )—that glorious array of open-faced sandwiches. We make them with all the fish from our “appetizing” spree. We prepare a few simple spreads and condiments that work with most everything so it’s easy to mix and match. Here are the things we like to have on hand for building these beautiful sandwiches.


We use thin slices of good, dense, black rye or pumpernickel.


To keep the bread moist and keep the toppings from making it soggy, we use a few different spreads.

Butter—Our standard. We use a delicious salted butter, like the Irish butter from Kerrygold, kept at room temperature so it’s easy to spread.

Creamed cheese—We like to use goat cream cheese when we can find it.

Horseradish butter

Mix together 4 tablespoons softened butter with 1–2 tablespoons drained prepared horseradish in a small bowl until smooth. This butter will keep, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.—makes about ¼ cup

We like a selection of pickled, smoked, cured, and tinned fish, and use some or all of the following, depending on how ambitious we are feeling.

Belly lox—This is the mid-section of a juicy salmon, cured in a special salt brine. We love its tingly saltiness.

Chub—These smoky North American lake fish are tender and moist.

Smoked sablefish—An appetizing classic, this buttery smoked fish, also known as black cod or simply sable, is line-caught in the waters of the North Pacific.

Pickled, smoked, salted, and matjes herring—We love them all, from the classic briny pickled herring, to the smoky French herring, to the salted schmaltz, and the clovy matjes.

Smoked or cured salmon—With so many available, we’ve found that the best way to choose is simply to taste your way through, though we avoid those with an artificial-looking pink or orange hue, and ultimately settle on smoked salmon with a good pedigree, and with silky buttery texture well balanced in the salt and smoke world.

Smoked sturgeon—This freshwater white-fleshed fish, whose roe is turned into the priciest kind of caviar, has a distinctly earthy, sweet flavor.

Fish roe—Big orange salmon eggs or beautiful smaller (also orange) trout eggs add a pop-in-your-mouth texture and saltiness; plus they have a jewel- like beauty. Look for malossol quality. We crown sandwiches with a spoonful.

Canned sardines—We like them packed in olive oil. The plump Spanish sardines from Matiz Gallego (three to a can) are excellent.

Canned smoked eel—These delicate little filets have a subtle smoky flavor. We prefer the ones packed in olive oil to those in cottonseed oil.

Canned codfish liver—Not at all like the infamous daily dose, these are rich yet delicate in flavor, and incredibly tender.


Not just superfluous flourishes to decorate each sandwich, these add an extra hit of flavor.

Radishes—Sliced into thin little matchsticks, they add a pretty, peppery bite.

Preserved lemons—We dice the rind and use it for its vibrant yellow color and bright salty flavor.

Fresh dill—Its delicate, fresh flavor is a classic with preserved fish and its feathery leaves are perfect for garnishing.

Fresh chives—Either finely sliced or cut into longer lengths, they add a hit of green and mild onion flavor.

Hard-boiled eggs—We slice them into rounds and lay them under or over fish or roe.

Boiled potatoes—We like their earthiness underneath the flavors of these cured fish, and we slice them into thin rounds.

quick pickles

Simple, bright, and colorful pickles like these are a traditional foil for the rich flavors and supple textures of smoked and cured fish. We prepare ours using Japanese rice wine vinegar, because we like the way its perfect balance of sweetness and acidity complement the fish. When making the cucumber or red onion pickles, make only what you need for the meal; the extra slices will go limp after too long a soak.

Pickled Cucumbers

Use the little narrow Japanese or “gourmet” cucumbers for these if you can find them, otherwise an English, seedless one will do. Put thin slices of cucumber in a bowl. Cover with Japanese rice wine vinegar and let them soak for at least 15 minutes and up to 1 hour.

Pickled Red Onions

Soak thin slices of red onion in a bowl of rice wine vinegar for at least
15 minutes and up to 1 hour.

Pickled Carrots

Blanch thick round slices of peeled carrot in boiling water; drain and put into a bowl. Cover the carrots with rice wine vinegar, add a few cloves, black peppercorns, and/or a bay leaf, and cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 day and up to 2 weeks.

Pickled Beets

Wrap beets in foil and roast them in a preheated 400° oven until tender, about 1 hour. Peel and thickly slice the beets and put into a bowl. Cover with rice wine vinegar, add a few cloves, black peppercorns, and/or a bay leaf, and cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 day and up to 2 weeks.


The classic Swedish accompaniment to gravlax and delicious with these sandwiches, too. Put ¼ cup Dijon mustard, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, 2 tablespoons sugar, and ½ teaspoon white wine vinegar into a small bowl and whisk in ¼ cup vegetable oil until smooth.—makes ½ cup


[ you can find this recipe in Canal House Cooking Volume N° 5, The Good Life ]