Spherification is tricky, not just because of the chemistry involved, but because the technique has become associated with the most farcical extremes of modernist cooking. However, when used with purpose and not simply ‘cause, spherification can still provide an element of surprise and delight to your cooking. Tomorrow, I’m going to cook salmon (sous vide, if you’ve been playing along at home) with mascarpone and greens, an homage to the salmon crostini at Spur. I wanted to top the fish with a spoonful of salmon roe for added saltiness and for their funny, squirm-inducing texture. Unfortunately, roe is expensive. So, I came up with a substitute: spherified hot sauce that looks like salmon roe.
Low and slow… it’s true for sous vide, and its definitely true for smoking. And, if you live in Seattle, you probably know that one of the worlds best smoked foods is salmon. Smoked salmon has a wonderfully rich and concentrated flavor, but unfortunately it also has the texture of wet leather. For this recipe, I used a Smoking Gun – a remarkable little device that creates a cold, concentrated smoke that can be captured in a container, or in this case, a vacuum bag [Disclosure: the Smoking Gun I used was a demo unit provided by PolyScience.] The result: instant smoky flavor. Then, we delicately cook the salmon to just above rare, which retains the fish’s buttery texture.
Total kitchen time: 25 minutes
- 2 salmon fillets, about 15mm thick
- 1 tsp. smoked salt
- 1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
- Preheat your water bath to 45.5°C. [Note: Consuming undercooked fish blah blah blah. Some people will cook their salmon at 39°C, but that’s a little rare even for my taste. If you’re squeamish, crank up the temp to 52°C.]
- Remove the skin from the salmon fillets (reserve for frying, if you want.) Divide the salt and pepper between the fillets and coat both sides. Place the fillets, together or individually) into vacuum seal bags, but don’t seal them yet.
- Prepare an ice bath large enough for the salmon fillets in their bags.
- Load a Smoking Gun with hickory wood shavings. Insert the exhaust hose into the open end of the bag and fold over the open edge to partially seal the bag.
- Turn on the Smoking Gun and light the wood chips. Smoke the entire bowl into the bag, retaining as much smoke as possible.
- Holding the open end of the bag up, submerge the bag into the ice bath for a few seconds to condense the remaining smoke. Seal the open end in the vacuum sealer.
- Cook the salmon in the water bath for 15 minutes. Remove and serve.
Given the soft texture of the salmon, I thought it would be good to pair it with something crunchy. I fried kale leaves in grapeseed oil for a few seconds per side (look out for major oil splatter!) and roasted asparagus with olive oil and rosemary salt. I also fried the leftover salmon skin until it was slightly crispy and used it to wrap the asparagus. This is one of my new favorite salmon preparations, and I can’t wait to see what else I can instant-smoke!
As home chefs are becoming more adventurous, the line between home and restaurant cooking is getting blurrier (read: moms making towers of PB&J on brioche with fireweed honey bruleé). Since I’ve yet to attend culinary school, I can only fantasize that my kitchen resides in the back of a hip restaurant. But if it did, here’s a dish I wouldn’t mind serving. The sweetness of the vegetable puree is a cooling offset to the heat of the curry. When working with small cuts of salmon, be sure not to overcook it.
Total kitchen time: 1 hour
Makes: 4 carefully plated servings
Special equipment: immersion blender or blender, chinois or fine strainer or cheesecloth
- 1 small head cauliflower
- 1/2 white onion, diced
- 1 leek (dark green part discarded), diced
- 1 medium shallot, minced
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 4 stalks thyme, placed in a tea bag or bundled together with twine
- 2 lbs. salmon fillet, skin and pin bones removed
- 2 tsp. red curry powder
- 2 tsp. turmeric
- olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
- Preheat your oven (or toaster oven) to 400°F and set the top rack 6-8” from the heating element.
- Cut the cauliflower into small fleurettes (little pieces) and toss with olive oil and salt to coat. Spread onto a lined baking sheet and roast until soft and just slightly browned around the edges, about 20 minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat 1 tbsp. of olive oil in a high-sided, heavy-bottomed skillet. When it just begins to smoke, add the onion, leek and shallot. Reduce heat to medium and cook until softened, about 10 minutes.
- Add the white wine, stirring up any browned bits from the bottom. Bring to a boil and cook until the wine is reduced about 2/3rds. Reduce the heat to a simmer and stir in the cream. Add the thyme and simmer about 10 minutes. Remove the thyme and discard.
- Add the roasted cauliflower to the onion mixture. Using an immersion blender (or transferring the whole thing to your blender) blend until smooth. Transfer the mixture to a fine strainer or cheesecloth, with a bowl placed underneath. Strain all the liquid you can from the mixture, and reserve. The mixture remaining in your strainer should have the consistency of mashed potatoes.
- Using two spoons of the same size, divide the vegetable mixture into 4 parts and shape into quenelles (little round things). Place on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Roast 10 minutes, or until lightly browned.
- Divide the salmon fillet into 4 servings and coat with curry powder, turmeric, sea salt and olive oil. Sear in a hot skillet over high heat, about 2 minutes per side (timing will vary; look for the doneness creeping up the side of the fillet. Some pink is good.
- To serve, spoon the reserved liquid into the bottom of a large bowl or plate, then top with a salmon fillet and a quenelle.
I love the balance of flavors and fresh ingredients in this dish, but even more, I love that it let’s me play chef in my own kitchen.