Beet and Citrus Cured Salmon

Salmon was the first meat I ever salt cured back when I got Ruhlman’s book Charcuterie. It’s one of the easiest of the cured meats because it requires little investment and very little time compared to a Bresaola or a cured fermented sausage like salami. Basically all you do is rub a salmon fillet with a mixture of salt, some sugar, aromatics and maybe a few tablespoons of vodka or another alcohol. You let it sit for 24 to 48 hours in the fridge and then wipe away all the cure ingredients and pat it dry. Now it is ready to go as is, basically a gravadlax, sliced thin on a bagel or some rye bread. Another option is to maybe smoke it (cold or hot) after it is cured. Diana loves it hot smoked quickly till cooked (I use my wok for that) and served with a simple slaw, crostini and a sour cream/mayo sauce. Yet another way to take the cured salmon to the next level is to brush it with a glaze of molasses and sprinkle it with a mixture of caraway, pepper and coriander. This makes a unique pastrami salmon!

This time around, I borrowed an idea from Jamie Oliver where he cures salmon using a mixture that includes beets and horseradish. The fish had that crazy funky red color from the beets when he prepared it and it just sounded like a good idea. To actually prepare it though I used the proportions from a Grapefruit-Cured Salmon in the Modernist Cuisine books. They use grapefruit zest, lemon zest and juniper. I just eliminated the grapefruit and kept the lemon and juniper. The copper river salmon I used had an amazing color when done curing and all the flavors worked great. I could taste everything, from the citrus zest to the earthy beets.

We ate it for dinner and/or work lunch over about a week period. One way I served it was with some quick lemon-marinated zucchini and red onions. For this dish I made a sauce from pureed chives, cucumbers, yogurt and sour cream.

For another quick dinner I topped home-baked rye bread with the salmon, added some pickled pearl onions and drizzled with whatever was left of that cucumber-chive-yogurt sauce.

Panna Cotta, Pineapple, Pistachio

It all started with the honey-yogurt panna cotta. I wanted something light and creamy and had a lot of yogurt on hand so the idea to make this luscious and refreshing pudding was a natural. Panna cotta is an Italian pudding usually made with cream (after all, its name translates to “cooked cream”) and is set with gelatin as opposed to eggs or a starch. The recipe I used does not eliminate the cream but instead uses yogurt for a big part of the dairy in the base. The tang and lighter mouth-feel from the yogurt makes for a delightful dessert. The recipe I used is based on this Honey-Yogurt Panna Cotta from Martha Stewart.

Pineapple, for some reason, was the first ingredient that came to mind to accompany the panna cotta. At first I wanted to dice and quickly sautee the fruit with butter and sugar. Then I figured I’d make it more substantive by quickly pan grilling and butter basting thick rings of pineapple. That’s when I remembered Thomas Keller’s pineapple ‘chop’ dessert from “The French Laundry” cookbook. It sounds weird but it makes perfect sense and looks fantastic. The idea is to cut the pineapple in a way it would resemble a small rack of meat with bones attached (pictures really help with this). Really, it’s very natural to cut the pineapple like that by splitting it in half, removing the core and half of the pineapple flesh. The pineapple rack is cooked much like a meat rack, it’s seared in butter and vanilla, roasted in the oven for a while till golden brown. Before serving, the pineapple is reheated in a light caramel and basted continuously before trimming and dividing up into thick “chops”.  

The last two components both involved pistachios. I made pistachio cookies that are inspired by French sable cookies. These are rich, crumbly and have excellent pistachio flavor. The other component is a pistachio-mint coulis. The pistachios are cooked until tender and the mint is blanched then the two are blended till smooth with simple syrup. This is one tasty dessert that works on every level. It looks beautiful, smells fantastic and the flavors just pop.

VDP: Arish

Monday, October 3, 2008

Looks a lot like ricotta, but it’s not. It’s Arish or Arishah. It is a Lebanese staple and is ridiculously easy to make and versatile. I made this batch because I found myself with about a half-gallon of homemade yogurt that was starting to turn too sour. In case you are wondering, I made a whole gallon about a week ago and figured we’ll eat what we can and make Arish with the rest. So, keep this in mind if for some reason you are an overzealous yogurt purchaser.

The list of ingredients to make this delectable product includes: yogurt. That’s it. Just yogurt. Plonk it in a pot and heat it slowly until it curdles and separates. It should take maybe 20 minutes, depending how fast you are heating it. Let it cool slightly then dump it in a cheese cloth lined colander. Once it drains for a few hours or overnight, you’ll end up with something the texture of soft cream cheese, but a bit grainier. It will taste a bit similar to ricotta, but not exactly, it is definitely tangier and creamier.

It is delicious to eat as any other fresh cheese. Here, for dinner, I topped burger buns with some of it with salt, pepper, olive oil and a handful of arugula.

What else can we use Arish for? On toast, with sugar or honey, in small turnovers that can be fried or baked, crumbled on salads, or in the form of Shanklish. What’s that? It’s a topic for another post.

VDP: Saj (Mountain) Bread with Labneh and Greens

Saturday, July 6, 2008

I’ve written before about Saj bread (or Lebanese Mountain bread) in more detail in my post about Labib, the wonderful little pie shop in Beirut. So, I am not going to repeat the same info again. Suffice it to say that I got a major craving for this delicious bread and I had a good bit of homemade Labneh on hand, the thick drained yogurt.

I still had some of the Pain al ‘ancienne in the fridge and I could not have asked for a better dough fit for this preparation. I have an old wok that I use as a make-shift (a bit ghetto, I know, but it works) saj. I invert it on top of my largest stove burner and voila! A mini saj. I make a quick rough dough circle of the dough, ‘rough’ is the key word here, and place it on the hot upside down wok. A minute later I flip it over and cook it for another 20 seconds. That’s it.

I served these babies topped with the drained yogurt, olive oil, salt, arugula and olives. For me, it can hardly  get any better than this.