Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Abstract Compositions

I have realized lately that it has been a while since I have had any kind of fish or seafood special. True to form, once I sat down at my desk with a starting point like that, my mind lights up like a campfire - first there's a spark, then two, and before you know it everything is ablaze. There's nothing I love more than inspiration and direction. Normally I have this rule about spacing out the featured proteins of my specials, but with seafood it's easy to dream up summery ideas, so I accede to the old adage about rules being meant to be broken.

The thought of seafood has probably been on my mind lately because of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that is threatening the Gulf's marine life. My best friend, Greg, runs a fishery in the middle of the Florida Keys, and when we last spoke he relayed his concerns that fishing off of Florida could be suspended for five years if the well couldn't be contained... that was two weeks ago.

With that in mind, it doesn't take much to scare price jumps, whether warranted or not, so why not start by focusing on something local, like my nemesis the salmon.

It may sound bizarre to think of salmon as an adversary, but as a chef I have cooked uncountable portions of it due to its popularity in both flavor and health benefits. After a while the smell of the prized oily fat just gets to you, but if it's any consolation, I can't stand beef tenderloin either. But being transplanted here, away from the abundance of east coast Atlantic (tie-dyed/farm-raised) salmon has helped, with varieties like King, Chinook and Coho as members of my new fraternity to help steer me into the right direction.

I chose to use Coho for this dish because it is still a readily available species of salmon that has a relatively high fat content but is still priced reasonably, and with quality ingredients like this it is best to mess with it as little as possible, so I simply season and roast it skin side down in a hot saute pan in order to crisp the skin underneath while leaving the flesh on top soft and flaky.

Once the salmon is cooking I saute a split king oyster mushroom that I had scored with hatchmarks to emulate what I used to do with foie gras due to the texture that the mushroom has when cooked through, but without all of the ethical concerns. With its massive size I add the mushroom along side of the salmon filet to finish cooking while I use the remaining clarified butter to crisp thick slices of fingerling potatoes. With that going, I start reheating the duo of sauces that I had prepared earlier.

The first sauce is perhaps the soul of the creation, inspired by the remaining case of pea vines from last week's special. Despite still being able to offer them as a sauteed seasonal vegetable side dish, I had enough to make a sauce by wilting the leaves down in onions and garlic that had been poached in white wine. I then pureed everything with half and half to add a richness to the vibrant pea flavor that the vines had given up.

To counter the succulent pea vine puree I needed an inverse of both color and flavor, so I used a variation on the classic roasted red bell pepper sauce, but by steaming the chiles instead. By steaming the peppers I was still able to remove the chewy skin while retaining its true essence. After blending with onions, garlic, red wine and red wine vinegar the sauce was as velvety and bright as I could have hope for.

When I had finally layered the two sauces with alternating erratic spoonfuls, each plate was truly unique in that the presentation is organic and personable because no two plates were exactly alike, allowing the colors to glow beneath the salmon as a visual example of the complementing ingredients: from the rich and flaky salmon compared to the crispy, chewy potatoes or the precise cuts on the mushrooms to the Rorschach-like patterns of the sauce.

Last week Stacey had made a request to add St. Germain elderflower liqueur to our bar supply, a decision that both surprised and delighted me. First, I have been wanting to tinker with it in cocktail special for quite some time now but the cost was too high to bring in a specialty item for just one week, but even more intriguing was what was she planning to do with it??

It turns out that her intentions were to use it where it would shine best: as a part of our special sparkling wine cocktails that we sometimes offer during brunch, perhaps like classic offerings like the French 77 with St. Germain, lemon juice and champagne, or .... or.... well, maybe she hoped that I would come up with something tasty myself.

Though this one is geared more towards dinner than brunch, rest assured that I will come up with an elderflower libation that will go with your French toast, but with more punch than crunch. In the meantime let's try this:

Elderflower liqueur has a floral sweetness that only the fortunate ones who have ever tasted honeysuckle directly from the flower can understand. It reminds me of my childhood on hot summer days. Now that I'm an adult, so do refreshing cocktails!! So I paired the two by first pouring a base of Absolut Vanilla vodka at the bottom of rocks glass full of ice along with a splash of St. Germain, pineapple juice and topping it off with a heaping pour of sparkling wine for lift!

With Love,