Salmon & Scallop Sashimi

Jim and I celebrated our fourth anniversary this past weekend. It’s the last one before we get hitched and our first-date anniversary falls by the wayside. Sadly, it wasn’t filled with dancing, or wining and dining somewhere fancy, but with a movie that I could hardly sit through because of back pain, and a few ice-packs and a stint on the couch.

Organic Scottish salmon

But luckily, there’s not much that could deter Jim and me from romance. It’s the reason, really, why we’re marrying this fall. Now, a year’s-running back injury isn’t an aphrodisiac, but lightly pounded sustainably raised organic Scottish salmon, served raw with a sprinkling of chives and Thai basil, and a drizzle of hot oil, can overcome the worst pain if you’re in the right company, landing you both in the romantic spirit.

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My love affair with raw seafood rivals (not really) my passion for Jim. Granted, my relationship with raw seafood has more ups and downs than my relationship with Jim. He’s never left me staring into the abyss of a toilet bowl. But, when you find the perfect scallop, buttery and sweet and needing just a sprinkling of kosher salt, a grinding of black pepper, and a few healthy drops of fruity olive oil, you realize that it would be silly to judge all seafood based on a few bad experiences. It helps, though, to go about your seafood seriously.

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So, these recipes (if you can call them that) won’t work for everyone. First off, you’ll need to have access to great seafood.  It’s not an easy thing.  You’ll need a seafood market, or a very trustworthy guy at your local grocery. Even if you go to a stand-alone seafood market, you’ll need to get to know your fishmongers. You’ll need to express your interest in fish. You’ll need them to know you’re serious and you want serious quality. You’ll also need them to like you. And you’ll absolutely need to tell them that you’ll be eating the fish raw.

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You may not be able to get sashimi-making fish just when you want it. I almost always give at least one day’s notice. And, for a special occasion, it’s good to give as much notice as possible. Or you can just wait around, ask what’s good each time you go to the market, and drop whatever you’ve got planned whenever your fish monger is really excited about something. When we go to the market, and they hold out a scallop, asking us to try it, beaming from ear to ear, we immediately forget whatever we’d planned to eat that night, and buy some for sashimi (or to barely cook them and serve over a tomato compote). And, I’ll say it again, always be nice to your fish monger. I’ve learned to put away my pride when I step into my favorite fish joints. I’m at their mercy, and I’m rewarded with salmon sashimi, cut from a fatty section, on my anniversary, with my soon-to-be husband feeding it to me with chopsticks. Results may vary, but if you can find yourself some great seafood, I imagine they’ll be nothing short of spectacular.

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Organic Scottish Salmon Sashimi

serves 2

I get my salmon from Metropolitan Seafood in Clinton, New Jersey.  You want to make sure it comes from a sustainable farm; otherwise buy wild salmon (it won’t be as fatty, but will still be good).

1 4 oz. center cut piece of salmon, skin off
a small handful of chives
a few leaves of Thai basil
soy sauce
fresh black pepper
kosher salt, preferably David’s brand
fruity, high quality olive oil
dried red chili flakes

Place the salmon on a piece of parchment paper. Cover the salmon with another piece of parchment paper. Using a rolling pin or other blunt object, tap the salmon until it flattens out. It’s okay if it breaks apart some — you want it to be in bite-size pieces.

Place flattened salmon on a plate.  Sprinkle with chives, basil, and a few splashes of soy sauce.  Grind on some black pepper and season with salt.

Heat oil with chili flakes in a small saucepan until it is just about to smoke.  Drizzle hot oil (without any chili flakes) over salmon, and serve with chopsticks.

Raw Sea Scallops with Olive Oil

serves 2

4 medium sized buttery, sweet sea scallops
kosher salt, preferably David’s brand
fresh black pepper
fruity, high quality olive oil

Remove the abductor muscle from the side of the scallop if it isn’t already removed.  Sit the scallop upright on its side and, with a very sharp pairing knife, cut the scallop lengthwise into thirds.  Arrange scallops on a plate in a flower pattern.  Sprinkle on a good amount of salt, freshly ground black pepper, and few glugs of olive oil.  Serve with chopsticks and some soy sauce on the side.


Saffron Cauliflower Soup

Life doesn’t seem to understand that my head is still on vacation. I keep telling Life, over and over, that I’m still in Savannah or soaking in the tub at the Riverstead, and Life just puts his fingers in his ears and ignores me. He tells me I’ve been home for almost a month, and that I need to get back to cooking, and blogging about my meals, and to quit thinking I’m some kind of restaurant blogger now.


Writing about restaurants here and over at my new second-blog-home, Jersey Bites, helps me pretend I’m still on vacation. I went out to brunch last week and had two cocktails. I went out to lunch the next day. Then Jim and I ordered wood-oven pizzas two nights in a row. Then back out to dinner the next day. Hey Life, that sounds like a vacation to me. It’s all amazing fun.

But honestly, Life is right. I need to get back to cooking more regularly. I made a soup this morning and it felt so good to be standing over the stove, chopping onions, sneaking tastes here and there before the soup was finished. It even felt strangely good to be cleaning up the dishes later, swiping my favorite cutting board clean, drying off the blender. And finally, after almost a month back from vacation, I felt like I was me again: home in my kitchen, slurping up this creamy, salty soup, flavored boldly but not overwhelming with saffron, and topped with chive oil and fat snips of chives.

Soup is me. I need to remember that when I’m feeling out of sorts. I love making soups in the middle of a Saturday morning. No one else in the kitchen. No rush to get dinner on the table. I putt around. Listen to an episode of The Splendid Table. Cut the onions with precision, even though I don’t need to. And then, after the dishes are done and the table is cleared, I can sit down next to the tulips and have a proper lunch.

My favorite soup for this kind of proper lunch, on a Saturday with flowers on the table, is a pureed vegetable soup. This one, cauliflower, is just right: velvety with a bit of cream; very smooth after a long twist in the blender. It’s fancier than your typical clean-out-the-fridge pot of soup, so you can have a bowl for lunch and then serve the rest at a dinner party. The chives this time of the year are a little less than bright and cheery, so I pureed them with some nice olive oil for drizzling.

But the saffron is what really makes it special. Saffron is the long satin glove of the spice wardrobe. Delicate, fancy, and exotic, it lends a very-slightly bitter taste, almost of iodine, to the creamy soup—a flavor that can’t be mimicked. And the way you cook with it, lifting the little threads of out of their tiny bag, your soft, nimble fingers crushing it, measuring it out just right (because too much saffron is more like big, burly snow gloves), before you finally let it steep in the broth—it’s all very satisfying. With this soup, in my own home, I’m not missing vacation at all.

Saffron Cauliflower Soup

serves 6

adapted from Bon Appetit, January 2003

2 cups water
2 cups chicken stock
1/8 teaspoon coarsely crumbled saffron threads

3 tablespoons butter
2 cups chopped onions
1 1/2 pounds cauliflower, cut into1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces
1/4 cup heavy cream, or more to taste

1 small bunch chives
1/3 cup olive oil
Thinly sliced fresh chives

Combine 2 cups water and 2 cups low-salt chicken broth in medium saucepan. Bring mixture just to simmer. Remove from heat. Add saffron threads. Cover and steep 20 minutes.

Melt 3 tablespoons butter in heavy medium pot over medium-low heat. Add chopped onions and sauté until very tender but not brown, about 10 minutes. Add cauliflower pieces; stir to coat. Add saffron broth. Bring to simmer over high heat. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer until cauliflower pieces are tender, about 20 minutes.

Working in batches, puree cauliflower mixture in a blender until smooth. Transfer cauliflower puree to large saucepan. Stir in half and half and bring to simmer. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to simmer before serving.)

Put chives into cleaned blender.  Pulse for 1 minutes.  Add oil in a steady steam and blend for 1-2 minutes more, or until chive oil is smooth.

Ladle soup into bowls. Garnish with chive oil and a few sliced fresh chives and serve.

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