Yellow Perch Mousse, Eggplant Caviar, and Buckwheat Puff Pastry

Although my last ice-fishing trip brought back 100 yellow perch, some of them were smaller than others, to put it mildly. Once the heads, tails, skin, and bones were removed, I often ended up with fillets the size of my pinky. Lots of them. So just as when I made fish cutlets in a recent post, I decided to call my blender to the rescue once again, and make a fish mousse.

Since this is a Russian food blog, I had a good idea of the flavors I wanted to pair with the fish:

  • Buckwheat. I must say I’m very happy with this buckwheat puff pastry. I’m sure I didn’t invent it (a quick Googling shows a handful of matches), but it really tastes quite good.
  • Eggplant and parsley. You might recall a previous eggplant caviar recipe of mine, but this one is different, as the vegetables are 100% eggplant and I use gelatine to hold it together before sprinkling it with chopped parsley.
  • Dill. In Russia, the dish would probably have called for an entire bunch of dill. Here I’m just adding a little bit in my whipped cream rosettes. You could also try skipping the dill cream and adding the dill directly to the terrine instead.

Russian Cuisine - Yellow Perch Mousse, Eggplant Caviar and Buckwheat Puffs

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Lake Trout and Crawfish Ballotine

A few months back, I reported my giant catch of delicious, bright-orange-fleshed lake trout from Lake Ontario. Although I usually avoid freezing fish, that time I had no choice. This gave me plenty of trout to use, to try and perfect this ballotine recipe.

Russian Food - Lake Trout and Crawfish BallotineThere are many sources of inspiration for this recipe…

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Crab and Buckwheat Stuffed Veal Chop

Here’s a recipe with no particular source of inspiration other than some traditional Eastern European ingredients — the buckwheat, the potatoes — and techniques — pounding and stuffing the meat. I love surf and turf dishes, and veal’s mild flavor makes it particularly suitable for seafood pairings. The mouth-watering green apple purée goes admirably with veal, crab and potatoes. If you want to complement the chop with a sauce, I would recommend something simple with reduced veal stock, mushrooms and butter.

More and more, crab meat tends to come from South America or Southeast Asia, and warm sea species are a lot less flavorful than their cold sea counterparts. Whenever possible, look for Maine rather than Venezuela. And of course, fresh plastic containers are far superior to cans.

My picture shows a potato knysh as a side, and I’ll have a recipe for it in the near future. You could also serve this dish with potato gratin or deruny.

Stuffed veal chops
Yields 4 servings

2 oz scallion whites, thinly sliced
4 tbsp top quality olive oil
2 oz kasha (roasted buckwheat)
salt
6 oz water
1 oz butter
10  oz fresh crab meat
1/2 tsp piment d’espelette
4 tbsp scallion greens, thinly sliced
4 veal chops, about 3/4 lb each

  • In a saucepan over medium heat, sauté the scallion whites in half of the olive oil until translucent. Add the kasha, season with salt, and cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the water and butter, cover with a lid, and cook over low heat until the liquid is fully absorbed. Remove from heat and let cool.
  • Pick the crab meat to remove any cartilage pieces, and place into a bowl. Add in the kasha mixture, the rest of the olive oil, piment d’espelette and scallion greens, then rectify the seasoning and reserve.
  • Place each veal chop between 2 sheets of plastic wrap, and pound to a 5″ x 6″ rectangle using a meat pounder. Don’t be afraid to pound directly on the bone, too. Discard the plastic wrap and season with salt. Place some stuffing near the side where the bone is still attached, then roll into a cylinder and tie with butcher’s twine. Do not overfill, even if you end up with some leftover stuffing. Tightly wrap in clean plastic film, and refrigerate for at least 8 hours.

Apple purée
Yields 4 servings

10 oz peeled and cored Granny Smith apples
1 1/2 oz butter
3 oz veal stock
1/4 oz scallion greens, chopped

  • Slice the apples. Brown the butter in a pan over high heat, add the apples, and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the veal stock, and simmer over medium heat until almost completely reduced. Stir in the scallions, and let rest for 5 minutes.
  • Process in a blender until smooth, then pass through a chinois and reserve.

Assembly
Yields 4 servings

stuffed veal chops
olive oil
apple purée

  • Sauté the veal chops with olive oil in a very hot pan until brown on all sides.  Transfer to a 350 F oven, and cook to desired doneness. Remove the twine, and let rest for 5 minutes.
  • Reheat the apple purée in a saucepan over medium heat, and serve with the veal chops.

Blini and Oladi, Russian Pancakes

There are literally hundreds of Russian pancake recipes. The Bolshaya Kniga Domashney Kukhni by Svetlana and Lidia Lagutina alone counts more than 70! These recipes distinguish themselves by the type of flour or starch used (wheat, buckwheat, rye, semolina, potato), the raising agents or aerators present in the batter (yeast, baking soda, beaten egg whites, yogurt), and their use (plain with toppings, stuffed, or stacked with filling to make a cake). The thickness is also of particular importance in the Russian taxonomy: blini are alway thin, whereas thick pancakes are called oladi.

Here are four of my recipes, that I make regularly:

  • The original blini are similar to French crêpes, if only a bit thicker. This is the kind that you will be served 99% of the time in Russia. There are even cafés dedicated to them, the blinochnayas. They can be paired with anything you can think of: ground meat, cheese, smoked fish, fish roe, sour cream, jam, honey…
  • The thick yeast-free blini would really be called oladi in Russian. These are very airy pancakes that can be prepared quickly thanks to the beaten egg whites. They go particularly well with strong flavors, like herring, salmon roe or eggplant caviar.
  • The buckwheat blini are somewhere between the blini and oladi in thickness, with a very traditionnal batter. Try them with smoked or cured salmon (like my recent kippered and marinated recipes).
  • The potato blini, too, should be called oladi because of their thickness. You can use them like the yeast-free blini.

Original blini
Yields 16 blini

12 oz flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp powdered orange peel (optional)
3/4 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
12 oz milk
5 eggs
12 oz water
2 oz butter, melted

  • In the bowl of an electric mixer, mix the flour, baking soda, powdered orange peel, salt, sugar, milk and eggs with the paddle attachment on medium speed until smooth. Add the water and melted butter and mix again. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 30 minutes.


Yeast-free blini
Yields 20 blini

12 oz flour
3/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp baking soda
3 egg yolks
16 oz milk
3 oz butter, melted
4 oz yogurt
3 egg whites

  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fit with the paddle attachment, mix the flour, salt and baking soda. Add the egg yolks and half of the milk, and beat over low speed until smooth. Add the melted butter and the rest of the milk, and beat again. Mix in the yogurt. Cover and let rest for 30 minutes.
  • Whip the egg whites to soft peaks, and fold into the batter.


Buckwheat blini
Yields 16 blini

8 oz milk
2 tsp active dry yeast
3 oz buckwheat flour
3 oz white flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 egg yolks
7 oz crème fraiche
2 egg whites

  • Mix the milk and yeast, and let rest for 10 minutes.
  • Mix the buckwheat flour, white flour and salt. Mix in the egg yolks and the milk mixture. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm place for about 1 hour, until it has doubled in volume.
  • Incorporate the crème fraiche. Beat the egg white to soft peaks, and fold into the batter.

Potato blini
Yields 16 blini

1 lb peeled Yukon Gold potatoes
2 oz flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
4 oz milk
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 egg white

  • Place the potatoes in a pot with cold salted water, bring to a boil, and cook until tender.
  • Rice the potatoes, cover with plastic wrap, and let them cool.
  • In a bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, milk, egg, egg yolk, salt and ground pepper. Add the riced potatoes and mix well. Let rest for 30 minutes.
  • Whip the egg white to soft peaks and gently incorporate into the batter.

Cooking the pancakes

butter
pancake batter

  • Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat.
  • Place a tiny piece of butter in the pan, and spread it with a paper towel. Ladle in a spoonful of batter. My blini are about 7″ diameter, and the oladi half of that. For the thin blini only, swirl the pan to spread the batter. Cook until golden brown, then flip with a spatula. Cook until the other side is golden brown, then reserve on a plate with a small piece of butter on top. Repeat until you run out of batter.
  • For the potato blini only, place the fried pancakes in an oven-safe dish, cover with foil, and bake in a 350 F oven for an additional 10 minutes.
  • Serve warm.