Andrew Zimmern’s grandmother Henrietta “lived and died almost her entire life on West End Avenue, between 79th and 80th Streets,” Andrew, a noted chef and food television star explains. “She grew up...on one side of the street in a building and then she married my grandfather Lee. They moved across the street to 411 West End Avenue, that was in her 20’s and she died in that building in her late 80’s.”
Andrew knows that stretch of Manhattan’s West End Avenue well. He grew up across town on the other side of Central Park, but was a regular visitor to Henrietta’s home — particularly her kitchen where he would sit on a stool and keep his grandmother company as she cooked. “She taught me how to cook. The only thing we had in common was food,” he explains. “She was one of the great food influences of my life.”
On Fridays during the spring and summer Henrietta would poach salmon, so she could serve it on Saturdays. On Sunday, the leftover pieces were made into a salmon aspic flavored with tomato and lemon. “She always overcooked her salmon and it just used to drive me crazy even as a young kid,” Andrew confesses. “But I put up with it all the time because I was so in love with her tomato lemon aspic.”
The dish, which was made in a bundt pan, was one of many that appeared on her Sunday table when the family would visit. There was often pickled tongue with caramelized onions and raisins and smoked fish too.
Andrew isn’t certain where the recipe hails from. Many of Henrietta’s recipes came from a Hungarian housekeeper (Andrew still makes a version of her goulash), but the aspic, he believes may have been inspired by supermarket label. “During the 40s, 50s, and into the 60s, the biggest evolutionary event was the development of the supermarket and canned and packaged goods came into the marketplace…. I suspect it was something that came off of a box of aspic, or a can of salmon or off of a jar of tomato juice.”
Today, Andrew makes the poached salmon often. “It’s the easiest entertaining recipe in the whole world [and] I don’t overcook it,” he says. He recently served it at the Shabbat dinner in Harlem that we co-hosted as part of Marcus Samuelsson’s Harlem EatUp! festival. Andrew also shared it with us here, adding two sauces, tonnato, which is briney and full of capers and olives, and sauce vert, loaded with fresh herbs. Pair the fish with his pickled cucumber salad, which was the first recipe his grandmother taught him. Both are perfect for the season when Henrietta would make her salmon.