Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Knishnaut: One is Not Like the Other

Left: Old & Busted. Right: Like Will Smith in MIB, it makes this style look good.
Knishes are baked...unless they are fried. Among the pizzaratti, there is something called the "Pizza Cognition Theory." It states that:
The first slice of pizza a child sees and tastes (and somehow appreciates on something more than a childlike, mmmgoood, thanks-mom level), becomes, for him, pizza. He relegates all subsequent slices, if they are different in some manner from that first triangle of dough and cheese and tomato and oil and herbs and spices, to a status that we can characterize as not pizza.
Now take out the word pizza, and insert the word knish. For the average New Yorker, the defining knish is not Mrs. Stahls, the same way most pizza-heads can't really claim Di Fara's as their ur-slice. For many (particularly non-Jewish) people, if they have an early, formative experience with a knish from the days before foodies and artisanal mayonnaise, it would be... this:

Deep fried squares, usually sold from a cart along side hot dogs, an echo of the time of knish-carts from the time of our grandparents. These are Gabila's knishes, a.k.a. Coney Island–style knishes, and while I may take time at a later point to delve into this history, only three things are of import here:
  1. They are not too available on carts anymore due to DOH & Giuliani, but are still widely available in supermarkets.
  2. They are fully enclosed in dough.
  3. They are deep fried, not baked.
So a few days ago, in an attempt to eat healthier after eating way too much crap for the week before and few weeks after my son Lil' Knyshy was born, I decided to make some spinach knishes, strictly for home use. With some left over dough and some plain potato filling, I strapped on my knishnaut helmet and I went to work on exploring the outer reaches of what my knishtchen could produce....
Mandatory nudie knish pic, you pervert.
Well, it's square--so, square I made it. Well, rectangular, anyway. It's hip to be a square, and it's post modern to be a rectangle.

For ODB, as he likes his knishes raw.
Then I folded it up, used a bench scraper to seal the edges and then....
Little did he know that it was not a Jacuzzi...
In culinary school, we spent weeks on each method of cooking -- sautéeing & pan frying, roasting & baking, poaching & braising, curing & smoking & more. Only one method got a single solitary day: deep frying. In the lecture part of the class, the chef explained that if you have your time and temp right in deep fry, you are pretty much guaranteed to come out delicious -- and that's why the combination of fancy egg-timer-technology and non-trained high school drop outs can make perfect french fries at McDonalds for 50+ years all over the globe.

But a handmade knish does not come with time and temp instructions, so I had to wing it. Using a quart of peanut oil (peanut, because it has a high smoke point) that I zapped up really hot -- 500 degrees (french fries go good at around 450), I decided to just eyeball the frying until it looked about right. Unlike fried chicken, I would not have to worry about pre-cooked innards being raw, and a higher fry temp would prevent much oil from being absorbed by my knish.

Boil, boil, toil & trouble.
The knish started looking pretty golden at about 30 seconds, and I let it go for another 15 to get some nice mahogany spots all over the crust, guaranteeing some nice brown flavor. I cut it open, and it was nice and hot on the inside.

I am an American. If you deep fry it, I've been trained to automatically like it. When I went to try this knish, I was thinking, "Well, I didn't make any consideration for this method -- I'm using the same dough and the same filling as a baked knish, so let's pay attention to how this needs to be adjusted." After taking a bite, my only thought was, "Oh my. I need to take another bite." And my second thought was, "If my grandma was from Mumbai instead of Israel, this would be her very oniony, very underspiced samosa." And my third thought was, "Oh shut up, stop thinking so much, this is kinda good." I have a few ideas for improvements, but this was a very auspicious Coney-style knish v 1.0.

I had a few Gabila's knishes lying around (because if you are a Knishman, Rule 38.3 of the Lifestyle Code dictates you must always have a few Gabilas lying around) so I put them down, head to head.
Two generations.
Which one would you like to eat?

ADDENDUM: I was hoping to do a round of holiday knishes for special order for Hanukkah/Xmas/New Years ever for special order, like I did for Thanksgiving. While making this recent round of knishes, I took responsibility for caring for Lil Knyshy:

Lil' Knishy rides a bouncy table full o' Spinach Knishes
Caring for an infant while making 72+ knishes is like working with one hand tied behind your back. It took me a little longer, but all the knishes came out to my satisfaction, and in the evening I got into mad-scientist mode with the boiling oil after everyone went to sleep.

However, the preschool my toddler attends was put on emergency hiatus (another story for a non-food-blog post) and for the next two weeks I will have two arms and one leg tied up plus a rope around my waist tying me to a cranky radiator. So I will be forced to skip this holiday season and focus on some winter holidays -- please check out the poll on this blog as well as our Facebook page.

Thanks to everyone for their support!


  1. do have a recipe for these deep fried knishes? they look great!

  2. Anyone know if Gabila's knishes are Kosher for Passover? I'm at a Gentile house and the amount of chametz (i.e. food I can't eat) is staggering.....I'm HUNGRY!!!