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Thought for the Day: Hot Smoked Fish Vs. Hot (and) Smoked Fish/Edible Raw -- Preparations Before Cooking

I know I said that the "edible raw" requirement for בישול עכו''ם is boring.  I didn't lie, I was just ignorant; which is better, because I can fix ignorance by learning more, whereas fixing lying requires doing t'shuva...

Any who... it turns out that נאכל חי, which is usually translated as "edible raw", should really be translated as "edible before being cooked".  "What's the difference?", you might ask.  I am glad you asked: some foods are processed after they are harvested (plants) or killed (animals) but before they are cooked.  That processing can render edible food inedible and edible food inedible.  For example, the dry beans you buy for cholent are completely inedible (try it; I triple dog dare you if you don't believe me).  That could actually be an issue for בישול עכו''ם, except that beans are not the kind of things you find at a state dinner; whew!

The other way, though has very practical implications.  If the goy smokes, salts, or pickles food -- fish, for instance -- then the food is still considered "not cooked" and it is now edible.  Since it is now נאכל חי, it is no longer subject to the strictures of בישול עכו''ם!  Cool, eh?  It doesn't even need to be edible on its own.  Lox is considered נאכל חי even though most of us would not give it a first taste outside its bagel and cream cheese packaging.

Now for a very practical issue that threatened our ability to get smoked fish that was turned around by an OU mashgiach.  Apparently there are two ways of smoking fish: cold and hot smoking.  They used to mean what they said and all was good for us kosher consumers.  Then in the early part of this century, the industry determined that they would change the hot smoking process to be "hot and smoked"; that is, heat the fish first, then blow some smoke (or sprinkle some smoke flavor) on the fish.  Now... if the fish is first cooked, that means it was taken from inedible to edible by cooking -- yikes!  It is not forbidden because of בישול עכו''ם.... oh no, say it ain't so.

A savvy mashgiach from the OU realized that that smoked fish actually goes through a pickling (brining, if you prefer) and drying process before it goes to the final smoking/heating process.  He studied the process and then went around the industry convincing them that it was to their advantage to increase the brining/drying time and decrease the cooking time.  I have no idea what it did for them, but for us the brining/drying process was now enough to make the fish edible as is, so the subsequent small cooking by the goyim didn't render the forbidden as בישול עכו''ם.

To paraphrase an old bumper sticker: Don't complain about about your mashgiach with you mouth full (of lox and bagels).


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