Hors D'Oeuvres & First Courses The Book

122. Smoked Salmon Mousse with Salmon Roe and Crudités p.19

The recipe

I was really looking forward to this recipe, but I didn’t expect to like it at all. I’ve never had a salmon mousse before, and it has a certain reputation. Pop culture uses it to indicate that a character is out of touch, horribly backwards, or disturbingly gross. I suspect many people can’t think of THE SALMON MOUSSE without imagining the grim reaper from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life. It turns out that salmon mousse became popular enough to earn this iconic status because it’s delicious. Maybe its reputation got dragged down along with the casserole-generation’s jellied hot dog and marshmallow salads.

The mousse is made by folding whipped cream into a purée of smoked and canned salmon, sour cream, and tabasco, with scallions and bloomed gelatin stirred in. The mixture is poured into an oiled mold, whose bottom has been lined with cilantro leaves. The mousse is refrigerated, unmolded, and the base is surrounded with salmon roe.

I was surprised at how much I liked this spread over a cracker. The airy mousse had a great consistency. I was worried it would end up gummy and jellied, but the gelatin just barely set it, leaving it soft and smooth. The smoked salmon was the backbone of flavour in this dish, The canned salmon kind of disappeared. The salmons flavour was intense enough that it could stand being diluted in the whipped cream. In a happy accident I quadrupled the tabasco (1 tsp instead of 1/4 tsp), which added some needed punch, and helped to counter the richness. The cilantro leaves were pretty, but I didn’t really think they added anything. If you’re going to top the mousse with cilantro, then it should have some cilantro flavour. Next time I’d chop some up and stir it in. The salmon roe had mixed reactions from the crowd I served this to. It was incredibly intense, and added a burst of salmon essence to the mousse, but some people felt it was a bit much. I enjoyed the roe, and would use it again.

This kind of dish has been out of fashion for a long time, but it’s definitely ready for a comeback. The molecular gastronomy (or whatever you want to call it) set are making savoury gels of everything they can get their hands on, and the food fashion conscious are eating it up. Maybe you can reintroduce the salmon mousse by claiming that your salmon are organic, and telling people you set it with agar agar. Sure it’s whipped fish Jello, but it tastes great, and it’s weirdly elegant. I love that this dish could fit in at a regency banquet, at an “I Like Ike” booster, or as an experiment in geometry from the people behind Ideas in Food.

Beef, Veal, Pork, and Lamb The Book

34. Brisket a la Carbonnade p.423

the recipe

Sorry for the long interval between posts, I was out of town last week.

I’ve made this recipe twice, on the left is my first attempt, which was almost black, dry, and found me trying to deglaze the sides of my dutch oven to end up with a sauce. On the right is attempt number two (with carrots and parsnips thrown in a few minutes before the end), which fell apart at the touch of a fork, was loaded with flavour, and had more than enough gravy to go around. The difference? tinfoil, and a watchful eye.

This is a classic Belgian braised dish, a brisket, braised in beer, with onions. There are a lot of things to love about brisket. In this dish it capitalizes on the magical powers of braising, which can turn nearly inedible (and dirt cheap) cuts of meat into fillet mignon tender bites. It’s also more flavorful than the loin cuts, and has got a bunch more connective tissue. Connective tissue + long slow heat = gelatin = home made Jello time. Sounds kind of gross, but it makes sauces saucier and gives them a mouth feel you can’t get any other way. I believe unctuous is the word for this sensation, and I can’t think of a less appealing word for such a nice attribute.

This dish was as simple as you could wish for, I just browned the brisket, softened the onions, then added the brisket and the rest of the ingredients back into the pot. After bringing it to a boil I covered it and put it in the oven for the next three and half hours. No maintenance necessary, or so I thought. When I pulled attempt number one of this dish out almost all the liquid had evaporated, the onions were nearly black, and the brisket was starting to dry out. The next time around I paid a good deal more attention to it. I think the lid of my dutch oven doesn’t sit as tightly as I might wish, so I sealed it with tinfoil the second time. I also checked it once an hour, and added more beer as necessary. Attempt number two was superior in all ways but one. The first time around the onions had been cooking in so little liquid that they got really deeply caramelized, which added a great level of flavour which was missing in the second attempt.

I wouldn’t change a thing about this recipe. It takes four and a half hours, but you’re only working for twenty minutes. It uses a really affordable cut of meat, and packs huge flavour into every bite. It’s cooked in beer which gives you lots of room to experiment with different brews. And, it’s a great excuse to fondle your dutch oven.