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Moroccan Fish Balls

October 9, 2011 Leave a comment

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago how much I’ll miss the Wall Street Journal’s arts/culture/wine/food/sports coverage when we soon stop taking the paper. (I won’t miss the rest and won’t miss Murdoch, the reason for canceling it.) Another gem appeared as the daily front-page feature (the A-Hed) a couple of days ago, Lucette Lagnado’s piece with news that fabled Jewish food producer Manischewitz was branching out from gefilte fish to Moroccan fish meatballs. Yes, the acme of Ashkenazi food was heading over to the wild Sephardic side.

For years, gefilte fish—plump little patties of minced fish—has been the Jewish holiday treat that some Jews love to hate.

[snip]

Even Paul Bensabat wasn’t that impressed when he tried it. “Boring,” he says. “Pretty bland.” And he’s co-CEO of Manischewitz Co., one of the largest producers of gefilte fish. When Mr. Bensabat and partners took over the 123-year-old company, they decided to spice things up. One idea: Moroccan fish balls.

[snip]

Mr. Bensabat, a Moroccan Jew born in Casablanca, had never tasted gefilte fish when he and his partner joined an investor who had acquired the company. Some Manischewitz fare hadn’t been a part of his upbringing. “I never grew up eating matzoh-ball soup,” he says. His childhood memories were of couscous and other dishes of the Mediterranean.

He started sampling jars of gefilte fish. Manischewitz makes more than 50 different kinds—sweet and not sweet, in jelly and in broth, to name a few.

His partner and co-CEO Alain Bankier, also Moroccan-Jewish and also from Casablanca, is more diplomatic. “It is an acquired taste,” he says.

They agreed Manischewitz needed to go beyond gefilte fish—and quickly. Sales of traditional gefilte fish in a jar were still a pillar of the business, but were steadily going down. Younger consumers favored other foods or brands. The company hadn’t produced new products in years when Messrs. Bensabat and Bankier joined it in 2008.

[snip]

Mr. Bensabat’s prescription was to branch out to Mediterranean fare—starting with his mother’s Moroccan fish balls.

The company’s food technologists at its headquarters in Newark, N.J., were mystified: They hadn’t a clue how to make Moroccan fish balls.

The solution: a cross-cultural, trans-Atlantic cuisine transplant, in which Mr. Bensabat would get the family recipe from his 83-year-old maman and Manischewitz’s cooks would translate it for large-scale production.

There were a few obstacles, starting with the fact that his mother, Claire Bensabat, lives 4,000 miles away in Nice. She speaks French and doesn’t use recipes or follow a cookbook to prepare her delicacies.

Her recipe for fish balls: Take a fish, and “add a little bit of cumin.”

Read the full story.

Now I’m eager to try the fish balls, or fish meatballs, as Manischewitz decided to call them. Manischewitz has a recipe for the meatballs at their website, along with the photo at the top of this post.

Also, accompanying the WSJ article is Mrs. Claire Bensabat’s Festive Sweet Couscous Recipe, along with this explanation: “Sweet couscous is a specialty of Mrs. Claire Bensabat, Paul Bensabat’s mother, that she loves to make; since she cooks by instinct, it was hard for her to come up with exact measures, but through the efforts of working together with her son, she produced the following recipe for The Journal.”

Gail, should we give it a try?

Categories: Food, Religion

Pan Am Clipper

October 9, 2011 Leave a comment

A couple of weeks ago, as an accompaniment to Nancy Franklin’s New Yorker review of ABC’s new TV show Pan Am, Jon Michaud posted a slide show of vintage airline ads. I looked at a couple, saved the link for later, and later came this morning. The ads date from 1947 to 1960 and are quite wonderful. I highly recommend a close look at all of them.

The Pan Am ad above, second in the slide show, is from 1949. So many details are worthy of a close look. Have a look also at the drawing below, which I found at the Pan Am Clipper Flying Boats site.

My first commercial flying experience would have been January or February of 1961. My father had a convention in Miami and decided we should all fly down from New York for a bit of vacation. I remember sitting by the pool at our hotel in Miami Beach and reading, of all things, John F. Kennedy’s Why England Slept. This is why it must have been 1961 — JFK had just been inaugurated and his books, re-issued, became best-sellers. Why England Slept was his Harvard senior thesis, written in 1940 about England’s failure to be ready for what became World War II. I found it incredibly dull, a combination of my being way too young and ignorant to read such books and, I suspect, the reality that the book really was incredibly dull. Not to mention that only a sucker or a child would believe JFK actually wrote the book.

Ever since, when I think of Miami Beach, I think of Why England Slept. As for the flight itself, what I remember was that we all dressed up for the occasion. The last ad in the New Yorker slide show, copied below, looks about right to me. And remained right some ways into the ’60s. Then it all changed. Fast.

Categories: Advertising, Clothing, Travel