How is your week going? I’m still recovering from the house-warming party we threw for a cosy group of friends over the weekend. While this wasn’t the first time that we’ve cooked for a big group, it was the first where the grill was absent, and so everything had to be prepared and assembled with clockwork precision. Being the timeline-obsessed person that I am, work started two days ahead for the French Bread to carry a Fava Bean and Pea puree and a bunch of mushrooms for Mushroom Bruschettas, as well as a batch of pâte brisée for the Bacon-laden Quiches that we were going to have. The day before the event, M made his signature Tiramisu and worked his alchemy on two bottles of Argentinian Malbec for our Sangria, while I became intimately familiar with the routine of shelling two pounds of peas and fava beans. Note to self: schedule entertaining television programs for future shelling sessions or have adequate supply of wine by side. Or both.
The day of the party, I caught a glimpse of a baker’s life by getting up bright and early to work on a big tray of Asparagus Galettes with Goat Cheese and Thyme. It was a fun three hours of messing around with flour, butter and water while trying not to be bothered by the many particles of flour that were slowly taking over the counter and the kitchen floor. I’m glad to report that the mess and the early rising time were worth the effort, and I sense that these galettes will be making an appearance on this blog sometime in the future.
Galettes and French Breads aside, our menu was fairly simple, consisting mostly of dishes that could be worked on ahead of time, leaving the finishing touches to be completed on the day of the party. One of my favorite go-to recipes for party hors d’oeuvres is this one for smoked or cured salmon paired with cream cheese, walnuts, a squeeze of lemon, all served in the hollow of delicate Endive leaves. The creamy and the slippery counterbalance the crunch of fresh leaves whose bitterness is over-ridden by the savory umaminess of a salted salmon and cream cheese combination. Unbelievable. I have my close friend, J, to thank for introducing me to this wonderful pairing, without which my consumption of these pale yellow, mildly bitter leaves would be virtually non-existent.
While I traditionally use store-bought smoked salmon, coming across the recipe for cured salmon in The Big Sur Bakery cookbook made the choice between home-made and store-bought a no-brainer. I’ve cured my fair share of cod in the past (wash and dry a filet free of bones, bury in salt, leave in the refrigerator for four to six weeks), so when briefed about the ease of doing so with salmon in the recipe’s preamble, I was sold. After reading this, I hope you’ll be too.
Cured Salmon (Adapted from The Big Sur Bakery Cookbook)
2½ to 3 cups fine sea or table salt
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 salmon filet, 1½ to 2 pounds, skin on and bones removed, washed and patted dry
1 tablespoon black peppercorns, cracked
A bunch of fresh herbs (the book recommends dill, but I used a mix of rosemary and parsley, so this is where you can get creative and throw in whichever herbs, spices and/or liquor catches your fancy)
Stir the sugar and salt together and pour half of the mixture into a container large enough to hold the salmon lying flat. Lay the filet, skinside down, on top of the salt/sugar base and cover with the peppercorns, herbs and the remaining salt/sugar mixture. Ensure that the filet is completely covered in salt and that no flesh is exposed, especially around the edges. Tightly wrap the container in plastic and refrigerate for at least two days.
When you’re ready to use the salmon, check if its done by pressing its thickest spot; it should be firm and not springy. If it is not firm enough, return it to the fridge and let it cure for another day.
To use, rinse the filet under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Slice by cutting strips at an angle with a very sharp knife. Wrapped in plastic, the salmon should keep for up to a week in the refrigerator.
Home-cured Salmon Spread with Endives
Originally made with a big tub of decadent cream cheese, I’ve found that this spread works equally well with créme fraîche too. Serves 6 to 8 as part of a bigger meal.
11 ounces/ 300 grams cured or smoked salmon
12 ounces/ 340 grams cream cheese or créme fraîche
3 ounces/ 85 grams walnuts, roughly chopped or crushed in a pestle and mortar
Juice of 1 lemon
3 endives, leaves plucked and rinsed
A bunch of chives, finely chopped
Slice the salmon into thin, half-inch strips and mix them up with the walnuts and cream cheese or créme fraîche in a bowl. Add the lemon juice a bit at a time, stirring to break up the cream into a spreadable consistency and to evenly coat each strip of salmon. Season to taste with the pepper and set aside.
When you’re ready to serve, arrange the endive leaves on a plate, scoop about a heaping teaspoonful of the spread onto the middle of each leave and garnish with chives.