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Simple LivingPierre Troisgros is a giant in the world of cooking. This dish — one of his masterpieces — was said to have changed the face of French cookery back in the ’60s, when he and his brother Jean won their third Michelin star.

Like most culinary masterpieces, it is a thing of elegant simplicity…if you have what is needed. Fish stock. Creme fraiche. Sorrel. I will tell you how to make the first two, but fresh sorrel is difficult to find, even in season. I’ll give you a workaround for that, too. See the Notes section, below.

This recipe is not difficult, but it may take you to foodie places you’ve never been before.

Trust me, though. This dish is so worth the journey.


Salmon à la Troisgros

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 2 thick (or 4 thin) salmon fillets, deboned and skinned
  • 2 cups fish stock (see Notes for easy recipe)
  • 2 medium shallots, chopped finely
  • 2–3 white mushrooms, chopped finely
  • 1/3 cup dry white wine
  • 3 tablespoons dry vermouth
  • 1 1/4 cups creme fraiche (see Notes for easy recipe)
  • 4 ounces fresh sorrel leaves, washed and stemmed (see Notes for substitutions)
  • 4 ounces unsalted butter, cut into eight knobs
  • Freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Coarsely ground salt and pepper

Procedure

Prepare the Salmon

  • Debone the fillets: Run your fingers against the grain to feel the pin-bones and pull them out with pliers or strong tweezers.
  • Skin the fillets: Place each fillet skin-side down on a cutting board and, with a thin, long-bladed knife, slice just between the skin and the flesh.
    • The skin and bones can be used in making the fish stock (see Notes).
  • Trim the fillets: If you have two thick fillets, using the same cutting board and knife, slice them in half through the thickness (i.e., knife blade held parallel to the board) to make four fillets of equal thinness.
    • Some recipes call for pressing the fillets down to flatten them further, but I feel this destroys too much of the texture, especially if you cannot find high quality salmon, so I say avoid it.

Prepare the Sauce

  • Combine fish stock, shallots, and mushrooms in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Cook down to a glaze (10–15 minutes at high boil).
  • Add wine and vermouth. Cook down further, reducing once more to a syrupy glaze (5 minutes or so).
  • Add creme fraiche and boil until thickened (2–3 minutes).
  • Pour sauce through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean bowl. Clean out saucepan, return strained sauce to it, and return pan to stove over a medium heat..
  • When rewarmed, add the sorrel leaves and let them cook for about 30 seconds only. Remove from heat. Add the butter, a few knobs at a time, and stir gently to melt and incorporate.
  • Season with lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Set aside.

Final Procedure

  • Prepare serving dishes to receive sauce and fish.
  • Bring a non-stick skillet up to medium-high heat.
  • Season the less-pretty side of the salmon with salt and pepper.
  • Place the salmon in the hot skillet, pretty side down (seasoned side up). Cook for 30 seconds, then turn, and cook for an additional 15 seconds. (Don’t fret, the fish will continue to cook on the plate, in the sauce.)
  • Ladle sauce into each plate (include some of the sorrel), and place salmon (seasoned side down) in the sauce.
  • Serve immediately.
  • Pairs very well with salad of melon (honeydew or casaba), arugula, and slivers of cold-soaked green onion.

Notes

This dish requires three things you may not have in your pantry or fridge: fish stock, creme fraiche, and fresh sorrel. You can easily make the first two and get around the seasonal vicissitudes of the sorrel harvest. Here’s how.

  • Fish Stock
    • Fish stock is quick and easy, and for this recipe, you don’t need much (two cups). I like a very simple fish stock, with few additions. Use trimmings from fish like the skin from the salmon in this recipe, or use the shells you saved from the shrimp or prawns you peeled last week.
    • Take 4–6 ounces of fish trimmings, shrimp/prawn shells, and/or fish meat. Avoid hard shells like crab (they add too much mineral taste) and molluscs (too little flavor). Put it in a pan with three cups water. Add half an onion. Bring to a low boil for about 30 minutes. Strain off the broth.
  • Creme Fraiche
    • You cannot substitute sour cream here — too sour — but you can substitute heavy cream and a last-minute dash of lemon juice. Making creme fraiche isn’t hard, though.
      • Take two cups heavy whipping cream and pour it into a glass jar. Add three tablespoons buttermilk. Stir, cover, and let sit at room temperature 8–24 hours, the longer the better. It will thicken and develop a slight tang. Great over omelets, it’ll keep in the fridge for a week or so.
  • Fresh Sorrel
    • Good luck finding fresh sorrel out of season — or in season, for that matter — and you cannot substitute dried sorrel. Some folks will substitute spinach, but it lacks the acidic flavor this dish requires.
    • I recommend substituting fresh arugula. It adds a peppery/radishy flavor, and is available year-round. Prepare it exactly as the sorrel, but toss with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice after you stem the leaves.

k

 

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PlumsWant to bring a little pizzazz to that sandwich? Want to add some zip to that cold-cut platter? Here’s a suggestion. A complex mix of flavors — earthy, sweet, tangy, spicy — designed to enhance rather than smother.

Cook up a batch of this, set it in the fridge for a couple of weeks to mellow, and enjoy.

Plum Chipotle Chutney

Makes about 4 pounds

Hardware

  • Glass jars and rings/lids for preserving (optional, for long-term storage)

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds plums, halved, stoned, and chopped
  • 3 onions, chopped
  • Scant 1/2 cup dried cranberries, chopped (use an oiled knife to keep them from sticking to the blade)
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon black/brown mustard seed
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon sweet (not hot) paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground chipotle
  • 1  2/3 cups red wine vinegar
  • 2 cups dark brown sugar (or 2 cups light brown sugar plus 2 tablespoons molasses)
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt

Procedure

  • Put all the ingredients (except sugar and salt) into a large pot over a medium heat and stir well.
  • Bring slowly to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and let simmer for 10 minutes until plums are tender.
  • Stir in sugar and salt, and stir until dissolved.
  • Keep at a light boil for 20–30 minutes, uncovered, stirring to keep it from sticking, until it thickens.
  • Store in the fridge for two weeks to mellow. It’s great right away, but it’s better if it rests for a while.
  • Optional: For long-term storage, spoon into sterilized jars, seal, process, and store for up to 6 months in cool, dry place.

Notes

  • If you’re not going to share or can the result, make a half recipe. Four pounds is a lot of chutney.
  • I prefer to roughly chop my plums/onions, as this gives more texture to the chutney. If you prefer a more homogeneous texture, chop finely.
  • For a smokier flavor, use smoked paprika.
  • You can substitute raisins or sultanas for the cranberries.

k

 

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You find it everywhere, on virtually every Chinese restaurant menu and behind just about every supermarket deli counter. It’s a staple of what Americans call Chinese food: General Tso’s Chicken.

Recently, I watched The Search for General Tso, a documentary that searches for the origins of this ubiquitous dish. From it, I learned that this concoction is about as Chinese as chop suey. While it was indeed created by Hunan chef C.K. Peng in Taipei, and while it carries the name of the famous Hunan general Zuo Zongtang, it has been so Americanized as to be nearly unrecognizable. It’s sweeter. It’s milder. It’s festooned with scallions and mixed with steamed broccoli.

Naturally, I took this as a challenge. I like the American version just fine, but would I like the original version better? Even factoring in my bias toward traditional ethnic food, the answer is an unmitigated “Yes!”

On balance, I find Chinese cuisine intimidating. There is usually a lot of prep-work and I’m not well-educated as to what many of the ingredients are. This recipe, though, has ingredients that are familiar and easy to find, and the recipe itself is easy if you break it into three basic steps: Cook the meat, make the sauce, mix.

See? Easy peasy. (more…)

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Don't Call It a "Jaffa" CakeThe last time I was in Britain there was a flap over the use of the phrase “Jaffa Cake.” McVities, the biscuit company who introduced the original Jaffa Cakes in 1927, neglected to trademark the name and thus it was open for others to use.

I adore Jaffa Cakes–small disks of sponge cake topped with orange jelly and a cover of chocolate–so when a friend asked me to bring a dessert for Easter dinner, I had an inspiration for a super-sized version of my little favorites. But don’t call it a “Jaffa” cake…I don’t want an infringement lawsuit slapped on me!

For those with celiac disease, this is a gluten-free cake. (more…)

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Simple LivingBiscotti. You can’t have just one.

No…literally, you can’t have just one biscotti, because biscotti is the plural form. If you only have one, you have a biscotto. The word biscotti (and biscuit, for that matter) comes from the Latin root: bis – coctus, meaning “twice-cooked,” and they are, indeed, baked twice. What I like best about biscotti is that the recipe is essentially a blank slate that allows for myriad variations.

Below you’ll find two of my variations: Classic biscotti, with that lemon and anise-seed flavor, and my Holiday biscotti, with orange and cranberries. Check the Notes for ideas on additional variations.

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Braised Pork Shanks - FinalSay the word “braise” to most home cooks and you’ll likely get a blank stare.

Leaving out crock-pots and pot-roasts, I think it’s safe to say that the braise is rarely used in the modern kitchen. Even if you love pot-roasts, you may not know what a braise is or what it does.

A braise is a long, slow cook in moist heat. It’s great for stews and pot roasts, as it transforms a cheap cut of meat into succulent, tender morsels of flavor. It breaks down those tough connective tissues–tendons, ligaments, cartilage–transferring them to the braising liquid, building that unctuous mouth-feel we love in sauces and gravies. Technically, my In-the-Oven Chicken Stock is a braise, cooked at low temps for a ridiculously long time, and the difference shows in the results. It has a complexity of flavor you just don’t get with other methods.

Our most common mistakes in using the braise are:

  1. We cook with too high a heat
  2. We cook for too short a time

A braise requires patience and subtlety as we build flavors layer upon layer. However, a braise doesn’t have to take all day. Here’s an example…

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LasagnaMy wife is not Italian. She’s Irish. She just married an Italian. (Actually, I’m mostly French, but try telling that to someone who’s struggling to pronounce “Giambastiani.”)

She calls herself a “truck-stop cook.” She isn’t what she would call a “chef.” She is a craftsman who has a few really good recipes.

Over the years, she’s cooked these few (these happy few), receiving raves from friends and family lucky enough to partake. Over the years, she’s tinkered with each concoction, improving and perfecting her enchiladas, banana bread, beef stew, spag-bol, quiche Lorraine, cinnamon rolls, cookies, fudge, and–notably–lasagna.

She’s been working on her lasagna recipe for 30 years. She measures by eye, always has sauce and cheese left over, always makes them two at a time–a large one for the feast, a smaller one to be frozen, uncooked, for later–and always, always it is wonderful, flavorful, and unlike any other lasagna I’ve ever tasted.

Last weekend, Ilene made her lasagna for a large gathering of friends and neighbors. The occasion was specifically to introduce her masterpiece to folks who’ve never had it before. Normally, I am her sous chef, doing all the chopping and grating, stirring and cleaning, while she swans in and casts her magic alchemy with handfuls of spice and multiple taste-tests. This time, however, I followed her around, noted her every move, measured every handful and pile she used, and weighed all the ingredients left behind. I calculated the mounds and pounds that went into each of the two mismatched pies, then got out my slide rule and conversion charts and constructed a single recipe for a 9×13″ lasagna.

Last night, I tried it myself, and got Ilene’s stamp of approval.

As with all recipes, I can think of things I want to try next time–a dash of this, a spoonful of that–but this is the radix, the omphalos, the groundwater source of Ilene’s wonderful, delectable, world-class lasagna.

Caveat: This is not a health-minded recipe. It’s a heart attack on a plate. We don’t have it every week, or even every month. For us, it’s a once-, maybe twice-a-year treat, usually bookended by days of low-calorie meals and exercise for preparation and recovery.

Trust me. It’s worth it.

(more…)

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