Cayuga Lake Salmon, Blue Cheese and Porcini Coulibiac

I know I’ve already posted a coulibiac recipe about a year ago, but this one is a bit different. While still keeping the format of a traditional coulibiac (dough, fish, rice), I chose the other elements based on their chemical composition. As it turns out, ingredients that share a lot of chemical compounds are more likely to pair well together. When it comes to salmon, the so-called chemical pairings include:

  • various fish species — not really a surprise;
  • beef, followed by other meats to a smaller extent — I don’t think this makes a great pairing, but it’s interesting to note that in many regards, salmon is to fish what beef is to meat;
  • blue cheese, as well as several other cheeses;
  • black tea, and some other teas;
  • porcini mushrooms;
  • and… strawberries (we’ll leave that one out today).

There’s also a simpler, more pragmatic reason for me coming up with this dish: it’s great to catch lots of salmon and trout, but then you have to cook and eat them, and new recipes are always welcome. By the time I was ready to take pictures for this post, though, my stash of land-locked salmon was long gone, and what you see is the more conventional, pinker Atlantic salmon.

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Cayuga Lake Salmon Burgers and Warm Potato Salad

A few weeks ago, we took another fishing trip with Fisherman John on Cayuga Lake, with the idea of spending one half-day focusing on carp, and another targeting landlocked salmon. The carp turned out to be too elusive for us to catch. We didn’t even see any, partly because of the chaotic weather this year — it was snowing the day before! The salmon fishing was going equally badly for the first 4 hours. I was starting to lose hope, when suddenly we got our first strike. Once the school was found, we promptly caught enough fish to feed our little family for a week, and even released a few, including the 25″ beauty you see on the picture.

Landlocked salmon are among the tastiest cold-water game fish one can catch in NY state, and the season lasts from ice-out through spring. In Cayuga Lake, they’re usually the same species as Atlantic salmon, but with a non-migratory life cycle. The flavor is similar to that of its sea cousins, but milder. The flesh is quite pale and turns almost white when cooked.

It came to me that while a burger made with beef requires a ground meat patty so that one can bite into it, a whole salmon fillet is tender enough that it doesn’t need to be ground. In fact, ground salmon often results in a dry or very fragile fish cake. This is why I’m using small portions of salmon fillet without additional processing. If purists object that it’s not a burger, then they can call it a hot sandwich!

I wanted to make a salmon burger that was easy enough to prepare, and of course with an Eastern European flavor — hence the warm potato salad, for one thing. The way I cook the salmon (on a plate, with butter, at a very low temperature) produces the best result. In my opinion this is even better than sous-vide, as it comes out slightly warmer and less soggy.

Potato salad
Yields 4 servings

18 oz peeled fingerling potatoes
2 oz butter
8 oz thinly sliced onions
1.2 oz cornichons
2.2 oz crème fraiche
0.6 oz whole-grain mustard
4 tsp finely chopped chives

  • Place the potatoes in a pot with salted water, bring to a boil, and simmer until fully cooked. Drain, cut into large chunks, and reserve.
  • Melt the butter with a little bit of water in a small saucepan. Add the onions, cover, and cook over low heat for 30-40 minutes, until very soft, stirring regularly.
  • Heat a non-stick pan over high heat. Add the onions and the fat from the saucepan, then mix in the potatoes, and cook until golden brown, stirring constanly.
  • Transfer the potatoes and onions to a bowl, and let cool for 5 minutes. Dry the cornichons with a paper towel, and cut into a brunoise. In a plastic container, combine the crème fraiche, mustard, and cornichons, then mix into the bowl.
  • Serve immediately, with chopped chives sprinkle on top.

Salmon mousse
Yields about 8 servings

6 oz cleaned salmon fillet
1/4 tsp smoked salt
black pepper, ground
0.3 oz butter, sliced
2 oz heavy cream
0.5 oz lemon juice

  • Season the salmon with the smoked salt and black pepper, then place on a plate with the slices of butter spread on the top and bottom sides. Cover the plate with plastic wrap, and cook in a 200 F oven until medium-rare.
  • Transfer the salmon and any grease from the plate into a blender, add the cream and lemon juice, and process until smooth. Let cool and refrigerate.

Salmon burgers
Yields 4 servings

4 oz baby bok choy leaves
0.5 oz water
1.5 oz butter, sliced
black pepper, ground
4 portions of cleaned salmon fillet, about 4 oz each, trimmed into an octagonal shape
4 brioche buns, about 3.5″ diameter
4 oz salmon mousse
2 oz cream cheese
2 tsp finely chopped chives

  • Place the baby bok choy leaves in a small saucepan with the water and 1/3 of the butter. Add some salt and pepper, cover with a lid, and cook over low heat until soft. Reserve.
  • Season the salmon with salt and pepper,  then place on a plate with the remaining slices of butter spread on the top and bottom sides. Cover the plate with plastic wrap, and cook in a 200 F oven until nearly done to your liking (I say nearly, because the fish will be finished in a frying pan). This will take between 10 and 30 minutes, depending on the plate you’re using, the thickness of the fish, and the doneness you want to reach.
  • Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat, add the fat from the plate, and quickly sear the salmon on both sides.
  • Toast the brioche buns. Spread the bottom halves with salmon mousse, and the top halves with cream cheese sprinkled with chives. Assemble each burger by stacking the salmon fillet and the drained bok choy leaves. Serve immediately.

Lake Trout Rillettes

As I’ve explained before, rillettes were originally a spread made of salted pork slowly cooked in fat, but many recipes involving other meats or fish are now common. In a previous post, I showed how to make some simple, quick smoked trout rillettes as an accompaniment to a seared trout fillet. Here is a slightly more complex dish that I prepared with the Cayuga Lake contingent.

You can keep the rillettes refrigerated for about 5 days. Serve them cold as an appetizer. I find that they pair particularly well with trout roe and yeast-free blini, with just a dash of lemon juice and some chives.

Lake trout rillettes
Yields one 1 1/2 qt terrine (at least 12 servings)

2 oz top-quality olive oil
34 oz cleaned (skinned and boned) trout fillets
10 g smoked salt
1 g curing salt
10 g salt
2 g piment d’espelette
6 oz white wine
1 1/2 oz whisky
6 oz butter, softened
6 oz goat’s milk butter, softened

  • Spread the olive oil on the trout fillets, place into sous-vide pouches, and cook in a 120 F water bath for 30 minutes.
  • Remove the trout from the pouches, and pat dry with paper towels. Season evenly with the smoked, curing and regular salts and the piment d’espelette, and reserve.
  • Reduce the white wine to 1/4 in a saucepan over medium heat, then add the whisky and let cool.
  • In a blender, process the wine and whisky mixture with 1/4 of the trout until smooth.
  • Place the butter and goat’s milk butter in an electric mixer fit with the paddle attachment, and beat at maximum speed for about 5 minutes. Add the blended trout mixture, and beat until smooth. Flake the rest of the trout between your fingers, add to the mixer, and beat at low speed for a few seconds, until evenly distributed but still chunky.
  • Transfer the rillettes to a 1 1/2 qt terrine mold lined with plastic wrap, cover with more plastic wrap and a lid, and refrigerate for at least 24 hours.
  • Take out of the fridge 30 minutes before serving. Remove the rillettes from the mold and slice.

Cured Lake Trout Roe

The icing on the cake when you catch your own fish is that you’ll get plenty of fish roe during spawning season – my last trip alone brought almost a pound! Cured trout roe (personally, I don’t like calling it caviar unless it comes from a sturgeon) has become an increasingly expensive delicacy, with stores charging as much as $100 for 4 oz.

And yet curing roe is incredibly fast and easy! The whole recipe requires only 3 ingredients, a scale and about 10 minutes of your time. If you don’t have curing salt, you can replace it with regular salt. You’ll be amazed by the result, too. Trout roe is milder and has a much thinner skin than its salmon counterpart, which makes it a good starting point for the fish roe skeptic.

The cured roe can be kept refrigerated for a couple weeks or more, depending on the amount of salt you use (feel free to tune it to match your taste). In theory you can even freeze it — something that retail stores do regularly to even out the effects of Caspian caviar import quotas, for example.

Cured lake trout roe
Yields 8 oz

8 oz lake trout roe, still in its sac (called skein)
about 0.35 oz (10 g) salt (see below)
1/8 tsp (0.75 g) curing salt
2/3 tsp (2 g) canola oil

  • Place the roe on a cooling rack over a bowl, and rub gently to separate the eggs from the membrane (see picture below). Rinse the eggs with cold water and strain. Weigh the roe and return to a dry bowl.
  • Weigh 4.5 % of the roe weight in salt, then mix with the curing salt and sprinkle over the roe. Gently mix with a spatula, add the oil and mix again. Transfer to a plastic container and refrigerate for at least 1 day, stirring every 12 hours or so.

Kutap, Armenian Stuffed Trout

This recipe is the first of my own interpretations of the mythical “Lake Sevan Gifts” that I talked about in my last Armenian Adventures post. It was the perfect thing to do with the trout I just caught on Cayuga Lake!

Kutap is an ancient Armenian dish consisting of a whole, boned trout, stuffed with a mixture of rice and raisins. Now, as with most if not all Armenian recipes, there is controversy about whether it really is Armenian. In Azerbaijan, this could easily pass as a fish dolma… In fact, an Azeri was recently asking me: “If dolma’s an Armenian dish, how do you explain that the word for it isn’t Armenian?” (In fact it comes from the Turkish verb dolmak, “to be stuffed.”)

My version uses pounded fillets instead of the whole fish, making it more akin to a paupiette. The stuffing is very close to the one described in Pokhlebkin’s Cookbook of the Soviet Peoples, except I prepare the rice like a risotto. I served the kutap with a zucchini and basil purée.

Yields 4 servings

1 1/2 oz Arborio rice
1 1/2 oz golden raisins
3/4 oz butter
1/4 tsp grated fresh ginger
Urfa pepper, ground
1 1/2 oz white wine
4 oz chicken stock, warm
2 cleaned (skinned and boned) trout fillets, about 9 oz each (or 4 fillets half that size)
1 1/2 tbsp finely chopped parsley

  • In a small saucepan over medium heat, cook the rice and raisins in the butter for 1 minute. Add the ginger, salt, pepper and white wine, and boil gently until almost dry. Add half of the chicken stock and simmer until fully absorbed, then repeat with the rest of the stock. Remove from heat and let cool.
  • Take off 3 oz of flesh from the fillets and reserve. You can either use the tail ends if the fillets are small, or cut off the thickest part if they’re larger.
  • Place the fillets between sheets of plastic wrap and lightly flatten using a meat pounder. You want to obtain four 4″ x 6″ rectangles, 1/4″ thick — approximately, this is not a math class.
  • Chop the reserved flesh into small dice, and add along with the parsley into the rice mixture, then divide between the four rectangles and roll into cylinders. Tightly wrap the cylinders in plastic film, making sure that the stuffing is tucked in (this happens almost naturally).
  • Steam the fish for 5 minutes, let rest for 1 minute, then remove the plastic wrap. Cut each portion on a bias and serve.

Cayuga Lake Fishing, and New Recipe Page

We went back to the Finger Lakes last weekend, and spent a day fishing with Fisherman John on Cayuga Lake. It rained most of the day, but the catch ended up being pretty good. We caught a few bass, and during a brief sunny spell we managed to catch five lake trout in short succession, the biggest 28″ long, just under 7 lb.

Since this is becoming a favorite category, I am starting a recipe page dedicated to trout, char and salmon.