Monday, March 8, 2010

Sunday Cookbook Adventures: Salmon with Leeks and Beurre Blanc

I dove back into Bouchon this weekend while looking for a simple but delicious meal to make with my mom. I'm still fairly restricted in terms of what I'm allowed to lift following surgery, so my mom helped out with all of the heavy lifting while I did the chopping and searing and whatnot...
We actually ended up having three courses from Bouchon last night. First up was a bit of Onion Soup from the freezer... I used Emmentaler (one of the cheeses Keller recommends) rather than the worlds most awesome Gruyere this time...
It was very good in a different way... More gooey and stringy when it melted, whereas the melted Gruyere dispersed itself through the whole soup, which was pretty awesome... But I'm getting ahead of myself.
I used Brioche for the croutons this time, since I needed it for the next course, too, and I can never make it through a loaf of bread before it gets stale, so buying two different loaves seemed wasteful.
I did a better job this time topping the soup with sliced cheese then grated cheese, like Keller recommends...
... and ended up with browned, bubbly, gooey goodness...
I am in love with this soup. It's amazing how satisfying even a small bowl can be. We took a break after this course just to bask in the happiness that French Onion Soup can bring... So. Effing. Good.
Next up was Frisée Salad with a Julienne of Bacon and Poached Egg. I didn't have slab bacon (this was a spontaneous menu choice), and I made the executive decision that it was better to use amazing bacon from Blood Farm (even though it's too thin) rather than to buy slab bacon that isn't as tasty (but would have the right thickness).
This was an amazing salad, so I'll definitely be making it again and will be sure to have slab bacon on hand (perhaps even homemade from a recipe in Charcuterie) next time... The vinaigrette consists of sherry vinegar, Dijon mustard, and whole grain mustard...
whisked together with a few tablespoons of bacon fat. (If you didn't render enough bacon fat above, you can add duck fat to make up the difference. I love that Thomas Keller lives in a world where you are more likely to have spare duck fat lying around than spare bacon fat...)
Brioche is toasted up and cut into squares, then diagonally into triangles.
Parsley, tarragon, chives, and shallots are tossed with the frisée, then the mix is lightly dressed. That's about 2/3 of a head of frisée in the bowl below, by the way, which was too much for two servings. Thomas Keller tells you that you need 4 heads for 4 servings... but he also tells you to "remove the dark green outer leaves from the heads of frisée and reserve for another use," which I think might mean he wanted me to discard 3/4 of each head (or, rather "reserve for another use"). (I'll come back to this issue, which I often have with Keller, below...) That strikes me as deeply stupid, so I refrained from doing so. Sorry, Thomas.
I was going to do Momofuku-style poached eggs in my new sous vide set-up, but there was a temperature calibration issue that we discovered only when we went to plate, so we had to improvise with some last-minute Emily-style poached eggs. I hate poaching eggs. I have neither the patience nor the proper temperament for it. I tried this method a few months back, though, and it helped me overcome my fears. You basically just oil up some plastic wrap, drop in an egg and a couple grains of sea salt, and seal into a tight little bundle with your classy IKEA bag clips.
Drop into boiling water for a few minutes, peel away the plastic wrap, and you have a perfectly poached egg with no mess and no traumatic experiences of whites going everywhere...
Disaster averted, we plated up our awesome salad.
This was surprisingly good. I'm always a little nervous about tarragon, but it added a brightness to this salad that was lovely. The dressing was really impressive, too. There was an amazing finish on this, where for a full minute after each bite you sit there thinking "Holy crap. This is a FANTASTIC salad!"
Mmm... Things were going pretty well at this point, and were only going to get better. Our main course was Sautéed Atlantic Salmon with Leeks and Beurre Blanc. This started with the ridiculously delicious Beurre Blanc.
Shallots, parsley, thyme, bay leaf, and peppercorns are placed in a small saucepan.
White wine and champagne vinegar are added (a cup of liquid total),
and the mixture is simmered until this reduces to a tablespoon. A bit of heavy cream is whisked in, then butter. Copious amounts of butter. I went with an impulse buy of some Amish butter at Russo's, and it was totally and completely awesome. I am now a huge fan of Amish butter.
This butter is whisked in bit by bit...
Then the sauce is strained, the consistency adjusted with fish fumet (or water), and set aside in a warm place until tarragon and chives are added when it's time to plate.
The second component is the melted leeks. As was the case with the frisée, Keller has an odd sense of quantity here. He suggests "8 large leeks (about 1 1/2 pounds total)," which is sort of ludicrous. We bought the eight smallest leeks we could find, and they weighed about 3 pounds... Maybe he means 8 large baby leeks? I don't know...
Keller started driving me crazy here with his "reserve for another use" talk... Below is a picture of the leeks, light green separated from white and dark green portions.
See that? All of the white and dark green on the left is supposed to be "reserved for another use," while you use only the light green portions on the right. Sigh... But wait! It gets better. The light green parts are sliced into 1/2-inch rings.
These are boiled in salted water for about 5 minutes and then cooled in an ice bath to set aside until they are reheated just before plating. If any centers have fallen out of the leeks? You guessed it: those can be set aside for another use. Seriously. I guess this is why you need so many freaking leeks... You're tossing most of them aside (either raw or after cooking) for some mysterious "other use." Anyway... When serving time comes, these are arranged at the center of each plate (See all those perfect light green rings with no centers missing? The things I do for you, Thomas Keller...) where they will be topped with the third and final component...
The Salmon. I bought skin-on Atlantic salmon because I always use skin-on for the technique that Keller suggests here. When it came time to cook, I realized that he actually wanted me to use skinned salmon here. I was pondering skinning it, but the fillets were so thin and I was so fed up with Keller after the damn leeks that I decided to just do this part Emily-style.
As you can see, I do cut off the belly flap, as Keller suggests (and, of course, reserve it for another use), because I feel that it gives you a more evenly cooked piece of salmon. Plus, all of the salmon that I set aside can be used when I make kick-ass Salmon Rillettes later, whereas I'm scrambling to think of a use for all of those perfectly tasty leek whites he told me to reserve for another use. (I'm apparently not getting over that one any time soon...)
The salmon is cooked in my favorite way to cook salmon, which is to apply high heat to the skin side (or, in Keller's method, the skinned side) and cook only from that side. The bottom becomes fully cooked while the top remains rare. It's awesome. The nice thing about doing this skin-on is that you don't have to worry about losing any flesh to sticking in the pan, and the sheet of skin just slides off, leaving you with a perfectly cooked skinless portion to serve, but without having had to endure any stress while cooking it. Before I show you my plating, I want you to see a picture I found on the interweb, because I am still bitter about the leeks. This is a picture that somebody took when served this dish at Bouchon:
The salmon and sauce look lovely, but check out those freaking leeks. Basically, half of what we see there should have been "reserved for another use" for missing their centers if they were reading this damn recipe. The other half (e.g. the ones on the right)? Those would have been "reserved for another use" because they are clearly the dark green portion of the leek rather than the light green. In summary: Whatever, Thomas Keller... Whatever... So, this is my version:
Perfectly cooked salmon on a bed of perfectly melted (intact rings of light-green only) leeks in the most spectacular sauce I have had in a long, long time...
This was perfection, and was really easy to make, too, aside from a bit of (apparently hypocritical) fussiness with a certain vegetable. This is definitely entering the repertoire as a go-to dish when I want to impress friends with minimal effort and much deliciousness. It's recipes like this that make it easy to put up with Thomas Keller's compulsive need to discard large quantities of ingredients "for another use" and that keep me coming back to his cookbooks again and again. This was towards the bottom of my "Cookbook Adventures" queue, actually. I foolishly thought that the simplicity of the dish meant it wouldn't be that impressive. Clearly, I am an idiot. That simplicity is why I chose it as a recovering-from-surgery Cookbook Adventure, and that allowed me to discover the awesomeness hidden in this simple recipe. Good stuff. Very good stuff, indeed.

1 comment:

Woods Family said...

Your voice comes through in your writing. I can totally hear you saying that stuff. Ridiculousness.