The only issue was the olive oil
The first guest blogger I cooked with is a renowned art critic based out of New York City. She is an accomplished writer and editor for a national art magazine and the author of at least two books, Makers and Contemporary Japanese Sculpture. She also happens to be my mother-in-law. I was a little nervous about asking her to cook with me and to be a guest blogger, but I’m very glad that she agreed. It was a lot of fun and I’m hoping we can do it again sometime. (I do have another vacation later this year.)
The first time a mother in law shares a kitchen project with a son-in-law could be a disaster. But I’m such a middling cook that I didn’t come with a list of rules or procedures. I got to choose the recipe from several titles that Mike offered, and my selection was Salmon Elise. I didn’t know anything else about it other than that it was salmon, but that was good enough for me. The other parts were his choices: green beans and pan-roasted potatoes with rosemary. I assumed, correctly, that a glass of wine would come with the deal. The process culminated with a dueling frying-pans event, and I won! What could be better?
Oh, yeah, one important thing: Salmon Elise was wonderful—it was the kind of situation when you take a bite and your eyes get wide and your eyebrows go up and you both want to hold it longer in your mouth to savor and want to turn immediately to another bite, and another.
But I’ve jumped to the punch line of a food report, so I suppose I should go back and talk about procedures. He chopped shallots for the wine reduction while I carved up some small red potatoes for pan roasting. He told me I could do them whatever way I wanted. But then he poured the olive oil into a pan for me. I’d probably have used half that amount if I’d done the pouring. He will probably say it doesn’t matter, but give him another few years and he’ll be worrying about cholesterol levels and it will be a different story! Olive oil may be less bad than other oils, but it’s still oil. I browned and turned the little nuggets. I like them well-browned and maybe a bit crispy at the edges, which didn’t happen because there was too much oil. The rosemary was a delicate addition, yet definitely took them out of the ordinary.
Mike had already made beet puree for a garnish, and he was in charge of the wine reduction—three-quarters of a bottle of wine boiled away with bay leaves, the shallots and a couple of other things, all of which were strained out afterwards so that the final sauce was just the essence of all plus several pats of butter (necessary for the well-greased cooking machine, I guess?), whisked to a creamy consistency.
The main ingredient was the salmon, which he bought at a local fish market that he raved about. He split the fillets while I carved scallops into thin slices. If this had been a sandwich, the scallops were the filling and the salmon was the bread. Thus assembled, they were to be seared, and then baked for 15 minutes. Mike had two frying pans, a steel one and a Calphalon. He used the steel. He (again) used a bit more olive oil than I would have in his pan, but this time I was quick enough to urge less for the Calphalon. Whew. I waited for the pan to be radiating heat, and then carefully hand-placed my seafood sandwiches in it. The bottom of the fish quickly began to change from pink to white, so I got to be the first to try turning over the assembly. I used two pancake turners, and they stayed reasonably intact in the inversion. Mike’s fish stuck a bit despite the olive oil, so they didn’t turn as neatly, but his method was better than mine: using both pancake turners he rolled them over the short way, whereas I, for no good reason, had flopped them over the long way—like tumbling instead of rolling over in bed. So he won on procedure, but I lucked out with the pan choice. The Calphalon didn’t stick and gave a nice seared surface, whereas the product of the steel pan with more oil was not so pretty.
Mike finished the wine reduction while the fish was in the oven, and then did the presentation: the whisked sauce spread on each plate, the salmon on top, three mint leaves with beet puree around the rim. Potatoes and beans were placed on the table in bowls and eaten from a separate plate. The flavor of the sauce was so smooth yet intense that we all ooohed and aaahed. We debated whether the salmon was just there to be the carrier of that wonderful sauce. Mike said he hoped not, considering the price he’d paid for it! We wondered whether the sauce could be used on other things—chicken for instance. Of course, its pinkness would be less attractive there than on the salmon.
The striking thing was how good this was and how relatively easy. There were several parts, but the wine just boiled away on the stove with little attention, and the cooking parts were fast. If you skipped the garnishes, this could be an after-work meal. It’s not that time-consuming. But garnishes, while they are more bother, are what make it LOOK like a restaurant meal.
And the end of the story: while we were still sitting around the table, I mused on how I could do this at home. I’d cut the recipe in half, because there are just two of us in my house. We buy our salmon and scallops frozen, from Costco. I’m inclined to try the dish with those and see if I can perceive a difference from the fresh fish. And Mike has made it easier for me to think about trying it: my reward for participation was a copy of Damn Good Food!