This past Christmas was filled with baking orders, farm work, and caterings. After working with the tens of pounds of pastured lard, 20 lb sacks of whole grain flour, and kilos of dark chocolate, there was finally time to play with a new culinary technique and revisit an old one.
One such catering request by a client was a whole poached salmon which resulted in smoked salmon (old technique) and a better-late-than-never arrival of a water circulator resulted in cooking eggs a la sous vide (new technique).
One Big Fish
How do you end up smoking something that should have been poached? They are two vastly different cooking techniques and one cannot simply replace the other. How this came to be: When ordering a whole salmon for the poached dish I simply asked the woman at the counter to save me a 6-8 pound whole salmon which I would pick up the following Tuesday. Yes, I wanted it whole - head, tail and all. Tuesday comes and the Portuguese seafood shop is hopping with folks selecting dried cod and other marine edibles for their Christmas ritual dinners. The fishmonger tells me my fish is in the back and I am relieved there wasn't some sort of mistake like they were shorted on their orders and have nothing for me. As it turns out, there was more fish than I anticipated; the fishmonger brings out the whole 6-8 KG salmon and sets it on the counter where he begins to scale it. It was a big fish.
I kept the fish whole until I could figure out what would be the best way to prepare it. No chance of finding a pan large enough to poach a fish that size and who would want that much poached salmon anyway? The solution (after conferring with the client) was to fillet the fish, poach one side in court bouillon, and cure the other to smoke in a few days ending up with smoked salmon for New Years. I used the head and bones to make fish stock which went in the sauce for the seafood lasagne (another dinner request) and the bellies were marinated in ginger and tarmari where they will be roasted and served with pickled carrots and sweet rice at a later date. Nothing went to waste including the scrap flesh that clung to the fish carcass after simmering - that went to my old girl kitty who was grateful for the treat.
Smoke 'em If You Got 'em
To smoke the salmon I borrowed my father's smoker. Boxing Day 2014 was spent running in and out the back door ensuring a steady stream of fragrant smoke flowed through the smoker into the frigid air. And while I had the box it made perfect sense to re-stock my supply of smoked salt (to be used wherever seasoning with a hint of hickory is desired such as sauerkraut or soups) and try out another recipe from the Bar Tartine cookbook - Smoked Potatoes with Ramp Mayonnaise.
The recipe for the smoked potato dish calls for black garlic - whole heads which have been slow roasted over several weeks (note: it has been said that black garlic is fermented but without the microbes and the higher heat temperatures, I think it's a misnomer.) My black garlic is currently sealed in a rubbermade tote to contain the roasted aroma and it's not quite ready yet so I substituted 'regular' roasted garlic in the recipe instead. The potatoes were pre-roasted in the oven until they were about 3/4 cooked and finished in the smoker. Once tender, they were smashed, pan-fried, and drenched in a garlic vinaigrette. For serving, the crispy, smokey, vinaigrette-soaked potatoes were plated with the ramp mayonnaise (who has pickled ramps in their pantry? This girl does!), red sauerkraut, fermented ramps, and fresh dill and parsley. I'm confident in saying this dish might have been my favourite of the entire 2014 year.
Smoked Salmon and Slow Cooked Eggs Benny w/ Potato Latkes
Last spring I participated in a Kickstarter to fund a waterbath circulator. (Kickstarter is an online fundraising platform open to the general public to help provide financial support to projects they want to see succeed.) The circulator was successfully funded so a manufacturing schedule was put in place with the expectation of delivery by early fall. The project was delayed several times but ultimately all orders were filled. A water circulator is an electrical device submerged in water to both heat and circulate it. A technique for cooking in the waterbath, called sous vide, has been practiced for about a decade or so but I'm late to the party. Sous vide means 'under vacuum' as food items - be it steak, turkey thighs, sweet potatoes, anything really - are placed in sealed plastic bags with the air removed to slowly cook in the waterbath to a desired temperature. Flavours are intensified, tenderness is guaranteed, and the danger of overcooking is eliminated.
To create the most tender of soft cooked eggs, the eggs were placed in the waterbath (in the shell, not in plastic) for 45 minutes set to a temperature of 143 F. After peeling the whites were firm yet tender and the yolks slightly thickened. I should mention the eggs were first placed in boiling water for three minutes before being plunged into the 143 F waterbath. This was a recommended technique from Serious Eats to ensure the whites were set enough and to ensure the shells would remove easily. The eggs were incredible; next time I will alter the boiling time slightly so the yolks remain a bit runnier.
I used another Modernist Cuisine recipe for the potato latkes (sous vide is one such technique classified under these 'newer' and scientific approaches to cooking). The recipe doesn't use any fancy equipment but is an improved method of ensuring a crispy, potato-intense flavour in the creamy centered latkes. Basically potatoes are boiled, mashed then enriched with creme fraiche and butter. Spread on a tray to cool, the now-firm potatoes are cut out and drenched first in potato starch, then eggs, then dehydrated potato flakes aka. instant mashed potatoes as a breading. The cakes are pan-fried until crispy and hot.
To create the eggs benny breakfast of champions, the latkes were topped with my back porch smoked salmon, slow cooked eggs, and a hefty spoonful of rich & tangy Hollandaise sauce.
I'm looking forward to working with the water circulator (duck breasts), smoker (sugar) and also continuing my way through the Bar Tartine cookbook in 2015.
Eating. Drinking. Sharing.