This month, I’m honored to discuss one of AJHS’s newest acquisitions, Out of Our Kitchen Closets: San Francisco Gay Jewish Cooking. It’s a synagogue community cookbook published in 1987 by Congregation Sha’ar Zahav (founded in 1977) in San Francisco – “Sha’ar Zahav” means “Golden Gate” in Hebrew. The book captures the emotions of an era when the LGBTQ+ community fought for visibility and acceptance, and, in the case of this congregation, expressed their joy in their Jewish community through food.
Out of Our Kitchen Closets opens with an explanation regarding why LGBT Jews in San Francisco sought to establish their own congregation. In the introduction, Betty L. Kalis wrote: “Many members and visitors remark that they feel comfortable in prayer for the first time at Sha’ar Zahav, surrounded by others who have had common experiences and share common needs.”
Food was a vital part of the culture of Congregation Sha’ar Zahav; indeed, the idea of the synagogue was sparked at a meeting of “gastronomic Jews who related to their Jewishness by eating chopped liver a few times a year.” From the outset, Congregation Sha’ar Zahav’s founders strove to develop a liturgy that was not only inclusive, but “non-sexist,” and ungendered traditional roles at the synagogue: women led prayer and interpreted religious text and men made latkes at Hanukkah.
The congregation played an important role in San Francisco’s history. In November 1978, they held The congregation played an important role in San Francisco’s history. In November 1978, they held memorial services from assassinated San Francisco politician Harvey Milk–the first openly gay Jewish man elected to a political position in America.
The synagogue’s early years coincided with the AIDS crisis. When the first of their congregants was affected by the disease in 1982, the community hosted a blood drive. “Since only our women members could donate,” member Nancy Meyer wrote in the introduction, “we asked the men to provide hospitality: home-baked cookies, foot massages and music while the women donated.” The FDA still bans blood donation from gay and bisexual men (current recommendations are slightly more flexible).
Near the front of the book, the editors offered menus for special occasions, like “Coming Out Cocktail Party for 25” and “Commitment Ceremony Lawn Lunch,” the latter of which harkens back to a time when marriage was not an option for same sex couples. But the menu that felt the most appropriate for this month was the “Pride Day Pre-Parade Brunch;” congregant Steve Greenberg wrote in the cookbook’s introduction: “When I lived in Minneapolis, I never dreamed I would be singing Hebrew songs with 100 gay men and lesbian women while marching down a major city thoroughfare.”
Bloody Marys and Orange Blossoms
Pasta Salad with Spinach Pesto
Fresh-Cured Salmon with Sweet Mustard Sauce
Cream Cheese and Bagel Halves
Tossed Green Salad
Gehachta Leber (chopped liver)
Grandma’s Sour Cream Coffee Cake
This brunch is full of protein, fiber, and a little bit of booze. The centerpiece of this menu is the fresh-cured salmon: it looks impressive and tastes like butter infused with lemon and dill. Presenting a board of your own cured salmon makes you seem extremely competent in the kitchen, but it’s actually quite easy to prepare with time and dedicated fridge space.
The full recipe is reprinted below, but here are my notes from testing out the process:
- I halved this recipe and used half a salmon, and it still worked great.
- When I got my filet, I still had to rinse a few scales off and pull out a few pin bones with a pair of pliers, so be aware you might need to do this extra prep. Don’t worry about buying “sushi grade” salmon, like some recipes suggested. All ocean fish must be frozen to USDA standards to remove parasites, so anything you find in a grocery store or seafood store will be safe. And when in doubt, ask your fishmonger!
- Saltpeter is sodium nitrate, otherwise known as curing salts. You’ll probably have to order it online; but if you can’t find it, here’s a recipe that only uses salt.
- I added lemon zest to the brining solution, and I highly recommended the addition of that step. .
- I subbed in red, sweet vermouth for the sherry in the sauce, because it’s what I had on hand. You can also leave the alcohol out entirely.
- You’ll need a very sharp knife to slice the salmon, and it really helped me to watch this video before I started.
- Enjoy brunch and see you at the parade!
Fresh-Cured Salmon with Sweet Mustard Sauce
Salmon: 1- 4 to 6 pound whole salmon, cleaned, head and bones removed, and cute into two large filets with skin on.
For each pound of fish:
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon crushed white peppercorns
1/8 to 1/2 teaspoon saltpeter, depending on size of fish
Juice of 2-3 lemons
1 large bunch dill, coarsely chopped
½ cup vegetable oil
Sweet Mustard Sauce:
½ cup Dijon-style Mustard
2 tablespoons vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon white pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ cup port, madeira or cream sherry wine
1 cup mayonnaise
Combine salt, sugar, peppercorns, saltpeter, and lemon juice. Put together a double thickness of heavy-duty aluminum foil about 18 x 36 inches. Sprinkle with half of the chipped dill along the center of the foil and lay one piece of the salmon, skin side down, on top of the dill. Ruby the flesh of the salmon with half of the curing mixture and place it flesh side down on top of the first, so it looks like a whole fish.
Bring up foil and wrap the fish securely. Place in a large pan. Place a small wooden board on top of foil-covered fish and weight it down with two bricks or some other heavy object to press the fish together. Refrigerate.
After 24 hours, turn over the entire fish, replace the weight and refrigerate for another 24 hours.
Make the sauce. Combine all the sauce ingredients except the mayonnaise in a small bowl. Fold in the mayonnaise. Pour the mixture into a serving bowl.
Unwrap the fish and remove the dill. Brush the salmon all over with the oil. To serve, place the fish on a wooden carving board with the sauce. Slice thinly with fresh dill and your sauce. This cured salmon, or “Gravad Lox,” will keep 7 to 10 days wrapped in fresh foil in the refrigerator. Do not leave it out at room temperature for longer than a few minutes while slicing or it can get soft.