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Marcus Samuelsson’s Take on Shabbat in Harlem

Marcus Samuelsson’s Take on Shabbat in Harlem


Recipe Roots: New York City
Shared by Marcus Samuelsson 

In the mid-1940’s, Frida Wasser escaped from a concentration camp and made her way to Denmark. She waited there for winter, when an icy land mass formed connecting the country with its neighbor Sweden and walked the hour and a half across. “Thousands of people did this…. Once you came to the Swedish side, you were safer,” explains chef Marcus Sameulsson, Frida’s nephew. During the war, the train stations and ports in Sweden swelled with soldiers and immigrants. Young Swedes “ran down there after school because you didn’t know what would happen,” he adds. Here, Frida befriended another young woman, a local named Ann Marie, whose family ultimately adopted her.     

This is how chef Marcus came to have a Jewish aunt. Marcus, who was born in Ethiopia and raised in Gothenburg, Sweden after being adopted, says his aunt Frida shifted his family forever. “[She] opened up the door for a whole dialogue [about] what a family can look like,” he says. So, in the 1970s, when his mother Ann Marie wanted to adopt, it was a familiar idea. 

Frida not only changed the family’s idea of adoption, but impacted the way they related to the Jewish community. World War II wasn’t relegated to text books when Marcus was growing up. He recalls visiting Auschwitz as a child and conversations about otherness in their home. “Otherness comes to you in many ways,” he says. “For us, it was very real.”

Diversity has been a keystone of his life and career, most notably in Harlem, where he’s helped energize the neighborhood’s culinary scene with his restaurants including Red Rooster and the annual Harlem EatUp! Festival. This year, he collaborated with the Jewish Food Society and the JCC Harlem, for a neighborhood Shabbat dinner with chef Andrew Zimmern, restaurateur Sivan Baron, and spice blender Lior Lev Sercarz.

“Harlem is extremely diverse,” Marcus explains. “For me, it was very Harlem to be part of a Shabbat dinner like that.” He wanted the dish he served “to be of the culture,” he adds. So, he drew inspiration from New York’s legacy of Jewish delis using a pastrami spice blend to form a crust on seared tuna and served with Israeli couscous studded with scallions, mint, basil, parsley, and finely chopped preserved lemon rind. 

To recreate more of our Harlem Shabbat dinner, serve Marcus’s recipe just after Andrew’s poached salmon, a recipe that comes from his grandmother’s Upper West Side kitchen, which was just a couple miles south of Harlem. 

Marcus Samuelsson's Tuna Pastrami

Photos by Penny De Los Santos

Photos by Penny De Los Santos

Makes: 6 servings
Time: 15 minutes

For the mustard miso:
¼ cup white miso 
2 tablespoons grainy mustard 

For the pastrami rub:
½ cup light brown sugar
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
2 tablespoons brown mustard seeds, lightly cracked (in a mortar and pestle)
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1½ teaspoons freshly ground black pepper

For the tuna:
6 sushi-grade tuna fillets, about 6 to 8 ounces each
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1. For the mustard miso: Combine the miso and mustard in a small bowl and set aside.

2. For the pastrami rub: Mix the rub ingredients in a small bowl and set aside.

3. For the tuna: Pat the tuna fillets dry with paper towels. Rub with the miso mixture evenly over all sides of the fillets. Dust the fillets with the pastrami rub to generously coat them on all sides. 

4. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the fillets and sear until browned on both sides but still rare in the middle, about 1 to 2 minutes on each side. 

Make ahead: The mustard miso can be made the day before and stored in a sealed container in the refrigerator. The pastrami rub can be combined 1 to 2 days in advance and stored in an airtight container at room temperature.

Marcus Samuelsson's Israeli Couscous

Makes: 6 to 8 servings
Time: 20 minutes

Kosher salt, to taste
1 pound (2⅔ cups) pearl or Israeli couscous 
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small shallot, finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 scallions, thinly sliced 
½ cup finely chopped mint 
½ cup finely chopped basil
¼ cup finely chopped parsley 
1½ tablespoons finely chopped preserved lemon rind 

1. Bring a 4-quart pot of generously salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the couscous and cook until tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain in a colander and shock in cold water to stop the cooking process and rinse off any extra starch. Transfer the couscous to a large bowl.

2. Heat the oil in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and sweat until softened and just translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Season the shallots with salt and pepper and add to the couscous along with any remaining olive oil in the pan. 

3. Add the remaining ingredients to the couscous and toss to coat. Season to taste and serve at room temperature with the sliced tuna steaks.

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