Salmon and Pork Belly Burger

Russian Cuisine - Salmon BurgerI recently adapted a recipe for Jarred Salmon In Olive Oil from a Russian cookbook titled Pro Okhotu I Rybalku [Of hunting and fishing]. Here’s another idea I yanked from this book: adding pork fat to fish to make burger patties. Although I’m using salmon today, you could choose almost any fish you like.

The rest of the recipe is my own invention: baked tomato halves for additional juiciness, a kind of bean ketchup (with a lot of olive oil to balance the beans’ dry mouthfeel), and potato buns. There will be a recipe coming for my homemade potato buns very soon, but in the meantime you’ll have to cope with the store-bought ones that don’t taste like potato (because they contain nearly as much food coloring as potato flour) and are pre-cut in a less than optimal fashion (see my picture above). On the side, whole fingerling potatoes are deep-fried exactly as for the perfect fries, and topped with fried parsley. The result isn’t quite as crispy as real fries because of the lower starch content of the fingerlings, but is still rather excellent.

ETA: The potato bun recipe is here!

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Jarred Salmon in Olive Oil

Spring is here, and despite the persisting snowfalls throughout New York State, the ice fishing season is coming to a close. I haven’t had much luck recently. No matter how hard I tried and how long I froze my butt (sometimes way after all the other fishermen had given up), I didn’t land anything. I’m starting to doubt whether some of the lakes I’ve been to actually contain fish at all. So I decided to have my small revenge and just buy some fresh salmon at the store.

For a change, here’s a recipe from the “let’s make a trivial dish with 3 ingredients and write about it” school of blogging. It’s inspired by something I found in a Russian cookbook called Pro Okhotu I Rybalku [Of hunting and fishing]. Not only does it come with very appetizing pictures, and cover most wild game and fish you’re likely to kill for food, but it offers a different take on preparing your catch. There are traditional Russian dishes of course, but also more creative recipes (such as partridges in chocolate sauce or pigeons with kumquats and couscous).

Russian Cuisine - Jarred Salmon

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Salmon River Salmon Sausages

Last year, I made Lake Trout Sausage with trout caught in Keuka Lake. This recipe uses Chinook salmon from the Salmon River, but the difference doesn’t stop there. This is really a sausage that copies the model of your usual meat sausage, and it’s definitely not pescatarian. In order to get the level of greasy goodness I want, I’m using beef fat. As it turns out, beef shares many chemical compounds with salmon, and when you think about it, in American food, salmon’s a little bit like the beef of the sea: fatty, full-flavored, and even cut into steaks.

Natural sausage casings can be purchased here, and your butcher’s likely to give you fat from steak trimmings for free. Of course, you’ll need a meat grinder and sausage stuffer.

Salmon River - Salmon Sausages

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Fishing the Salmon River

Fishing the Salmon River - Douglaston Salmon RunBack in Russia, fishing salmon for recreation generally requires a taste for northern climates, and, more often than not, some serious travel time. If you want Atlantic salmon, you fish the Baltic, Barents, or Kara Seas, the rivers draining into them, as well as a bunch of lakes connected to them in Karelia. For Chinook or Coho salmon, you look around the Sea of Okhotsk — a region more famous for its gulags and tough climate than its recreational fishing. The fact that you’re probably seeing half of these sea names for the first time right now should tell you something: they’re far, even if you live in Russia.

Here in North America, salmon fishing is significantly simpler. Most if not all of the Great Lakes are stocked with Atlantic, Chinook, and Coho salmon, all in the same place, making the days  of countless fishing charters in the summertime. When spawning season comes in the fall, thousands of salmon (and trout) swim upstream the rivers connected to the lakes to build their nests (called redds). At that point you don’t even need a boat anymore — just find a spot on the bank and cast your line!

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Georgia Strait Coho Salmon: Crab-Stuffed Salmon Paupiette and Salmon Brandade

Vancouver Coho Salmon Fishing - Crab-Stuffed Salmon Paupiette and Salmon Brandade

No, this is not a post about some remote arm of the Black Sea in the Republic of Georgia. The strait I’m referring to is the Strait of Georgia near Vancouver, BC! We took a family trip to Hollywood North last month, and I used the opportunity to book my first saltwater fishing trip with Captain Guy at Bonnie Lee Charters.

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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.

Salmon Coulibiac

Originally, a kulebyaka was a closed pie filled with several layers, often separated with pancakes to prevent mixing. The dish could be served at any time during the meal, and fillings consisted of almost anything, including meat, fish, mushrooms, onions, cabbage, buckwheat, hard-boiled eggs — sweet ingredients to create a dessert pie weren’t unheard of either. However, it was only in the 19th century that French chefs who had worked in Russia brought the dish into the international spotlight, after distorting both the recipe and its name. The ingredients of the new coulibiac took a luxurious turn and showed a preference for game, foie gras, salmon, rice, butter, and puff pastry. Nowadays, the dominant version in both Western and Russian restaurants consists of a combination of salmon, rice, mushrooms and hard-boiled eggs.

My rendition, partly motivated by a recent meal at M. Wells, is definitely more a coulibiac than a genuine kulebiaka. In fact, the large piece of rare, pink fish, the leek risotto and the salmon roe sauce restore some of the luster to a dish that has too often become a shapeless blob of overcooked salmon (the steak of the sea, industrially farmed to cost as little as possible). Partly freezing the fish is key to obtaining the right doneness (which is only somewhat visible on the pictures below). The timing may vary slightly with your freezer, but the fillet should not be rock solid when you take it out, or it will reject lots of water and make the pastry soggy. Store-bought puff pastry certainly saves a lot of time, but not all doughs are born equal. In particular, beware of the brands that don’t use butter — that’s not really puff pastry anymore!

Try this dish with potato knishes. I find that the leftovers are also delicious when served cold.

Leek purée
Yields 8 servings

6 oz leeks, sliced
2 1/2 oz butter
6 oz chicken stock

  • Sauté the leeks with half of the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat for 3 minutes, stirring regularly. Season with salt, add the chicken stock, and simmer until the leeks are soft. Let cool for 5 minutes.
  • Transfer to a blender, add the rest of the butter, and process until smooth. Reserve.

Leek risotto
Yields 8 servings

4 1/2 oz arborio rice
1 tbsp olive oil
black pepper, ground
4 1/2 oz white wine
9 oz chicken stock, hot
leek purée
1/2 oz chives, chopped

  • Sauté the rice with the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Season with salt and pepper, add the white wine, and simmer until almost fully reduced. Add half of the chicken stock, simmer again until almost fully reduced, then repeat with the rest of the stock.
  • Rectify the seasoning and stir in the  leek purée. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let cool. The risotto will still look very runny, and that’s fine: the rice will absorb more liquid. Reserve.

Yields 8 servings

2 lb cleaned fresh salmon fillet, center cut
16 oz puff pastry
10 oz smoked salmon, thinly sliced
leek risotto
egg wash (1 egg yolk mixed with 1 oz water)

  • Place the the salmon on a piece of plastic wrap, fold the fillet lengthwise, and roll into a cylinder. Wrap tightly with another layer of plastic wrap, and freeze for 4 hours.
  • Roll the puff pastry to a 12″ x 15″ rectangle. With the longer side of the rectangle facing you, line with the slices of smoked salmon, leaving 1″ clear on each edge except the one closest to you. Spread the leek risotto on top of the smoked salmon. Unwrap the salmon from the freezer, and position it near the edge of the rectangle closest to you. Brush the exposed puff pastry with egg wash, roll into a cylinder, and seal the dough on both edges. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with greased parchment paper, and brush all sides with egg wash. Bake in a 425 F oven for about 25 minutes, until golden brown.
  • Let rest for 5 minutes while you prepare the sauce, then slice and serve.

Sour cream and salmon roe sauce
Yields 8 servings

3 oz white wine
12 oz sour cream
1 tsp vodka
4 1/2 oz salmon roe
4 tsp chopped chives

  • In a small saucepan, heat the white wine and 1/2 of the sour cream over high heat, and reduce by half. Remove from the heat, and mix in the vodka and the rest of the sour cream.
  • Just before serving, add half of the salmon roe and chives, barely swirling the saucepan to incorporate them. Use the rest of the roe and chives to decorate the dish.

Cranberry and Dill Marinated Salmon

In Nordic countries as well as Estonia, salmon is commonly cured in salt, sugar and dill, and called gravlax − graavilõhe in Estonian. By adding cranberry juice to the curing mix, you can impart a subtle red berry note to the fish and turn the flesh a bright red color.

Cranberry and dill marinated salmon
Yields about 12 servings

7 oz sugar
4 oz kosher salt
1 tbsp cracked black peppercorns
1 oz dill leaves, coarsely chopped
4 oz cranberry juice
2 1/2 lb salmon fillet (choose a top-quality, fatty variety), skin-on

  • In a bowl, combine the sugar, salt, peppercorns, dill and cranberry juice. Find a dish just large enough for the salmon fillet, and coat the bottom with some of the marinade. Place the fish skin side down, then spread the rest of the marinade on the fillet. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 48 hours. Every 4 hours or so, coat the fillet with the marinade using a spoon.
  • Rinse the fillet under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate. The salmon can be kept for about a week.
  • To serve, cut very thin slices lengthwise using a fish or boning knife.

Kippered Salmon

The food markets of Russia, Ukraine and the Baltic states are filled with smoked fish of all kinds. Here’s a sample of the selection of hot-smoked items at the Riga Central Market, Europe’s largest, with salmon front and center:

Kippered salmon is traditionally prepared using a hot-smoking process, resulting in a flaky, juicy piece of fish similar to baked salmon, but with a smoky flavor. Here I propose a more urban version. As I don’t have a smoker, I am using smoked salt to brine the salmon instead. The slow cooking then keeps the salmon moist and avoids an excess of coagulated white proteins on the outside.

Make sure to choose a salt with a strong smoked flavor, not just a hint of smoke. I use the Yakima applewood smoked salt by Artisan Salt Co., but there are many other brands.

Kippered Salmon
Yields about 10 servings

1 qt water
2 1/4 oz applewood smoked salt
2 oz sugar
1 tsp cracked black peppercorns
2 1/2 lb top-quality, fatty salmon fillet, thick part (about 1 1/2″ thick), skin on

  • Process the water, smoked salt, sugar and peppercorns in a blender until the salt is dissolved. In a dish just large enough for the salmon, pour some of the brine, then place the fillet skin side down, and cover with the rest of the brine. Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours.
  • Drain the fillet, pat dry and refrigerate uncovered for another 6 hours to further dry.
  • Take the fish from the refrigerator, and let rest at room temperature for 1 hour.
  • Place the salmon fillet in a baking pan, and place that baking pan in a larger one that you fill with water. Cook in a 200 F oven for 2 hours, then let cool.
  • Wipe off some of the coagulated white proteins with paper towels, and refrigerate.

This should be served cool but not too cold, so you can take it out of the refrigerator about 30 minutes ahead.