Like many people, I’m fascinated by New York; the city, the energy, the people... the food scene.
Having only been once when I was 20, I can vividly recall how naive and completely oblivious I was to the richness and diversity of this wonderful city.
I only cared for IHOP (International House of Pancakes), visiting MoMA and walking down Fifth avenue. If it wasn’t for the friends I travelled with, I wouldn’t have thought about visiting certain places or booking impromptu experiences that made that trip so memorable.
Fast forward five years and here am I, as obsessed as I will ever be with food. Back then in 2012, I hadn’t discovered my love for food. I know it sounds incredibly foolish to admit – “How can someone not know they love food?”, but it’s true I didn’t. I hadn’t made that connection in my brain, I was so consumed and devoted to another career path that I didn’t see what was right in front of me. Had I known, I could’ve visited New York’s best restaurants, tried the most amazing foods but alas I didn’t. I settled for tourist traps and corner hot dog carts. Ok I’m exaggerating, I only had one hot dog.
At the end of the day, I shouldn’t be so hard on myself. Back then, the food scene was probably not as rich and diverse as it is today; which leads me to my next point. I’ve been planning my next trip to New York for years now, heck, I started planning it when I took the flight back to London that May of 2012. Every time I hear of a new restaurant or place that tickles my fancy, I add it to my “New York Trip” Google doc. Needless to say, the list is pretty epic, to the point where I’d have to stay in NYC around 3 weeks* in order to try each place. (*and a generous amount of cash) – It’s a sacrifice I’m happy to make.
One of those places is Jack’s Wife Freda. As with most of my discoveries, I can’t recall where I first heard of them, probably on Instagram. Every time I saw someone else’s picture of the food there I would drool excessively. The thing with Jack’s Wife Freda is that it’s not just about the food. To me, eating out is an experience, one that is shared with not only the rest of the diners but the people there serving you, the chefs, the guys behind the counter. If you were to ask the regulars, they’d probably tell you they go to Jack’s Wife Freda because of the delicious home-cooked comfort-food style dishes but also because of the homeliness, the friendliness of the staff, a sheer reflection of Maya and Dean’s approach to hospitality.
Their new cookbook, Jack’s Wife Freda: Cooking from New York’s West Village, is not only a collection of their best dishes, but the story of how the restaurant came to be. I usually complain about the fact that most cookbooks don’t have “soul” – in this case, I couldn’t be more wrong. The introduction alone, recounts both, Maya and Dean’s experiences as immigrants in America. The recipes, created by Chef Julia Jaksic, are meant to be an ode to Nanna’s Jewish comfort food reinvented to incorporate South African and Israeli flavours to appeal to every palate, any day of the week.
🕑 1 hour
- Yields 15-18 pieces
- 1 small carrot (chopped in tiny dice)
- 450g hake (or cod) (cut in small cubes)
- 170g smoked whitefish (can be omitted or replaced by cod)
- 3 eggs
- 3 tbsp heavy cream
- 1 shallot (minced)
- 3 garlic cloves (minced)
- 1/4 cup parlsey (chopped)
- olive oil
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1 cup flour
- 2 cups panko breadcrumbs
- vegetable oil for frying
for the horseradish mayonnaise
- 1 4-inch piece of horseradish (or 4 tbsp creamed horseradish sauce)
- 1 small garlic clove
- 1 egg yolk
- 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
- 1/2 tsp dijon mustard
- 1/4 cup sunflower oil
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- cracked black pepper
– For the mayonnaise: finely grate the garlic clove with a microplane zester into a small bowl with the egg yolk, lemon juice, and mustard. Whisk until it’s combined. Place both oils together into a spouted measuring cup and in a very slow and steady stream, add the oils to the yolk mixture while whisking continuously. The mixture will emulsify and become quite thick. Season with salt and pepper.
You may need to adjust it slightly by adding more lemon juice if needed. I found the mustard flavour was quite strong so added a couple of teaspoons of heavy cream to soften the edge. Add the horseradish and mix until combined.
– Start by getting all your ingredients weighed and ready to be used. Peel carrot and cut it in half. Cut one half into 1/4 inch strips lengthwise. Take each strip and cut again lengthwise into 1/4 inch strips. Gather all the strips and cut across into very small dice, then repeat with the other half.
– Place the hake or cod (we used skinless cod) into the food processor together with 1 egg, the heavy cream and 1/2 tsp salt and process until smooth. Add the smoked whitefish if using and process again until combined.
– Transfer the fish mixture into a bowl, add the shallot, garlic, carrot and parsley and mix well. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge to firm up for 30 minutes.
– While the fish mixture chills, place the flour in a bowl or shallow plate, then the panko crumbs on another shallow plate or bowl and the remaining 2 eggs (and the leftover egg white from the mayo recipe) in a third bowl. Whisk the eggs until well combined.
– Remove the fish mixture from the fridge, roll one tablespoon of the mixture into a bowl and drop it into the flour then roll it around to be coated completely. Then roll in the egg until evenly coated, and finally in the panko breadcrumbs. Do this with all the fish mixture.
– In a shallow pan heat roughly 2 inches of sunflower oil to 120C degrees. Line a plate with kitchen paper and set it aside. Cook the fishballs, turning until all sides are equally golden in colour. This should take between 5-10 minutes depending on the size of the fishball. Once cooked, transfer them to a plate lined with kitchen paper.
I knew from the very beginning I was going to love this cookbook. Has that ever happened to you? I’m a firm believer that both people and things transmit energy – and this book not only transmits joy and ease but also warmth. It’s a cookbook based on familial food and kindliness, so it’s really no surprise that the recipes are all about incorporating fresh but filling ingredients, that come all together in beautiful dishes to be savoured, enjoyed and shared.
From breakfast, lunch, and dinner to desserts, teas and shakes; you’ll not only find recipes that will challenge your appetite but will add to your repertoire of must-try foods. This cookbook is a beautiful, heartfelt story of one of New York’s most well-known restaurants and how its dishes changed people’s lives.
Other Recipes We Loved:
Eggs Benny with Beet Hollandaise
Haloumi with Grapes
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