What is knish?
The word knish is a Yiddish word (Hebrew / Yiddish: קניש) derived from the Russian or Ukrainian word knysh (Книш), meaning “cake” or “dumpling”.
Knish is made of a stuffing wrapped with dough, baked or, more rarely fried. In the majority of traditional versions, the stuffing consists of mashed potatoes with fried onions, sauerkraut, kasha, minced meat, onions or cheese.
Other varieties of stuffing include sweet potatoes, black beans, broccoli or spinach. There are also sweet versions based on fruit in the form of jam, cream or compote. The most traditional ingredient in knish is schmaltz, chicken or goose fat, typical of Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine.
Knishes can be round, rectangular or square. They can be completely wrapped with dough or with part of the filling appearing on the top of the dough.
The sizes are variable: they can be small and bite size, or larger, almost the size of a sandwich.
Variants of knish
Many culinary traditions have recipes similar to knish, baked, grilled or fried including Cornish pasty, empanada from Spain or Latin America, coca from Algerian Jewish cuisine, Tunisian fricassé, fatayer from the Middle East, Portuguese rissol, Greek prasopita or spanakopita, Italian panzerotto and calzone, Czech klobasnek and kolache, Polish pierogi, Russian and Ukrainian pirog, or Russian vatrushka.
Knish is close to börek, called borekas or bourekas (Hebrew: בורקס) in Israel. Börek is a very ancient dish that dates back to the Ottoman Empire and is widely popular in Turkish and Balkan cuisine today.
A form of knish or börek is also found in India, even in South Asia, with samosa being the perfect example.
What is the origin of knish?
At the beginning of the 19th century, a wave of Ashkenazi Jewish immigrants from central and eastern Europe arrived in America with the hope of being protected from persecutions. These immigrants arrived with a repertoire of cooking recipes from their homeland.
Called knysh by Ukrainian Jews and knysz by Polish Jews, this humble turnover was made famous by its Yiddish derivative, knish.
It was in 1910 that knish officially became famous when the first exclusive knish bakery opened in New York.
The number of shops specializing in knishes then proliferated, and knishes began to appear on the menus of other shops owned by Jews such as delicatessens and classic bakeries.
One such establishment was a bakery founded by Yonah Schimmel, a Romanian Jewish immigrant, helped by his cousin, Joseph Berger.
Yonah Schimmel’s Knish Bakery has been a true testament to New York’s and America’s love for knish, as it has been operating for over a hundred years and is still run by descendants of Yonah Schimmel.
Generally recognized as a delicacy first popularized in New York by Jewish immigrants in the early 1900s, the United States experienced a “renaissance of the Knish” in the early 2000s, driven by specialized establishments such as the Knish Shop in Baltimore, Maryland, Buffalo and Bergen in Washington DC, or My Mother’s Knish, in Westlake Village, California.
What is schmaltz?
Also called schmalz or shmalz, schmaltz is clarified chicken or goose fat that is an integral part of traditional Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine, a cuisine where it has been used for centuries in a wide range of dishes such as chicken soup, latkes, matzah brei, chopped liver, matzah balls and fried chicken.
Schmaltz is used, among other things, as cooking fat, spread or flavor enhancer.
Poultry, and especially chicken, has always been the most popular meat in Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine, due to historic restrictions on Jews who were often not allowed to own land and livestock in Europe.
Schmaltz is native to the Jewish communities of northern Europe, central and eastern Europe, because it was an economic replacement.
Indeed, not being able to easily access olive oil or sesame oil, as was the case for the peoples of the Mediterranean and the Middle East, the Ashkenazi Jews transformed poultry fat into their favorite cooking fat. Schmaltz was the most widely used fat in Eastern European shtetls (Jewish villages).
Schmaltz was also the word that Ashkenazi Jews used to refer to kosher fat used by those whose strict Jewish food laws prohibited the frying of meat in butter or the use of lard. Indeed, Jewish law prohibits mixing dairy products with meat.
As for lard, it is made from pork and the consumption of pork is strictly prohibited in the Jewish religion.
Ashkenazi Jews fleeing the escalation of anti-Semitism and persecution in Eastern Europe took refuge mainly in the United States but also in other countries at the beginning of the 20th century. They then brought with them their traditional ingredients, including schmaltz.
The word schmaltz is derived from Yiddish and is similar to the German term schmalz, which means “rendered animal fat”, whatever the source: tallow and lard, for example, are both considered forms of schmalz in German, just like clarified butter.
Schmaltz unites the cuisine of central Europe, southwest France, the United States, Poland, Russia and Ukraine.
Widely available in kosher butcher shops, schmaltz is easy to prepare even at home. Just cut the chicken or goose fat into small pieces, finely chop them and place them in a non-stick pan with a little water and onions.
Bring everything to a boil and then lower the heat by allowing the different pieces to melt without darkening the mixture, which must cook without sticking, for a clear and clean result. When ready, the schmaltz should be filtered with a very fine mesh.
Once prepared, it can be stored in a glass container in the refrigerator for up to a week. It can also be frozen for several months.
- 3 cups flour , sifted
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- ½ cup water
- 1 tablespoon white vinegar
- ⅓ cup vegetable oil
- 1 lb mashed potatoes
- 1 large onion , diced
- 3 tablespoon schmaltz (goose fat)
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon caster sugar
- 1 egg , beaten
- Add the flour and baking powder into the bowl of a stand mixer.
- In a bowl, whisk the water, an egg, the vinegar, the salt, and the vegetable oil.
- Pour the prepared liquid mixture over the flour and, using the dough hook, knead until a very elastic dough is formed.
- Cover the dough and place it for 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
- Peel the potatoes, place them in a saucepan, cover with water and cook covered over medium heat for 25 minutes from the time the water returns to a boil.
- In a non-stick pan, heat the schmaltz and oil.
- Sweat the onions over medium heat until they are tender and golden. Lower the heat, then add the sugar and mix well.
- Sauté for 5 minutes, stirring regularly.
- Drain the boiled potatoes and transfer them to a bowl.
- Add the fried onions and mash using a potato masher.
- Season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
- Preheat the oven to 350 F (180°C).
- On a floured surface, roll out the dough, giving it a rectangular shape of 12 x 16 inches (30 x 40 cm). Cut the edges to get a nice rectangle.
- Spread the filling in the shape of a sausage along the entire length of the rectangle 1 to 2 inches (3 or 4 cm) from the edge, then roll the dough on the sausage and pinch the two ends of the tube thus forming to close it.
- Using a knife, form 14 cavities evenly spaced over the entire length of the rod.
- Cut each small roll and pinch the dough with the fingers to close the two ends (like a candy).
- Place the shaped, spaced portions on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Brush each knish with beaten egg and bake for 30 to 40 minutes until golden.