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.


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Linguine with sea urchin sauce and caviar.

Two thousand and ten. I may just be getting old, but that doesn’t seem right.  It seems like, in 2010, we should be zooming around in flying cars.  Or teleporting.  Talking to aliens, at least. When I was a kid, to be honest, I thought we’d all be dead by 2010, though I was always a little pessimistic.  But still, here we are: 2010.  Wow.

A mess

We don’t have flying cars yet (and I never really understood why we wanted them–we have airplanes, no?) and, as far as I know, we haven’t reached any aliens; but I have something that’ll knock those things out of the water: linguine with sea urchin sauce and caviar.  Happy New Year.

Treasure

If you’ve never tried sea urchin, you really must.  (Though go out to a nice restaurant to do it; the smell of uncleaned sea urchin could deter anyone from a first bite.)  To me, the flavor tastes more like the ocean than mussels, with their blue brininess, or even oysters, which run a close second.  Sea urchin smells and tastes ancestral, primitive.  It’s extremely sexy.  Well, once you get past the part where you’ll need to put on thick rubber gloves so as not to stab yourself.

Sea urchin

My first taste of sea urchin was at Nobu Next Door, the first time I took Jim out to dinner.  He had been taking me out a lot, to Cafe Boulud, and Babbo, and Gotham Bar and Grill, spending the money from his book advance, and I wanted to reciprocate.  We drove into the city, showed up at Nobu without reservations, and were directed to their sister restaurant, Next Door.  I told the waitress to bring us whatever she liked.  I struggled with my chopsticks and one ended up on the neighboring table (thankfully, the couple was wonderful, and gently urged me to eat with my fingers.)  I nearly had a heart attack when the check came; I’d been working part-time at Barnes & Noble and finishing my senior year of college, and I think the dinner was close to a whole month’s paycheck.  I walked out with a bit of sticker shock, but as it wore off, I realized that I would have paid that and more, if only for the introduction to sea urchin. I was so in love with the stuff and I’m sure I made a fool of myself at the dinner, goofy-faced and swooning, exclaiming that it tasted like the ocean in a cloud.

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The next time I tried sea urchin, at a place-that-shall-remain-nameless in the Hamptons, it was decidedly less impressive; the piece was too large, the urchin’s flavor more like the dregs of the sea than the waves.  I hadn’t had it since, until this New Year’s Eve.  I’m happy to report that it was just as good—better!—than the first time.  Parmigiano reggiano and butter compliment the sea urchin’s brininess, a flawless combination that pleasantly surprised me; the fishiness of the caviar brings out the urchin’s sweetness.  The sauce coated each strand of pasta in just the right, silky way (you need good, dried pasta for this; fresh would make the overall texture too soft).  It was easy enough to pull off after a few glasses of champagne, too.

American paddlefish caviar

This year had been one of ups and downs.  The ups have been really high.  The downs, way down.  But as I look back at 2009, I’m amazed at where I am with my cooking, my relationship with Jim, my happiness with myself and the place we live, how much I love this blog.  I feel like things are just getting started.  2010 will be a good year, even without teleportation.

Linguini with sea urchin and caviar

Linguine with Sea Urchin Sauce and Caviar

serves 4, adapted from Eric Ripert’s On the Line

I’m still failing at my mission to find Espelette pepper, so I replaced it with fresh black pepper in this recipe.  I also used American paddlefish caviar instead of Iranian osetra caviar because it’s sustainable and costs a lot less than the upwards of $500 you can spend for the Iranian.  I’ve had both in my lifetime and, especially in a recipe like this, you won’t feel cheated with paddlefish.

The Sea Urchin Sauce

½ cup sea urchin roe (the pink stuff inside)
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted, good quality butter, softened
1 tablespoon water
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

The Pasta

1 ½ teaspoons thinly sliced chives
1 tablespoon freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper
½ lemon, or to taste

The Garnish

1 ounce American paddlefish caviar, or to taste

For the sea urchin sauce, puree the sea urchin roe in a blender, scraping down the side with a rubber spatula so that no big pieces remain unblended.  Pass it  through a fine-mesh sieve, and return to the blender.  Blend the puree with the softened butter.

To finish the sauce, bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan.  Gradually whisk in the sea urchin butter, about 1 tablespoon at a time.  Season with salt and pepper and keep warm.

When reader to serve, cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente; drain.

Put the chives in a medium stainless steel bowl, add the warmed sauce and Parmesan cheese, and mix well.  Season with salt and white pepper if necessary.  Gently toss the pasta with the sauce.

To serve, use a meat fork to twirl one-quarter of the pasta and mound it in the center of a small bowl.  Repeat 3 times.  Drizzle 1 tablespoon of the sauce remaining in the stainless steel bowl around each mound.  Squeeze the lemon juice over the pasta and place 1 ½ teaspoons of the caviar on top of each mound of pasta.  Serve immediately.

Barely cooked scallops with tomato compote and champagne beurre blanc

Eric Ripert is easy to love. He’s got those charming French looks, and a fantastic food show, and Le Bernardin of course, with its pounded tuna over foie gras and toasted broiche.

scallops

He also has these scallops, served over a tomato compote, drizzled with champagne beurre blanc, which would be impossible not to love, and are the reason I’ve been doggedly devoted to the man as of late. In the past few weeks I’ve made this, and this and tonight will be making this; but these scallops remain my favorite, even though that’s like choosing between chocolate and craft beers.

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You’ll need to find good scallops for this recipe; nothing frozen, or slimy, or discolored. Small dayboat scallops are best. “Dayboat” means that the fishermen who dredged up your scallops were only out on the water for the day before heading back with their bounty. Otherwise, your scallops could have been sitting out at sea on the boat for up to ten days before the fishermen returned to harbor. And, trust me, eaten mostly raw, scallops that are over 10 days old are as yucky as they sound. The quality of the scallops matters much more than the champagne here, so spend your budget on those and buy yourself a $10-$15 bottle of bubbly—just make sure it’s drinkable, since you’ll have a lot leftover.

tomato compote

The freshness of the scallops is also more important than the freshness of the tomatoes; though Ripert uses fresh ones, I’ve only made this with canned San Marzano (whole, peeled, which I core and de-seed) and I’m assuming it doesn’t affect the quality of the compote, being that I adore it so much. I’m looking forward to using ripe, fresh tomatoes next summer, though I have a feeling I may like this version even better. There’s something luscious about good canned tomatoes cooked down with a bevy of shallot and garlic and a good slick of olive oil.

Scallops

It’s the perfect time of year for scallops in champagne beurre blanc anyway, whether you make them now, in the week right after Thanksgiving and before the Christmas gorging begins, when you need something healthy but not too healthy, or you could wait and serve them as a first course for a luxurious New Year’s Eve bash of a dinner party. It’s pretty darn holiday looking, too, don’t you think?

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Barely Cooked Scallops with Tomato Compote and Champagne Beurre Blanc

adapted slightly from Avec Eric

Ripert uses this recipe as an appetizer for four people, but I’ve also used it as a main course, with a good bread alongside, for two. If making it for two, you’ll have a lot of beurre blanc left over (not a bad thing…) as it’s more than even to sauce the four appetizer plates.

The recipe also alludes to smoked salmon being used. I watched the episode and there was no sneaky smoked salmon tip-toeing around, so I think it’s a typo.

The Tomato Compote:

2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup diced shallot
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 (28 oz) can of good quality tomatoes, drained, cored, deseeded and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

The Champagne Beurre Blanc:

1 cup Champagne or other dry sparkling wine
¼ cup finely minced shallots
½ cup butter
fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

The Scallops:

¾ pound day boat scallops
2 tablespoons thinly sliced chives
1 tablespoon olive oil, or more to taste
fine sea salt and freshly ground white pepper

Heat olive oil in a heavy bottomed pan over medium heat. Add shallots and garlic and cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and tomato paste and cook over medium low heat stirring frequently, until almost dry, about 15-25 minutes.

Combine Champagne and shallots in a sauce pot and reduce to ¼ cup. This can be done ahead and kept covered.

While the wine is reducing, slice the scallops crosswise into ½ – inch thick slices.
Preheat oven to 400°F.

Finish the beurre blanc by whisking in the butter 1 tablespoon at a time until fully incorporated. Season to taste with a genorous amount of salt and pepper.

Lay the scallop slices in a single layer on a baking pan. Drizzle the olive oil over the scallops and season to taste with salt and pepper. Place the pan in the oven and cook until the scallops are just warm to the touch, about 4 minutes. Remove the scallops from the oven.

Plate the tomato compote in the bottom of a ring mold (you can use the tomato can for this, just use the can opener to remove both ends) and add the scallops in a pinwheel patter over the compote. Sprinkle the chives on top of the scallops and spoon the sauce over the scallops.

Serve immediately.