Friday, August 10, 2012

Salmon Rillettes

One of my favorite parts of culinary school was working on the menu project, where we pretty much had free reign in creating, cooking, plating and photographing a 4-course menu of our own themed design. Mine centered on the seasonality of Swedish cuisine and for my first course, I knew a riff off of Bouchon's famed salmon rillettes would be just the thing I'd want to serve.

Of all the preservation methods, rillettes may just be my favorite. Protein that is seasoned and cooked slowly in fat until tender, then shredded and stored in said fat in a cute crock until ready to be enjoyed with warm bread and some country wine - what's not to love? You'll probably see duck as the more common offering and it's always hard for me to resist it when I see it on a restaurant menu. I'll be the first to admit that its charming presentation is a large draw. :) But the taste certainly seals the deal.

Salmon rillettes look and sound far more fancy than it actually is. There's certainly a wow factor to this, but at the end of the day, it is quite easy to put together and yields a nice amount. Have a few empty vessels ready (any smallish jar or ramekin will work). Enjoy one right away and keep the other sealed and ready to eat in the refrigerator. Don't be alarmed at the speed at which this savory spread disappears though; it's really, REALLY addictive! Come to think of it, this would be a great change-up to your weekend bagel routine - try subbing lox or lox spread with this equally luscious spreadable salmon.

Try these on toasted crostini or any nice quality cracker (these are gorgeous knäckebröd, or crisp bread, we brought from Sweden). We also found the rillettes to go really well with an ice cold sip of aquavit; the bracing, anise-laced shnapps cut through some of the richness really well.

Salmon Rillettes
Adapted from Thomas Keller's Bouchon via LA Times

Total time: 45 minutes, plus 60 minutes marinating and at least 1 hour chilling time
Servings: 10 to 12 (makes about 3 1/4 cups)
Note: More clarified butter may be needed depending on the size of the serving bowls.

1 pound center-cut salmon fillet, skin and pin bones removed
2 tablespoons aquavit
Freshly ground white pepper
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, divided
1/2 cup minced shallots
1 tablespoon creme fraiche
1/2 pound unsliced smoked salmon, chilled, skin and dark layer removed if necessary, cut into 1/4-inch dice and brought to room temperature
2 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
1/4 cup minced chives, for garnish
Sprigs of dill, for garnish
Lumpfish or whitefish roe, for garnish

Trim and discard any dark flesh from the salmon fillet. Place the fish in a shallow baking dish and sprinkle each side with 1 tablespoon of the aquavit, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and one-fourth teaspoon white pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate 30 to 60 minutes, turning the fish over halfway through the marination.

Bring water to a simmer in the bottom of a steamer. Remove the salmon from the baking dish and place it in the steamer and cover with the lid. Steam gently for 5 to 8 minutes; if you see steam pouring out the sides of the steamer, lower the heat. Check the salmon by separating the flesh with the tip of a knife and peering at the center. It should be medium-rare. When it is cooked, remove from the steamer.

Meanwhile, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a medium saute pan over low heat. Add the shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Season with one-fourth teaspoon salt and continue to cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the shallots have softened but not browned. Remove from the heat.

Put 7 tablespoons butter in a small bowl and beat with a rubber spatula until it is smooth and resembles mayonnaise in consistency. Stir in the creme fraiche. Set aside.

Put the cooked salmon in a large bowl and stir to break it into large chunks. Because you will be stirring in the remaining ingredients, you don't want to break up the pieces too much. Stir in the smoked salmon, shallots, lemon juice, olive oil and egg yolks. Season assertively with one-fourth teaspoon salt and one-half teaspoon white pepper, since this will be served cold. Fold in the butter mixture.

Transfer the rillettes to 2 ceramic or glass serving bowls, leaving at least one-half-inch of space at the top. Smooth the top of the rillettes and wipe the inside rims clean. Refrigerate for about 1 hour, until cold. Pour a one-fourth-inch-thick layer of clarified butter over the top of the rillettes to seal. (To clarify butter, melt the remaining one-half cup -- 1 stick -- butter in a small skillet over medium heat. Do not let it brown. Remove it from the heat and set aside for 5 minutes. A white foam will collect on top. Using a large spoon, remove the foam. Carefully and with a steady hand, pour off the clear yellowish liquid, leaving the milky solids at the bottom. )

Cover the bowls and store in the refrigerator for up to a week. To serve, break through the butter layer and remove it. Spread the rillettes on toast, crackers or store-bought Swedish crisp bread, known as knäckebröd. Place a dollop of lumpfish roe or whitefish roe for added texture and flavor. Garnish with chives and dill.

Once the butter is removed, eat the rillettes within 2 days.


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