Imagine if everything in life could be broken down into three skill levels from a simple task, to one made simpler, to the simplest of all. I’ve taken that concept and applied it to cooking. Let's use basketball as a handy metaphor. A simple recipe could easily be mastered by Kobe Bryant, while a simpler recipe might be handled by a varsity ball player and the simplest recipe by a toddler learning to dribble! That's the concept behind Simple, Simpler, Simplest.
I am happy to introduce a new feature for the readers of The Jewish Week. You will be getting a sneak peek at this innovative cooking approach, which will ultimately become my next book. In each column I will present you with one central ingredient and then three distinct ways to prepare it. The Simple recipe might involve advanced techniques or more exotic preparations, while the simpler version would draw on intermediate skills and familiar ingredients and the simplest would be for the beginner cook at the basic level. The advanced cook can choose what level of difficulty they want to tackle, while the novice cook can climb the ladder of culinary success progressing from one level to the next. You intermediate cooks get to choose whether you wish to be challenged or take it easy breezy. No matter which version you choose, I promise you interesting and creative recipes to add to your repertoire. I hope you enjoy this unique approach to cooking and I encourage you to provide me with important feedback, comments and suggestions. Together we will find, build and flex your culinary muscles.
For this inaugural column I give a nod to Shavuot where dairy and fish are exalted and meat -not so much. These recipes make for savory brunches, sinful lunches and sexy dinners. Welcome to Simple, Simpler, Simplest Salmon.
As a New York cook, I shun anything that will make my kitchen smell like a fish monger's stall at the South Street Seaport. Last night's dinner should not be tomorrow's lingering odor. That's why I rarely cook salmon on the stove. While it is an incredibly versatile fish, even the freshest catch can leave your apartment smelling like the before in a Glade commercial. I love raw preps for this affordable, accessible and delicious fish. I am also a fan of canned salmon as long as the quality is high, the color is red and you take that extra minute to pick through and discard any funky bones or skin. My one departure when it comes to cooking salmon is to bake it, which mitigates the fishy telltale aroma.
Simple gravlax with cucumber dill sauce
This is one of my family's favorite recipes, and while I consider it to be fairly simple, there is some technique involved, and a little extra TLC that needs to be incorporated. I love to serve it atop a thin blini-like pancake with a dollop of the dill sauce, thinly sliced adorning cucumber rounds for an elegant hors d’ oeuvres, or elevating the humble bagel with a schmear of cream cheese. You need to plan ahead, as it takes about 3 days to cure, but it transforms a $13.99 portion of fish into a luxurious treat.
Makes 2 pounds of gravlax
2 (1-pound) pieces of Atlantic salmon, belly portion preferable
2 tablespoons chilled vodka
¼ cup kosher salt mixed with ¼ cup granulated sugar
Freshly cracked black pepper
1 bunch fresh dill weed
1 bunch fresh basil
1 roasted beet, optional (can usually be found in the specialty refrigerated section of your market)
Have your fishmonger cut two pieces of salmon that match up so that you can lay one on top of the other and they fit perfectly together. Cover a portion of your counter with enough plastic wrap to lay the salmon pieces down and then wrap them up. Place the salmon side-by-side, skin side down on the wrap. Drizzle each piece with 1 tablespoon of chilled vodka. Sprinkle both pieces with the salt and sugar mixture. These ingredients will cure the fish while it rests in the fridge. Season with freshly cracked black pepper.
If using the beet, wearing plastic gloves, grate the beet, on the large hole of a box grater, into a small bowl. Beets are very messy and stain, so be sure to handle it carefully and don’t wear your favorite white blouse. Sprinkle the grated beet on top of each slice of salmon. The beet not only adds a sweet flavor, but it paints the salmon with a beautiful red hue. Lay enough dill and basil to cover the entire surface of both pieces. Using the plastic wrap as an aid, lay one piece of salmon over the other and tightly wrap the salmon pieces so the meaty sides firmly adhere to one another. Take another piece of wrap and continue to seal the package. Liquid will exude from the fish as it cures, so you want to mitigate as much leakage as possible.
Place the package in a shallow Pyrex dish and lay a plate or small pan on top of the salmon. Place several cans or a brick on top of the pan or plate to weigh everything down. This helps the flavors seep into the fish and make it more flavorful. Place the dish in the fridge, turning the salmon over every 12 hours for 2-3 days.
Remove the salmon from the fridge, discard all the herbs and lightly rinse. Pat dry. Using a very sharp long knife, begin slicing the salmon at a 45-degree angle, being sure to not cut through the skin. You want the pieces to be thin and clean of the brown coloration found close to the skin. Serve as suggested above, or create your own use for the silky slices. The salmon will hold for up to 5 days, tightly wrapped, in your fridge- but I bet it will be gobbled up long before that.
Cucumber dill sauce
Makes about 1 cup of sauce
½ cup light sour cream
½ cup mayonnaise
1 cup finely minced seeded cucumber
2 teaspoons chopped dill weed
1 teaspoon chopped capers
½ teaspoon caper juice from the bottle
Juice of ½ lemon or 1 lime
Kosher salt and pepper to taste
Combine all the ingredients and chill
Simpler Salmon Croquettes with mustard sauce
Growing up, I learned quickly that my mother was not a gourmet cook- that title was reserved for my dad who regaled us with his creations every Sunday night. But, my mom had some sure-fire standards in her repertoire and they were built around accessible ingredients and simpler techniques than my dad employed. A great example would be these salmon croquettes. I remember eating them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Now with the advent of slider rolls, you can serve them as small bites, or form them into even smaller portions and create a yummy starter or hors d’ oeuvres.
Makes 6 large patties, 12 small patties or 20 bites
1 sleeve Ritz crackers (about 36), ground into fine crumbs
¼ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Dijon style mustard
2 tablespoons minced scallion, about 2 small scallions, white and light green parts
2 teaspoons Old Bay seasoning or the equivalent of black pepper, paprika and celery salt
2 (7.5 ounce) cans red or Atlantic salmon, drained
Juice of 1 lemon
Oil for frying
Pulverize the crackers in the bowl of a food processor, fitted with the metal blade, reserve ¼ cup for dredging in a shallow bowl.
In a medium size bowl combine the egg, mayonnaise, mustard, scallion and seasoning. Flake in the salmon, being sure you have picked through to remove any small bones or remnant skin. Add the cracker meal, ¼ a cup at a time until the mixture has a firm but not dry consistency. Squeeze in the lemon juice. To form the patties, use about ¼-cup of the mixture. For mini croquettes, use 2 tablespoons for bites use 1 tablespoon. Roll the mixture in your hands and gently toss it back and forth, this helps to solidify the patty. Then, press the patty into the shallow bowl containing the remaining cracker meal. This will help develop a nice crust when browning.
Place the patties on a tray and chill for 1 hour. This helps to prevent them from breaking while cooking and allows the flavors to meld.
To fry, heat about ¼-inch of canola or vegetable oil in a large skillet, over medium heat until shimmering. Fry the patties about 2 minutes per side. Drain and serve immediately with the mustard sauce.
This sauce can be schmeared on the bun or served alongside the croquettes for dipping. I added sour pickles to the sauce as a nod to my mom who used to slice sour pickles and top our salmon and sardine sandwiches for a salty, sour crunch.
½ cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoon chopped sour pickles or 1 tablespoon chopped capers
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon hot or mild Hungarian paprika
Dash of hot sauce to taste
Mix all ingredients together and chill
Simplest Salmon en Croute
This recipe title might sound daunting, but it is one of the simplest ways to elegantly prepare salmon. Pepperidge Farms has done the heavy lifting, you just need to supply the salmon and an oven. Feeling empowered? Try whipping up one of the sauces from the Simple or Simpler recipes or add flair to your salmon before you giftwrap it. Sauteed mushrooms, spinach or even crumbled feta cheese add a nice surprise when you cut into the pastry.
1 box Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry sheets
4 (6-8 ounce) pieces of Atlantic salmon, skin removed
Egg wash- 1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon of water
Thaw the pastry according to package directions. Open 1 sheet of puff pastry on a lightly floured board or counter. Gently stretch the pastry to 12”x10” with your hands or a rolling pin. Cut the sheet into two equal pieces. Repeat with the second sheet.
Season the salmon lightly with kosher salt and cracked black pepper and lay it in the center of the pastry sheet with the long side of the salmon lined up with the long side of the pastry. Bring one of the sides over to cover half the salmon. Brush the top of the pastry facing up with a little of the egg wash, this will help seal the package better. Bring the second side to overlap where you have just brushed the wash, press to seal. Trim the shorter edges so that there is about ½-inch on each side. Pinch to close. Turn the package over, and place on a tray to chill while the oven preheats to 400 degrees.
Remove the salmon from the fridge and brush the tops and sides with the egg wash. Bake, seam side down 20-25 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown. Serve at once.
June Hersh is the author of Recipes Remembered, a Celebration of Survival and The Kosher Carnivore. June writes cookbooks with a charitable flavor, as she has donated ALL her proceeds from Recipes Remembered to the Museum of Jewish Heritage. Both books are available through the museum at www.mjhnyc.org or from most on-line booksellers. She is a member of The Jewish Federation of North America Speaker's Bureau and gives book presentations regularly on the topic of preserving food memory. She invites you to follow her on twitter @junehersh, on Facebook at June Feiss Hersh or via her website and blog. Email comments or questions to firstname.lastname@example.org All personal appearance requests should be directed to email@example.com
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