- Date: Saturday, April 24, 2010 -- 7pm
- Location: Palo Alto, CA
- Kitchen: Emilee and Brian's Apartment
- Fellow Chefs: Emilee and Cornelia
- Dining Companions: Brian and Sam
- Recipe Rating: B-
When I started this project, ages ago, Emilee flipped through The Book and saw this recipe. She made me promise that I wouldn't make it without her, and I happily agreed that I wouldn't. Not everyone would be excited about fish with fish jello, but she was! This seemed like the perfect dish to make when my 30th birthday dinner rolled around, and that's what we did! We would have made this recipe years ago, but for the fact that I didn't have a fish poacher. I tried to borrow one, but it turns out no one has a fish poacher. Finally I caved and purchased one. Luckily, fish poachers can be purchased for a mere $40 (Note: It turns out fish poachers can also be purchased for $1450. The selection on Amazon runs the gamut.)
Next up: acquiring a whole salmon. The Book called for a 6-pound whole salmon, head and tail still on. I thought that wouldn't be so difficult to find. I called many, many places and managed to locate the following items: 6-pound whole salmon with no head, and 8-pound whole salmon with a head. I would happily have purchased the 8-pound salmon, but the fishmonger assured me that there was no way an 8-pound salmon would fit in my fish poacher. So I called back one of the places with the 6-pound salmon and asked them to put one aside for me. When I arrived my fish was all wrapped up and ready to go. I paid for it, brought it home, and threw it in the fridge. It wasn't until later that evening, when I went to poach it, that I opened the package and found that they had taken the liberty to give me two 3-pound headless salmon instead of one 6-pound headless salmon. Grrrr... At that point I didn't have the energy to deal with it, so I plowed on.
Step one: poach the salmon. I wrapped the fish up in cheesecloth and put them in the fish poacher. I added water, lemon juice, onion, carrot, celery, bay leaves, parsley, thyme, and peppercorns, then poached the fish. Here is my fish, ready to be poached:
It's hard to appreciate in the picture, but the fish poacher was extremely full. In particular, the 3-pound headless salmon were almost as long as the poacher. There is no way a 6-pound salmon with a head would have fit. No way. So in the end it was probably best I didn't get exactly what I thought I wanted (READ: what The Book told me I wanted) because then I would have been up a creek.
Anyway, I poached the fish then refrigerated it in the broth overnight. I then took the fish out of the broth and strained and reduced the broth, adding white wine, Madeira, thyme, and salt. I let the mixture cool while I blanched some leek greens and decoratively cut them into strips. Then it was time to deal with the fish. The next step was to remove the bones and skin from my fishies. The skin was no problem -- it peeled/scraped off pretty easily. The bones were more of a pain, and at some point I surrendered. Once I had removed as many bones as I was going to, I put both fish on a platter.
Then it was time to deal with the broth again. That poaching liquid ultimately needed to become fish jello, but first it needed to be clarified. So, using the same principle one uses to make consomme, where you dump a bunch of gross stuff in broth in order to make it more clear, I added crushed egg shells, egg whites, celery, carrot, and leek to the broth and whisked it all together. I simmered this mixture for a while, allowing the raft to form on top and absorb all the impurities. Then I strained the broth, and indeed the strained broth was tremendously clear. I then dissolved some gelatin into the broth. I took some of the gelatinized broth and set it in a bowl set in ice water. The rest I poured into a baking dish and refrigerated. When the stuff in the bowl firmed up a bit, Emilee and I spooned it over the salmon to give it a nice salmon jello glaze. Once that layer set, we put the blanched leek greens on and spooned on another jello layer. When the baking dish of jello had set we cut it into squares, then arranged the jello squares around the fish. Meanwhile Cornelia made Green Mayonnaise to accompany the fish. We served the fish and fish jello with the green mayo.
The result was, well, better than I expected. The fish tasted good, although cold fish is never my favorite. The mayo complemented the salmon nicely, and mixing the fish and mayo together one could have made a very nice salad for a sandwich. The jello, err, aspic, was actually not gross. The flavor was very mild and not too fishy. I found it pretty unobjectionable, and two-year-old Sam ate it by the spoonful. No one was begging for seconds of this dish, but it certainly wasn't bad. And as Cornelia noted, it did look "impressive" in a way. This dish was a lot of work, and I didn't think it was worth all the fuss. All in all, it was the perfect dish to celebrate my birthday with, but I will never make it again!
The recipe is here.