Smoked Salmon and White Asparagus, Sour Cream and Vattlingon

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There is so much fantastic looking salmon in the market this time of year. Asparagus is also all over the place. Recipes combining these two lovely spring ingredients can be found in many books, sites and on restaurant menus. This recipe based on one from the book Neue Cuisine: the Elegant Tastes of Vienna by chef Kurt Gutenbrunner uses salmon that gets lightly smoked and serves it with the classy white asparagus and a sour cream sauce. It hits all the right buttons. The flavors are harmonious and robust and the plated dish looks refined even though it is very straightforward to prepare.

Salmon Curing

The fish is cured lightly and then smoked. You really do not need a major rig to hot smoke a few pieces of fish at home. I use an old wok following a method that I learned years ago from Barbara Tropp’s book China Moon Cookbook. To smoke the fish (or Chinese-style steamed duck or chicken) put a rack that fits in the wok but remains several inches above the bottom. Oil the rack a bit so the meat does not stick and then put the meat on the rack. Put in some wood chips in the bottom of the wok and any other aromatics you like and allow them to start smoking over high heat. Close the wok with a tight lid and smoke the food as long as needed over medium heat. That’s pretty much the exact process chef Gutenbrunner uses in this recipe. The salmon takes maybe 20 minutes or so.

Salmon-White Asparagus

 

Salmon Smoked

Before smoking the salmon I wanted to make sure it comes out well seasoned and juicy so I cured it lightly. All that means is that I sprinkled the fillets with a mixture of salt and sugar, about a third sugar and two-thirds salt. These then sat for about 30 minutes as I prepared the rest of the meal. I then rinsed the fish and patted it dry. It’s amazing that in only thirty minutes the difference can be both felt and seen. The fish is firmer and has a nice gloss on it.

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I cooked the asparagus simply in a pot of water with salt and butter and kept them warm until dinner. I really should’ve peeled the bottom of the stalks a bit since the bottoms were a bit woody on the outside.  The red orbs in the picture are the Vattlingon. I read about these in the book Faviken by chef Magnus Nilsson from Sweden. He puts up lingonberries in a jar with water and puts them away for a few months. Following Hank Shaw’s idea to use cranberries instead (he serves them with salmon as well) I put some up back in the fridge  around December so they are ready about now.

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The sauce is sour cream, dill, chives and some lemon juice. Some more of those cranberries would’ve been good on each plate, but other than that the flavors were spot on and the plates looked lovely.

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Spinning Plates (Joseph Levy – 2012) A

This falls in my perfect sweet spot. A well-done documentary about three restaurants including Alinea in Chicago. The other two restaurants are a struggling Mexican restaurant in Phoenix and an old (as in over a 100 years old) establishment in a small town in Iowa that literally anchors the town of 100 or so residents. The film’s focus is not at all the “inner workings” of restaurants though. It’s about overcoming adversity and keeping your family and those you love together. Spinning Plates gives us a very good idea of who those who are running these restaurants are and then goes into their individual struggles. From the 3 Michelin star Alinea to the struggling Cocina de Gaby in Pheonix there is a world of difference but also a lot of similarities. All of these places involve very hard work and an attempt to hold on to the traditions, the places and the work they love.

Green Pea Agnolotti, Crispy Pork, Consomme

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Spring is here and even in hot humid Houston it’s…well it’s nice. The weather, at least for now, is not brutal yet and feels like spring with cool evenings and days that are not stiflingly humid. This dish is a good bridge between winter and spring. It combines lovely deep flavored “braised” pork and it’s crystal clear consomme with that emblem of spring, bright green peas.

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This meal was a result of buying a whole untrimmed pork shoulder. This includes several muscles that can be separated and treated differently as opposed to the traditional American method of just slicing through the bone and slow-cooking everything (as in barbecue). My purpose was to harvest a whole Coppa which is a cylindrical muscle that is usually cured and air-dried. Then it is served like most Italian whole muscle salumi, sliced thin and enjoyed on its own, as part of a simple composed plate or on top of a pizza. This type of butchering meat is known as seam butchery and is practiced a lot in Europe. Its intention is to leave the muscles whole and divide up the animal’s quarters into manageable pieces without cutting through the bones much or at all.

Lomo-Coppa

I ended up with a lovely looking Coppa (picture above) that is curing right now. The Coppa  has a great shape and really good marbling in it that it got me thinking about doing this again but cooking the muscle instead of curing it. Really it is like a pork loin but with more fat running through it. How bad could that be? After butchering the shoulder I also ended up with a few other nice muscles including a flat one that looks a lot like a thick skirt steak. I believe this is what sometimes is called a Pluma. That’s what I used for this dish.

Pork

As soon as I finished butchering the pork shoulder I tossed the flat piece with some salt and a touch of sugar and let it rest in the fridge. I figured I’ll cook it sous vide with a bit of lard and go from there. Not sure what to do with the meat one it is cooked (tacos are always a good option anyways) I also took care of the resulting shoulder bone. Not wanting it to go to waste I roasted it well along with an onion cut in half until deeply browned. I deglazed the pan with Madeira and then Sherry vinegar, scraped all the browned bits and tossed all that into a pressure cooker. I added more aromatics and water and made a superb pork stock.

Pork Stock2 Pork Stock-Agar

Now I got a perfectly cooked piece of pork along with a few cups of delicious pork stock. Let’s mangle those two ideas togehter and see what comes out. Ramen? that could work, but I was not sure I wanted a stock flavored with Madeira and Sherry vinegar in that. I like the noodle idea though. I started looking for something more European. Maybe a fresh pasta tossed with the pork? I could shred the pork. Pour some of the stock into the served pasta bowls? That sounds good. Toss in some peas? Yeap! Maybe make it a bit more refined though. I also have that ricotta in the fridge that needed using….

Peas Pea Agnolotti

So I jotted down my initial idea that at one point included making a roulade out of the pork and slicing it to serve, similar to this venison dish. I abandoned that down the line. Crisping the pork chunks in a touch of lard would work and look better as well as give me some great texture. The agnolotti though stuck. The idea of pasta pillows filled with a ricotta-pea mixture contrasting with the flavorful consomme and  the crispy pork was irresistible. I have made those French Laundry-style dumplings a few times since I first posted about them here and now they have become much easier to prepare. The filling is a bit based on the recipe in The French Laundry book for fava bean filled agnolotti and it includes the peas (blanched and shocked in ice water), ricotta as well as a bit of fine fresh breadcrumbs to give it more body.

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Since I wanted a more refined dish I decided to make a clear consomme from the pork stock as opposed to leaving it as is, delicious but slightly “cloudy”. It would still taste great but just would not look as nice. The traditional method for making consomme is the one from the Escoffier days or earlier. It involves whisking egg whites, ground meat and some vegetables into the stock. This coagulates and forms a “raft” that traps all impurities and you strain off the clear stock.

Pork Stock-Agar2 Consomme

I opted for the more modern and much less labor intensive Agar clarification. I first learned about it from Dave Arnold’s Cooking Issues blog and posted about it before. The idea is to gently set the liquid with agar then, through a cheese cloth, squeeze and strain the clear consomme leaving all impurities stuck in the Agar web. I recorded my before and after weights for the stock to see how much I would lose and I started off with close to 750gr of stock. I ended up with around 500 gr of clear consomme. Not a bad yield for a very easy method that produces crystal clear result and pure flavor.

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To plate, I served the boiled dumplings and topped them with chunks of crispy pork. I added some reserved blanched peas to the plate as well. Then I heated up the consomme and seasoned it with salt and maple vinegar before pouring it around and over the pasta and pork. As a last touch I added a few drizzles of walnut oil and fresh thyme leaves.

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