Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sunday Cookbook Adventures: Marcus Samuelsson is a Liar

I'll be coming back with Part 2 of today's experiments when I prep dinner, but I thought I'd better get Part 1 out of the way now... Let me start off by saying that I had a lot of fun preparing this meal, and I wouldn't have had nearly as much fun if Marcus Samuelsson wasn't a lying liar, so in a way I guess I'm OK with his deception... but I can't go off on Alfred Portales for being a liar and then not call out Samuelsson for an even worse infraction. Portales at least gave the correct ingredient prep until the "toss all ingredients together" step (which, thanks to the presence of beets, turned everything hot pink, unlike his pretty picture...). Samuelsson, on the other hand, gave you instructions that from the first step could NEVER result in the food that is pictured in this recipe (and is shown repeatedly throughout the book, including on the effing cover). Speaking of which, the book in question today is Aquavit, which I think I've owned since it first came out in 2003.
I mention the date because I think it may be relevant to the situation... but I'll get to that in a second. I have a lot of post-its in this book, marking recipes that I've wanted to try for a long time but have never gotten around to for whatever reason, and the one I decided to try out first was Glazed Salmon with Wasabi Sabayon:Doesn't that look pretty? I love wasabi, but I think what drew me to the recipe beyond its inclusion was that beautiful potato pancake. Samuelsson refers you to page 186 for the recipe and, in case you think there was some mix-up, he shows us another picture of this lovely creation there. OK. Sweet. I can't wait to make this. Then you read the instructions... "Peel the potatoes and finely grate them on a box grater or the grating disc of a food processor." You're then supposed to combine the grated potatoes with "finely chopped" onion and an egg, before turning them into a big, thick, pancake (which I'm sure tastes great). Do you see any chopped onion in the pancake pictured below? Or any potato that could possibly have been grated on a box grater, for that matter?
I was going to make a batch as instructed just to prove my point, but I didn't really want to, so instead just behold, above, the book's picture next to a box grater (which is the same size grater that you would have in your food processor). Um... Yeah. Whatever, Marcus... I figured that my best bet if I wanted to make the pretty thing in the picture was to use my mandolin with its julienne slicer in place... and the results were sort of perfect.This, as you may be able to tell, is a $6 mandolin (which I got at the Lincoln City outlet malls when I was in college). (I've often pondered upgrading to a $100 nice one, but I have yet to encounter a task that my $6 version can't handle admirably well, so that's a difficult expense to justify...) I sliced up about 2/3 of an Idaho potato this way, thin-sliced and then rough-chopped a quarter of a sweet onion, then tossed all of that with a beaten egg and some salt and pepper. I placed a layer into the skillet (by the way, this is about 1/3 the amount that Samuelsson has you put in the skillet in his recipe) with a couple tablespoons of melted ghee:
I flipped the pancake after about 10 minutes when it was starting to get nice and toasty.
After cooking for 10 minutes longer, I put the pancake on a cooling rack over a baking sheet and threw it into a warm oven to wait until it was time to plate. Next up was the Wasabi Sabayon. This is a combination of egg yolks, white wine, lime juice, white wine vinegar, and wasabi powder. You whisk everything but the wasabi powder over a double-boiler for approximately forever, waiting for the mixture to become fluffy and thickened as the egg yolks cook,
then whisk in the wasabi and season to taste with salt.
I felt like the lime pretty much dominated this sauce, and that the wasabi (even when I added about 5 times as much as was called for) was barely perceptible, certainly not to the extent that it should be in the name of the dish. The good news, though, is that this is the exact texture I loved so much in the dipping sauce for my calamari at Nougatine, so now I know I have the skills and/or knowledge to make a Sriracha Sabayon for my next batch of calamari. I thought I would have to do something crazy to replicate that sauce, but in the end it's just a classic technique... Awesome. The glaze for the salmon wasn't exactly a glaze, given that it was 1/4 cup of lime juice mixed with just 2 tablespoons of the thick kecap manis and a little wasabi powder.
The consistency of this glaze is thus extremely thin and not something I would refer to as a glaze. Anyway, I forgot to take any pictures while cooking the salmon, but it used one of my favorite methods, which is to cook the salmon only from the skin side, leaving the skin super-crispy and the salmon a lovely medium-rare. I didn't have all of the same components as in the book's picture (in part because they aren't in the recipe), but here's what I ended up with:Not bad, eh? I wasn't particularly wowed by any single component of this dish, but it was actually really fantastic when it all came together, thanks in no small part to the kick-ass potato pancake that I made. There wasn't that much onion there, and there wasn't much visible in the pancake itself, but the slow cooking in the ghee allowed that flavor to season the entire toasty, delicious thing. It was the perfect accent to the sharp sabayon and soft, rich salmon. Yum. So... On to my reason for including the year the book was published. While I was cooking, I came up with this theory that The French Laundry Cookbook changed everything. Portales and Samuelsson lie to their readers because they think home cooks would be intimidated by a recipe that asked them to use a mandolin or whatever the situation actually called for, but they can't bring themselves to show a picture of the lame thing they're telling you to make rather than the pretty thing from their restaurant kitchen. As I've said before, The French Laundry Cookbook (thanks to both Thomas Keller and Michael Ruhlman) actually treats the home cook like somebody who can handle something complicated if that's what they went looking for. My theory fell apart when I realized that The French Laundry Cookbook came out in 1999... but I think perhaps it was just ahead of its time. It took a few years for word to spread, for home cooks to start cooking their way through it and embracing the idea that some things are really just worth that much time and effort, damn it. It may be a while before I come back to Aquavit for a recipe (given the lies and whatnot), but I'm glad I gave this one a try.

1 comment:

Stanley said...

I like that you knew that it wouldn't work the way they told you to do it. You are a steely-eyed assassin.