Thursday, October 25, 2012

Salmon coulibiac with foaming hollandaise sauce

Coulibiac is literally a fish pie.  I have always thought that fish pie sounded boring and inelegant.  But the word "coulibiac" to me, at least, is a lovely, musical word that plays a symphony in your mouth.  The dish itself is intriguing and complex in all its variations.

Coulibiac is of Russian origin, but legend has it that Auguste Escoffier brought the recipe back with him to France and then included it in The Complete Guide to the Art of Modern Cookery.  I'm discovering that coulibiac is a lovely, intricate combination of ingredients that are beautifully seasoned and beautifully presented.

I first fell in love with the idea when I saw Julia Child make one on her old PBS series The French Chef.

Not Julia's coulibiac--hers looked like a real fish.  With scales!

Warning: this is not something that you can just whip up for dinner on a moment's notice.  That is why having some wonderful rustic tomato sauce in your freezer and some pasta in your pantry comes in handy.

Coulibiac does take some time and preparation.  However, if you can make this coulibiac over the course of two days, then it's not difficult.  The first day, you can cook and prep your filling ingredients, the second day, you can fill and cook your pastry.  And you will still have time and energy to make your foaming hollandaise sauce.

Although it's not quick and simple, this coulibiac is delicious and terribly, terribly impressive.  Got a new boyfriend/girlfriend?  Boss coming over for dinner?  Mother-in-law hard to please?  Tired of fried catfish from the local catfish parlor?  This should cover all your bases and then some.  There is richness and texture in the filling and it's made in four individual meal-size portions that are pretty on the plate.

You can also make smaller, appetizer-size portions by fashioning the puff pastry scraps into lattice tops, but that is a lot of work.  How do I know this?  Because I've done it already.  So today, I'm opting for the meal-size pastry.

If you've never worked with commercial puff pastry before, you'll need a little patience.  It needs to be kept cold until you're ready to use it or it will become a squishy mess.  It's easily stretched out of shape and becomes sticky and gooey if it's too warm  How do I know this?  Because I've done it already.  It is a hot mess if you're not careful.

You can, of course, make your own puff pastry, which is not difficult.  But if you have a day job like I do, you want to take a few short cuts now and then.  Purchased puff pastry, I have come to realize, is not one of the cardinal sins of the culinary world.  But it's close.

I always did ride the fence.

In developing my coulibiac technique, I used a combination of different recipe sources so that I could get the flavor profile I wanted.  I often consult Delia Online for elegant and off-the-beaten-path recipes.  I also find that Epicurious is an almost limitless source of everything from the simple to the divine.  So my recipes today reflect those influences, but the procedure is my own.

If you're looking for a wine to accompany your coulibiac, consider French appellations.  Ask your wine guy at Spec's to help you find a white Bordeaux or white Burgundy, or a rose from the Loire valley.  My wine guy Bill and I recently paired this coulibiac with a lighter red Bordeaux, Chateau Falfas “Le Demoiselles de Falfas” 2008, and it worked nicely.  For my palate, I prefer a white or a rose, however.  You'll want something dry with good fruit structures, minerally and with a good acid component to balance the richness of this dish.

Ready to cook?

Salmon Coulibiac with Foaming Hollandaise Sauce

1 1 1/2 lb. fillet of salmon
1 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups water
salt and pepper
2 Tbs. dill, finely chopped

1 Tbs. butter
2 Tbs. minced shallots
1/2 lb. thinly sliced mushrooms
1/2 tsp. lemon zest
1 Tbs. lemon juice
1/4 cup dill, finely chopped
salt and pepper

2 Tbs. butter
1 cup chopped frozen spinach, drained
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 large leek, chopped
2 Tbs. Pernod
salt and pepper

1 medium onion, minced
2 Tbs. butter
3/4 cup rice
2 cups poaching liquid from salmon
salt and pepper
4 Tbs. chopped parsley

1 17.3 oz. pkg. frozen puff pastry (such as Pepperidge Farm)
1 egg
1 Tbs. water

Pastry cut outs
Fresh herbs or seasonal flowers

Foaming Hollandaise Sauce (find recipe here)

1.)  The day before you want to serve, prepare all the individual layers as directed below and refrigerate.
2.)  Put the salmon fillet in a baking dish or ovenproof skillet.
3.)  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
4.)  Pour wine, water, salt, pepper and dill into a skillet or saute pan large enough to hold the liquids and the salmon. 
5.)  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; add the salmon fillet.
6.)  Cover and bake in the oven for approximately 25 to 30 minutes.
7.)  Remove from oven and let sit, covered, to cool slightly.
8.)  When fish is cool enough to handle, remove it from the poaching liquid and remove skin, if any.  Refrigerate salmon in an airtight container.
9.)  Strain poaching liquid and set aside.
10.)  Melt butter over medium-high heat in a medium-size skillet.
11.)  Cook shallots for about 3 minutes, until just slightly translucent.
12.)  Add mushrooms and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms deepen in color.  
13.)  Add lemon zest, lemon juice and dill; taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper.
14.)  Cool mushrooms and refrigerate in an airtight container.
15.)  In a small skillet, melt butter over medium-high heat.
16.)  Add chopped spinach, garlic, shallot and leek, cooking until shallot is translucent, about 5 to 7 minutes.
17.)  Add Pernod and salt and pepper to taste.
18.)  Cool and store airtight in refrigerator.
19.)  In a small saucepan, saute onion in butter until soft. 
20.)  Add rice and cook, stirring, until transparent. 
21.)  Add poaching liquid, salt and pepper and reduce heat, 
22.)  Cook about 20 minutes, covered, until rice is done.  Stir in parsley, cool and store in refrigerator airtight.

The next day:

1.)  Thaw puff pastry dough for about 1 hour at room temperature.
2.)  Unfold one sheet of puff pastry and cut into four sections;  place squares on a baking sheet.  Keep other sheet of puff pastry cool or in fridge while you work.
3.)  Onto each pastry square, layer rice mixture, spinach mixture, then salmon and mushroom mixture.
4.)  Season with salt and pepper.
5.)  Cut remaining sheet of puff pastry into four sections and top each mound with square.  Alternatively, use a pastry cutter to make decorative strips and weave or lay strips diagonally across mound.
6.)  Pinch edges and seal completely.
7.)  Make egg wash of egg and water and brush onto pastry.
8.)  Refrigerate for approximately 1 hour.
9.)  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
10.)  Bake for about 25 minutes, or until puff pastry is golden.
11.)  Serve with Foaming Hollandaise Sauce.  Serves 4.

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