Off the Beaten Path: Playing with New Stuff

Poached SalmonLike lost recipes, I tend to gravitate toward the under-utilized and under-appreciated when I start to ramp up for some food alchemy. Avoiding the hot dishes or trendy ingredients of the moment and looking a bit further off the road a piece makes it a bit more fun and less predictable. Yeah, I'm an odd cat that way ... only happy when there's a real possibiity of a food experiment blowing up in my face.

Sometimes, it's just about a technique that I have never done, have never had a friend's, never seen my Mom make ... you get the idea. It may be considered a relatively commonplace technique, but I can't recall, for the life of me, seeing the technique done on the several cooking shows I watch religiously. Then I'll see the King of the Food Geeks, Alton Brown, or maybe one of my favorite Iron Chefs (Mario, Masaharu, Michael ... *sigh*) do it and will get all kinds of intrigued.

salmon in poaching liquidPoaching is just that for me. It's certainly not a far-flung technique, yet why have I never done it, seen it done, or eaten the product of it ... especially among some pretty food/cooking-centric folks? It's funny, I had this idea poaching was a finicky method or hard to regulate or something ... it was just not on the radar enough to ponder doing. That is, until I started writing weekly about food and cooking adventures. I figured that, if I (a pretty successful cooking veteran) had avoided poaching, a few others probably have, too.

We've all been SO wrong!

Holy crap! I have never been so excited by how fucking simple a technique is to get just right. Really. It was so easy and trouble-free, I feel like a big ol' dumbass for not having gotten over it and trying it sooner. And, the best part, the salmon was absolutely melt-in-your-mouth sexy tender and succulent, subtly flavored with the cooking liquid. I leaned toward Alice Waters' shallow method to have a stronger poaching liquid, which would be much easier to reduce at the end. I can't say whether a more submerged method would be better or worse. It just seems preferable to have to flip the fish mid-way rather than need to try to keep it warm for an extended reducing time or not having a light sauce to boost the flavors.

So, here is the lowdown how it went down ...

Poached Salmon
(serves 4)
whole herbs in poaching liquid2 TBSP olive oil
4 cloves garlic - finely minced
1 small shallot - finely minced
juice of 1/2 lemon
3/4 cup white wine (Chardonnay works great)
1/2 cup water
a few springs of dill (just a few full branches you can remove whole later without the thicker stems - the photo shows the two herbs in the liquid for a good visual measure)
1 few springs of tarragon (same idea ... if they're whole, they come out easily later)
1 lb of salmon (4 serving-sized pieces - ideally relatively even in thickness)
2 TBSP capers
3 TBSP butter

PRE - It's pretty important to let the salmon lose the chill of the fridge for a bit before starting to poach. If it's too cold, it will throw off the water temperature, forcing you to turn it too high or inhibiting cooking by lowering the temperature too much. This step will help keep the process from getting too fussy.

1 - Heat a thick-bottomed skillet to MED-LOW (if you have a flame-diffuser, now is a good time for it) and add oil. Then add garlic and shallots, stirring for about 2 - 3 minutes to avoid burning the garlic. Then add the lemon juice, wine, water, and herbs and allow to come just to the point before boiling, then lower to a low simmer and allow the liquid to settle to where it's not bubbling before adding the salmon.

2 - Add the salmon to the pan and keep an eye on the liquid. If it's not moving at all, you should turn up the gas just a hint. If it bubbles or boils, you should turn it down a little until it's just barely moving at the surface. The cooking time will vary based on the thickness of the fish. I used some wild silver brite that was about 3/4" thick and went about 4 minutes on each side, which worked well. Turn gently and remove with a large spatula to keep the fish together.

3 - Pop the fish on a deepish serving platter and lightly cover with foil while the liquid reduces. Raise the heat to a MED-HIGH until it boils, then remove the herbs carefully and allow to reduce by half. Then lower to a MED-LOW, add capers and butter and whisk until melted. Pour the mixture over the fish and serve immediately.



whole artichokesEvery so often, I'll pass something at the market I've never used and, in some cases, something I have absolutely no idea how it tastes or what to do with it. More often than not, it's something on sale, with pricing low enough to tempt me into a bit of food experimentation. Ethnic markets are fantastic for that sort of thing, lots of exotic (at least to me) possibilities, so long as one is willing to be a little adventurous. But sometimes the ingredient is just something of an unsung item in the food options, one of those things which is often overlooked. Maybe it's unfamiliar, perhaps a bit more of a challenge to prepare or consume, has a reputation of funkiness or difficulty. That just gets me even more juiced up to give it a try, really.  I'm kind of funny like that.

So artichokes were on sale at the good ol' Jons Market for 4 for $1.00. How the hell could a self-respecting cheap fucker like me resist? In a word? Can't! Of course, I've never actually made artichokes, but wasn't about to let that stop me from a fabulously dirt-cheap nosh.  With a little inspiration and a few helpful hints from the artichoke board (yes, there is one of those), I was good to go! I also added a groovy little summery dip with just a touch of zing to balance the rich, green 'chokey goodness. You can just go simple with some melted butter, too, if you're feeling a bit more straight-up. We always have a mess of fresh veg, so some extra dip is never a bad thing.

Here's the rundown ...

Whole Artichokes
(serves 4)
4 artichokes - cleaned and trimmed (some info in the PRE step)
2 1/2 lemons (regular sized ... I had some massive beasts from my folks' tree, so used just 1 1/4)
8 cloves garlic - smashed
1 tsp salt

PRE - To prep the artichokes, rinse them well, remove small lower leaves,  trim back the stem to just a bit beneath the base and use the 1/2 lemon to rub on the cut parts to keep them from browning. Then use a paring knife to peel the hard skin away from the remaining stem and rub with lemon. Rub down the leaves with the lemon. If you want to trim down the barbed tips of the leaves, you can but it's not absolutely necessary. We usually lean to the side of simplicity, so just handled them a bit more carefully to save the added prep time.

1 - In a small pot, just wide enough to hold the artichokes, add the garlic, juice of the remaining 2 lemons, and the artichokes (bases upward). Add water to about 3-4 inches deep and heat to MED to bring to a low boil, then reduce to a low simmer. Cover and cook for about 30 minutes or until you can stick a knife into the base stem area without resistence.

2 - Carefully remove the artichokes into a strainer until cool enough to go in the fridge. Then chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes, until well chilled. Then serve with dip or butter.

Dill Dip

1 cup mayonnaise
juice of 1/2 lemon
12 cloves pickled garlic - finely minced (available at Asian markets)
1/4 cup fresh dill - finely chopped

Mix all ingredients well and chill to allow the flavors to blend before serving.

Browned Butter & Cheese Whole Wheat FettucciniEating artichokes is not exactly the usual pop in face, chew it up sort of stuff of regular meals. It's kind of a more social food, geared toward chilling out and munching little bits before the regular meal. And that's pretty close to what we did. It was a yummy appetite booster for a quick, tasty bowl of pasta. It was such a nice pairing, I'll include the ridiculously easy pasta rundown along for the ride.

Browned Butter & Cheese Fettuccini
(serves 4)
1/2 lb whole wheat fettuccini (we got ours at Trader Joe's)
4 cloves garlic - finely minced
4 TBSP butter
3/4 cup grated Parmesan Reggiano

Cook the pasta according to directions and drain well. Add the butter to the pot and start to melt at LOW heat, then add the garlic. Keep at low until the butter is frothing and brown, when it takes on a faintly nutty smell. Then add in the pasta and toss well to coat and reheat. Remove from heat and add most of cheese (reserving a small amount to garnish) and toss well, then serve immediately with a sprinkle of cheese over the top.  

That's my big, giant blog for this week. Have a great rest of the week and I'll be back with some more recipes and food porn next Thursday!