The old country's answer to tuna salad, whitefish salad is a smokey, savory, umami-filled yesteryear deli favorite. If you can find a whole smoked whitefish—look for them near the lox at the supermarket, or in kosher section at Costco—this salad is easy to make, keeps well, and makes a wonderful addition to a brunch or kiddush lineup.
As far back as I can remember, I've always liked smoked and pickled fish. I was the toddler with the lox and the herring and, as soon as I was privy to it, whitefish salad. (Am I also a lifelong fan of chopped liver? Obviously.) Fresh off the boat, my parents bought pound after pound of chicken livers at the supermarket, shocked at how cheap the delicacy was in America; but lox remained resolutely expensive, and herring was nowhere to be found in those days, so it was only as a teenager in New Jersey that I discovered the wonders of whitefish.
I'll submit, whitefish is not for those who aren't into fishy fish. For those into that sort of thing, whitefish is king of the deli. Typically, whitefish gets two treatments in the Jewish kitchen: it gets mixed with pike in those gefilte fish logs you buy frozen, or it gets smoked and chopped into a salad similar to cold tuna salad.
Prepping whitefish for salad
Dealing with a whole whitefish might sound daunting, but the fish actually comes cleaned and is very easy to handle. Lift up the side facing up from the slit at the bottom and you'll find two large fillets inside (like in the picture above left). Then, lift out the bones—they usually come off easily, all in one piece, as in the photo above right), then simply yank out the meat with your hands. After taking out the fillets, you can use your hands to take out any more bits of meat left over.
After removing the meat from the smoked whitefish, place into a mixing bowl and, using your hands, flake it until relatively finely flaked. You can use two forks as well, but I find hands work best here.
Add-ins to the salad
The basic binder for the salad, like in old-faithful tuna, egg, or chicken salad, is mayonnaise. You can add more if you like your salad creamier; the recipe include just enough to hold it together. Then there's a bit of lemon juice for acidity.
You could be a minimalist and season with a pinch of salt and pepper and call it a day at this point, or you can add a few flavorful options: a tablespoon or two of minced red onion or shallot, some capers, and/or fresh dill. Toss together and that's it.
Serving whitefish salad
You can serve whitefish just like you would tuna salad. It's especially good on bagels, as part of a spread. You can also eat it on crackers as more of an appetizer.
Looking for more deli favorites?
- 1 whole smoked whitefish
- 2 Tbsp mayonnaise
- 2 tsp lemon juice
- pinch salt
- pinch black or white pepper
- 2 tsp capers - optional
- 2 Tbsp chopped dill - optional
- 2 Tbsp minced red onion or shallot - optional
Flake the fish:
- Open up the smoked whitefish and carefully lift out the bones. Remove the meat and place in a mixing bowl. Using two forks or your hands, finely flake the fish.
Mix the salad:
- To the fish in the mixing bowl, add the mayonnaise, lemon juice, and pinches of salt and pepper. If using, add also the capers, dill, and/or red onion. Toss until well combined.