Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Salmon en papillote

The funny things that happen in our brains. We met a long-time friend the other night and talked nostalgically about our lives in Munich. He had lived there before us (we spent six months in Munich in 2001) and was recently there again on vacation. We talked about how the littlest details could bring back so many memories, just like madeleines did to Proust. As he had stepped in the U-Bahn, the distinct metallic smell of the subway had hit our friend and brought him back many years in the past. We all shared stories about the fun things we had done there, the beautiful places we had visited, the great meals and beers we had savored.

A week later I went grocery shopping and picked without thinking too much about it, two bunches of fresh spinach. Then my eyes stopped on a root of ginger and I thought that it would make a good combination. I carried on, scratched my head in front of the fish and decided to go for some salmon. It's only when I put them together that I realized I was reproducing a dish I had eaten in Munich. Not that there is anything Bavarian about it. But we had been invited by French expatriates just after moving to Munich and they had served us baked salmon topped with cream, spinach and ginger. I had liked the dish as much as the warm welcome. It took nine years and a conversation to release this memory from my unconscious. The funny things that happen in our brains...

Baking fish en papillote is not to be mistaken with eating papillotes, the wrapped chocolates I talked about a while ago (here). It consists in wrapping the fish and accompanying topping (la garniture) in paper or foil to trap the steam and cook them in their own juices. The result is incredibly moist and flavorful.

Serves 3:
  • 1 salmon fillet (I bought Atlantic this time) – about 1/2 lb per person
  • 2 bunches fresh, organic spinach
  • 1 small fresh ginger root
  • 3 tbsp heavy whipping cream
  • 3 tbsp white wine (e.g. Chardonnay or Pinot Grigio)
  • salt, freshly ground black pepper
  • freshly ground nutmeg
  • olive oil
  1. Pull out the stem of each spinach leaf (a technique beautifully explained by Julia Child here at time 1:30). Wash them well. Blanch them for 1 or 2 minutes in salted, boiling water. Drain and press to remove excess water.
  2. Rinse the salmon and pat dry between two paper towels. Cut the fillet crosswise into three portions of equal weight.
  3. Cut 3 squares of aluminum foil as wide as the roll (e.g. 12" x 12"). Pour a dash of olive oil in the center of each square. Place a portion of fish on the oil (skin down) and fold up the edges of the foil (forming a bowl around the fish). Season with salt and pepper.
  4. Place a third of the blanched spinach on top of each fish portion.
  5. Peel the ginger root and grate 1 tsp over each papillote.
  6. Pour 1 tbsp of cream and 1 tbsp of white wine. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
  7. Close the papillote tightly by bringing the edges of the foil together at the top and pressing firmly.
  8. Bake at 365 F (185 C) for about 20 minutes.
Serve in the aluminum foil so your guests will have the pleasure of opening the papillotes and unveiling the "surprise". You can then let them slide the fish (with topping and juices) in their plate and discard the foil. Then add a few spoonfuls of rice (simply boiled in salted water and butter) on each plate.

(the picture was taken before baking)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Vote for me!

If you click on the above icon you can vote for my Broccoli Rabe and Breaded Veal Scalopini recipe to help it get published in Foodista's Best of Food Blogs cookbook.

Bloggers can enter as many of their 2009-2010 recipes as they want, so feel free to suggest other recipes (posted on this blog) that you think would be good candidates. Contest ends February 28 and winners will be announced in August.

Thanks for your help!

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Baked egg custard

Buying the right amount of milk has become a bit of an issue lately as our daughter is growing out of toddlerhood. Her consumption is very irregular: she seems to have mostly given up on her morning and evening's cup of warm milk. But at times she wants to be just like her baby brother – and babies drink a lot of milk. So we continue buying 1/2 gallon whole organic milk every week and it isn't always used up. This is the perfect excuse to turn the soon-to-expire but still delicious ingredient into desserts the whole family can enjoy (I don't drink milk but I'll eat it!).

Flan aux œufs can be made with 2% milk but whole milk will make them a lot creamier

For 6 flans:
  • 1/2 liter (just over 2 cups) milk (whole, organic preferred)
  • 100 g sugar (I just measured it to be 7 tbsp, i.e. nearly 1/2 cup)
  • 3 large eggs

  1. Slowly bring the milk to a boil in a heavy bottom pot. Turn off the heat as soon as bubbles form on the surface.
  2. Whisk together the eggs and sugar until foamy.
  3. Slowly pour the hot milk on the egg and sugar mix, whisking continuously to prevent the eggs from coagulating.
  4. Pour one ladle of custard in each ramekin dish* (or other small oven-safe dish. I recycled Saint-Benoît and other yogurt ceramic containers).
  5. Place all the ramekin dishes in a big, flat, shallow, oven-safe dish and fill up with about 1/2 inch of water (this water bath is called a "bain marie").
  6. Bake for about 30 to 40 minutes at 365 F (185 C). Be careful not to overcook. The flans should not be entirely set when you take them out of the oven. They will get firmer as they cool down.
Let the flans come to room temperature. Cover each dish with a piece of aluminum foil and store in the refrigerator (up to 3 days).

*You can turn these flans into "flans au caramel" by simply pouring one tablespoon of light brown caramel at the bottom of each ramekin dish before pouring the custard. It will be easier to spread the caramel if the dishes are warm (to prevent the caramel from hardening at the contact of a cold dish...).

To prepare the caramel:
  • Use a small stainless steel pot (which can stand direct heat at a high temperature).
  • Melt 100 g (1/2 cup) sugar (or sugar cubes) with 1 or 2 tbsp water over medium-high heat.
  • Watch closely as the sugar will change color rapidly once the appropriate temperature is reached.
  • Do not steer; simply tilt the pot once in a while to level the sugar and distribute the heat.
  • Remove from heat as soon as the caramel takes a light, honey color. Do not wait until it becomes brown.
  • Pour in the ramekin dishes immediately, using a metal spoon (caramel is very hot, over 300 F – 150 C). Tilt the dishes to fully coat the bottom of each dish.