I have so many little people to thank for this recipe!
I never could have done it were it not for the bold pioneers who went before me. Although the inspiration for this recipe may come from many, I have decided to take all the credit myself! And if I cry and sniffle a little whilst taking all the credit, people will cheer me on as an underdog. The little guy who beat “the man”.
That’s me- The Little Engine That Could! I believe this is the way you get ahead in the world, n’est-ce pas?
Because truthfully I did have many an inspiration when I sat down and started putting this recipe together. One of the primary “little people” involved in this dish is a quaint cook named Daniel Boulud. Perhaps you’ve heard if him? He runs a charming little self-named cafe on an island somewhere. It’s a bit off the beaten track on East 76th Street, I believe. If you ever find yourself in that part of the world you must pop in. Tell him Sup! sez Hi…
But even Monsieur Boulud had a bit of inspiration when he went into the kitchen to prepare his version of Sea Bass en Croûte. Because his recipe (and mine) were both based on a dish that epitomized haute cuisine in the 1950s. It’s hard to imagine today the wonder and spectacle that must have wowed mid-century diners in Vienne, France. Because the showmanship that went into the original version of this recipe barely exists in today’s gastronomic world.
Imagine if you can, a whole sea bass baked into a shell of golden puff pastry. Can’t you just see the waiters dramatically carrying this marvel through the dining room and delivering it with panache tableside? Its delicate Croûte fancifully styled into the form of a fashionable fish. Well, the world had never seen such a thing, and the chef that brought this culinary masterpiece from the kitchen was Fernand Point, the father of modern French cuisine.
I read that another chef was so impressed with this preparation that he made it a point to learn its secret from the creator himself (I don’t mean the capital C Creator, I mean the original chef). This determined new chef was Paul Bocuse who went on to make a bit of a name for himself as well. Well, as these things are prone to, the inspiration passed along to the aforementioned Monsieur Boulud. Daniel Boulud uses sea bass, as did his predecessors. But while they chose to present the whole fish encased in pastry, monsieur Boulud uses sea bass fillets. A much more palatable alternative to today’s finicky diner (none of those troublesome bones to deal with).
Well, now it’s my turn to throw my minimal heft behind this dish. I simplified and modernized the recipe even further. I use salmon in the form of a loaf. This way I can pre-season the fish and add an extra level of tasty ingredients. Because let’s face it– salmon served simple and rare is a treat. Salmon cooked all the way through is a little blah… I think it benefits from the ingredients I add to the loaf. I also include a few diced vegetables and a rich cream sauce, as does monsieur Boulud. But the salmon loaf, in conjunction with store-bought pastry, makes this a simple recipe that will bring a little sadly missed culinary drama to your table without too much effort!
And yes, I shaped mine like a fish too. Because when I see a great idea, I am not afraid to steal it…
1 1/2 lb boned and skinned raw salmon, cut into 1‑inch cubes
1 1/2 c panko (Japanese) bread crumbs
2 T lemon juice
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
2 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 c olive oil
1 carrot, peeled and cut into 1/4″ dice
1 stalks celery, cut in 1/4″ dice
1 small zucchini, scrubbed, trimmed and cut into 1/4‑inch dice
1/2 red onion, chopped in 1/4 inch dice
1 t thyme leaves
salt and pepper
2 egg yolks, beaten with 1 teaspoon water for egg wash
2 t canola oil
1 shallots, minced
2 c heavy cream
1 roma tomato, peeled, seeded and diced
2 T chives, minced
salt and white pepper to taste
6 sheets store-bought puff pastry, cut in half lengthwise forming 12 rectangles
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the salmon cubes several times until coarsely ground (there will still be flakes of salmon). Remove the ground salmon to a large bowl, and stir in the capers, bread crumbs, lemon juice, pepper, salt, and egg until the mixture is uniform and fully combined. Divide the mixture into 6 oval loaves.
Warm the olive oil in a large saute pan or skillet set over medium-low heat. When it is hot add the vegetables and chopped thyme, season with salt and pepper. Cook the mixture, covered, until the vegetables are tender; about 12–15 minutes. Adjust seasoning. This is your last opportunity to do so with these vegetables.
Cut six pieces of parchment, slightly larger than your pastry rectangles and lay one out in front of you. Center one rectangle of pastry onto the parchment. Scoop about 1 1/2 tablespoons of the vegetables onto the center of the pastry. Don’t use too much because if it gets onto the pastry in areas outside the parameter of the salmon loaf the pastry will be difficult to seal. Lay a salmon loaf on top of the vegetables, again I stress, keep the veggies completely underneath the salmon loaf. Lay another sheet of pastry on top of the salmon loaf. Letting the weight of the pastry be your guide, let the top piece drape over the fish and vegetables, allowing it to meet the bottom piece of pastry without too much stretching.
Using your fingers gently press the top of the packet until flat and smooth. Then press the dough up against the sides of the loaf sealing it in all around the bottom, right up against the loaf all the way to the edge of the pastry. Use the side of a knife to assure a good tight seal.
Next, you have 2 options. You could trim each packet with a 1/2″ lip all the way around making a nice neat oval. Or you could be fanciful and shape each packet into an interesting shaped fish! Use the trimmings to form fins, gills, mouth and eyes. Be as creative as you like. You can even use various tools to form impression into the dough mimicking scales, be careful not to cut all the way through the pastry. Once you are finished shaping and decorating use your fingers to double check the seal all around the edges of the packet.
Brush the surface of the dough with the egg wash, being careful not to let it drip onto the parchment as this would make it difficult to remove after baking. Carefully lift your finished product using the parchment paper to move it to a baking sheet. Place the finished product, baking sheet and all, into the refrigerator while you repeat the process five more times. They may be made ahead to this point up to one day in advance if well covered and refrigerated, though in that case, I would reapply an egg wash just before cooking.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F., and bake the fish for 5 minutes. Then lower the heat to 375 degrees F and bake 15 minutes more, or until the pastry is beautifully puffed and richly colored. Make the sauce while the fish cooks.
Warm the canola oil in a small saucepan set over medium-high heat. Add the shallot, cooking and stirring until the shallot gets soft but does not yet color; about 5 minutes. Pour in the cream and bring to a low boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Let the mixture cook until it is reduced some and thickened; about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the tomato and chives. Taste for seasoning.
SERIOUS FUN FOOD