Month: June 2014

Mock Smoked Salmon

Mesquite wood, salmon, sour cream, potato

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The mock smoked salmon recipe posed a new challenge for us–usually the main challenges are sourcing the ingredients and finding the time to get all the cooking done while frequently stopping to photograph the steps. The sourcing for this recipe was actually not the challenging part. We just needed: potatoes, wood chips, salmon, sour cream, chives, and butter.  For this recipe, the biggest challenge we encountered was troubleshooting how to cold smoke in our tiny apartment. Our building has a rule that bans the use of barbecues and surely a steady stream of smoke coming from our balcony would raise suspicion! We therefore decided to do the far more risky option of setting a controlled fire in our kitchen. (Don’t worry, we had all 3 of our fire extinguishers on hand in the likely event of a less-than-controlled fire in our kitchen!)

The recipe started easily enough. We made some clarified butter using an online tutorial, mandolined potatoes and soaked them in the clarified butter.

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We then placed the potatoes neatly on a silicon mat, covered it with parchment paper and weighted it down with another pan.

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Since the potatoes required 2+ hours in the oven, we turned our attention to the salmon. The salmon in this recipe is not actually smoked, it is instead cured with a salt and sugar mixture for 24 hours then combined with smoked sour cream–a really interesting way to integrate the flavour of the smoke, if you ask me!

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We grated lemon zest onto the fish, then had some fun playing around with the camera. We bought the camera specifically for the blog, and had never done photography before. We are getting relatively good at taking pictures of stationary food, but capturing a shot of us sprinkling curing mixture onto the salmon was a challenge. We are not 100% happy with the picture, but we tried to do something different, and learned a lot in the process (expect some expert action shots next time!).

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With the potato chips baking and the salmon curing, it was time to start some fire! We did some research on how to cold smoke foods, but none of the websites we came across gave us clear instructions on how to accomplish this indoors without putting our security deposit in danger. We ended up filling some aluminium foil with mesquite wood chips in the bottom of a cast iron wok, lighting them with a butane torch and hoping for the best!

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This technique gave us some smoke, but the wood chips quickly cooled down and stop smoking, especially when the wok was covered. We eventually resolved this problem by setting the entire apparatus on a hot stove top.

As we wanted to cold smoke the sour cream, we placed an old baking pan on top of the wood chips, filled it with ice cubes, and placed the bowl whose interior was covered with sour cream on top.

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With the added heat of the stove on maximum and the super hot cast iron, we managed to get some great smoke. Again, we had the reassurance of having three fire extinguishers nearby, all windows and doors open, and an industrial fan blowing smoke out the kitchen window–attempt this at your own risk!

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I was shocked and amazed at how much of the smoky flavour was infused into the sour cream! The cold smoking technique gave it a really strong smoky taste without changing the consistency–if I’m feeling lucky I’ll try this again with other foods.

By the time we were done smoking the sour cream, the potato chips were finally done. They took about 3 hours to become perfectly crisp and almost transparent, and tasted nicely of butter and roasted potato. This was a lot more time than the recipe asked for, but we’ll chalk this one up to our apartment stove being slightly less powerful than a commercial oven.

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After the chips were done, we called it a day! The salmon had to cure for 24 hours (we didn’t plan for this, oops!) so we packed the potato chips in an airtight container and sealed and refrigerated the smoked cream until the next day.

The following day, we took the salmon out of the fridge and rinsed it of its cure. The salmon looked and smelled incredible–it had a strong lemon scent, a deep salmon colour, and had an almost transparent look to it!

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The final dish was assembled on a custom wood stand that we made for this dish from leftover wood from the white oak slab table we are building.

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I really, really enjoyed this dish! I think I must have eaten at least a dozen of these one after the other. When assembled, it tastes exactly like smoked salmon, but the salmon has (in my opinion) a nicer texture. This would make for a great appetizer for a dinner party since it can be made ahead of time, while retaining its full flavour and textures. These are sure to impress your guests!

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Nothing Ice Cream

Eggs, cream, sugar and various fruit juices

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After a short break for family visits and work-related activities, we are now finally getting to posting some of the recipes we were able to finish in between family-related events (in order, hopefully). I believe our first recipe was “Nothing Ice Cream” –which turned out to be a really interesting (albeit frustrating) experience and a great learning opportunity. We had the day off due to Good Friday, and had planned on waking up late and making some ice cream and fruit powders to serve as dessert for the family Easter dinner.

The day started off really promising. We had bought some beautiful citrus: lemons, limes, blood oranges and grapefruit. These had very vibrant colours, and made for some really nice pictures.

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While Melissa was juicing and photographing the citrus, I quickly made the ice cream using eggs, milk, cream and a little sugar to form a custard, then churning the mixture in an ice cream maker.
With the ice cream done, and four cups of different citrus juices ready, I turned my attention to making the powder. That’s when things started to get sticky!

The instructions on how to make the powder were clear: mix albumen (egg white) powder with citrus juice, then heat some sugar and water to the soft crack stage, mix the juice with the sugar, stir and voilà! Fruit powder! Nope. Not what happened.

As I don’t have much experience working with sugar, my first attempt was with the lemon juice as we had extra lemons on hand in case of failure. I set some sugar and water to a boil, and the juice to simmer until reduced by half. Then I tried adding the albumen power–the powder formed huge chunks, and seemed to be impossible to incorporate. This is when the troubleshooting started. Maybe the juice was too hot, and it was cooking the egg white powder? I whisked until it was relatively homogeneous, and then added it to the sugar syrup that had reached the proper temperature (more quickly than I had anticipated). This first attempt resulted in a yellow sticky glue, not quite the outcome we were hoping for!

To keep a long story short, we proceeded to attempt to make powders with all of our citrus juices while following the instructions in the book to the letter. This resulted in varying levels of success ranging from:

gloopy mess…

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to “did I just make Nerds?”…

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to actual powder-making success!

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The only citrus juice that managed to resemble powder was the grapefruit juice, and we have no idea why it worked while the others didn’t.

A few weeks later we had to opportunity to travel to Montreal to eat at Toque!. While there we had the amazing opportunity to speak to one of their pastry chefs, and asked him what the secret was to making this elusive fruit powder. To keep the albumen powder from clumping, he recommended mixing it with some sugar first in order to break up all the clumps and to keep them separate even after sifting. For the sugar part, he explained that the most important part of the procedure was to dehydrate the mixture, and that this could be done at a lower temperature. We had erroneously focused on bringing and keeping the sugar caramel to the right temperature, which resulted in sticky failure. Good to know!

Armed with this new knowledge, the next weekend we bought a bottle of elderberry juice which has a beautiful dark purple colour. We hoped to make a fruit powder that could nicely contrast our only other successful powder (grapefruit, which had a light yellow colour).

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Following the chef’s tips, the powder turned out perfectly! The colour turned out beautifully, and tasted strongly of elderberry without an overpowering caramel flavour. Finally, success!

Plating and eating this desert was really fun. It looked great on a plate, and the play on textures is really different and fun.

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Initially we were worried the nothing ice cream would taste too eggy as the recipe used quite a bit more egg yolk than we were used to–but the flavour helped to enhance the taste of the powders.

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We learned a lot making this recipe, and we’ll certainly be making this one again for friends!

Important takeaways:

  • Don’t use a whisk for this recipe, you will make a tremendous mess. A wooden spoon or spatula works great!
  • This recipe is not limited to citrus juice, feel free to use any juice that has a strong enough flavour to withstand being mixed with caramel.