Sunday, 10 April 2011

If You Can't Handle the Heat [Outside], Get in the Kitchen

On Saturday evening, the night of my shadowing experience at The Short Story, I remember seeing what looked like sangria; regardless of what it actually was, the idea had been planted ("inception," anyone?). Sunday proved to be a beautiful day and with a shift in weather to the warmer side, sangria sounded like an extraordinary idea. And as such weather blossoms, I often think equate that heat with the freshness and vibrancy of fruit--particularly mango--and decided to pair that in some way with salmon. With a recent gift from Normandy (sel gris, a.k.a. grey sea salt) also needing to find a home in my blog, I ended up with a great Sunday dinner: Pan-seared salmon atop a bed of steamed green beans with sel gris, garnished with an orange balsamic reduction sauce (influenced by an episode of Dinner: Impossible I had recently seen), and served with jasmine rice and a spicy mango-cucumber salad. Oh yeah, along with a tall, cold glass of sangria. Of course with no actual blood in it, sangria comes from the Spanish word sangre and is based on the tradition of using red wine as the base. From what I have read, there is no one way of making an "authentic" sangria; as you continue reading, note the different layers to this wine punch of sorts and feel free to let your culinary creative juices (wait for the punch line...) flow.

To begin, you will need a pitcher (or in my case, a 2-liter bottle with most of the top cut off; leave a bit of a hinge). Pour in any red wine you may have (any cheap wine will do, especially if you plan to make a lot of it). Taking note of my favorite ingredients ratio (1:1), for my one bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, I sliced the citrus fruits and, squeezing the juices out of each into the wine, added those to the bottle. After dicing up the pear and adding that, I sliced three apples--one red and one golden delicious, as well as a granny smith--and added half of each to the party. Finally, put this in the fridge and let all the juices and flavours dance around for a couple hours (preferably overnight). Especially if you're using a bottle such as I did, go ahead and place the cap; red wine exposed to air can get to the vinegary-tasting phase fairly easily so keeping the top surface area as covered as possible is definitely a good idea.

As I have written before, the best salmon I have cooked to date (and certainly one of my best meals in my short culinary career) was in Paris. Unfortunately, we do not have too many fresh poissoneries as I had back then, so I ended up working with a frozen fillet which worked out pretty well, all things considering. In any case, after a quick defrost (in a ziploc bag and defrosting in a container of water; don't defrost at room temperature!), brown a tablespoon of unsalted butter and after seasoning one side with sea salt and ground black pepper, sear that side for about 2 minutes. When the fillet can be moved without sticking (though, take note of the non-stick pan and butter I'm using at this stage), add a teaspoon of lemon juice to the exposed side of the salmon fillet, season it with salt and pepper, and flip the fillet to sear it for another 2 minutes. Transfer the skillet (so long as it's oven safe!) to the pre-heated oven (250 °F) and allow it to finish cooking for about 15-20min or until the fish just starts to naturally pull apart. If you gently push the top of the fillet, it should just barely bounce back. If you do not have an oven-safe skillet, go ahead and keep frying the salmon until it is no longer raw and it just starts to pull apart with the slight aid of a fork.

With the salmon now resting, melt 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter and coat a handful of beans (vine end cut off, not the tip!) in the butter. Season them with some ground black pepper and let them cook for about a minute or two; then add about 1/3 c water to let them steam for about 10 min. Do not overcook the beans to the point the water evaporates (essentially frying the beans) or to the point of the beans essentially wilting. You definitely want that bit of crunch to it. When finished, plate up the beans and sprinkle some sel gris (or regular sea salt if you don't have it).

Again adding to the warm weather theme--which often equates to mango and an island flare--dice up half a yellow onion, half a cucumber, a roma tomato, and an ataulfo mango. Mince a jalapeño pepper and mix it all together. Feel free to adjust the ingredients to match your taste buds. This spicy mango-cucumber salad will serve as the garnish to the salmon.

Now it's time to get ready for plating! But first, continue with the citrus theme by simmering 1/2 c pulp free orange juice, a tablespoon or two of balsamic vinegar, and a tablespoon of granulated sugar. Let this reduce until about a fourth of the sauce has evaporated and you are left with great, concentrated flavour.

Served alongside freshly cooked jasmine rice, the orange-balsamic reduction ties the dish together and the juices of the salad adds a complimentary brightness to the sea salted green beans and salmon.

And do not forget about the sangria prepared earlier as, after a few hours in the fridge, it is finally time to give it a taste! Serve it cold with ice (if you have the plastic ice cubes, use those so the water doesn't dilute the sangria), and try to give the sangria a bit of a stir and use any means necessary to carefully pull out some fruit slices. The sangria itself should last refrigerated for about a week, after which time it may start to go sour (some on-line suggest it will also get bitter because of the citrus rinds).

For more photos of this warm spring season meal and prep work, click here.

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