Thursday, October 17, 2013

Pan Seared Salmon with Chanterelle Mushrooms

Fall is such a great time for mushrooms. I can't get over the price of chanterelles at my local market. My friend, Venus, presented me with an enormous bag full of them just a few weeks ago. Vince and I had mushrooms with scrambled, Timpano di Patate (a pie made from mashed potatoes, roasted mushrooms and smoked mozzarella), a big, thick rib-eye steak with sauteed mushrooms and I still had some leftover.

I've always liked the earthy flavor of mushrooms with the rich flavor of salmon, so I splurged on a piece of King Salmon and went to town. This recipe is quick and satisfying. It feels nice enough to serve to company, but fast enough of a weeknight dinner.

Pan Roasted Salmon with Chanterelle Mushrooms

8 ounces chanterelle mushroom, cleaned
and thickly sliced (see note)
2 tbsp ghee or clarified butter
2 6-ounce salmon filets
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup slivered shallots
2 sprigs fresh thyme or 1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/4 cup dry sherry
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 tsp minced garlic

Preheat oven to 425F. Season salmon filets liberally with salt and pepper

Heat a large, heavy, oven-safe saute pan over medium high heat.  When the pan is hot, add the ghee and swirl to coat.  Place the seasoned salmon skin-side up in the pan and sear for 2 minutes or until the salmon loosens easily from the pan. (Don't pry it. If you've got enough oil in the pan, the salmon will release when it's completely seared.)

Turn the salmon over so the skin-side is down. Toss in the sliced mushrooms, slivered shallot and thyme.  Place the pan in the oven and roast until the salmon is medium-rare (the outer flesh will flake with a fork but will still be glossy orange at the thickest part of the filet) for approximately 5 to 7 minutes. Remove the salmon to a warm plate and tent loosely with aluminum foil.

Return the saute pan to the burner over medium-high heat. Add the sherry and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes until most of the sherry has evaporated.  Add the chicken stock and garlic and simmer for another 3 minutes or so.  Taste the mushrooms for additional salt and pepper.

Divide the mushroom mixture between two serving plate, top each with a salmon filet and serve.

Chefs note: If your mushrooms are very clean, you simply need to brush them before cooking. However, if they are dirty, you'll have to wash them. Forget the crazy idea that you can't wash mushrooms! Remember, they probably got some rain while they were growing and that didn’t wash away their flavor.Wash the chanterelles hours, or ideally a day before you need them. Turn on the tap to a low flow, hold the mushroom under the water and brush lightly to clean with a new paintbrush. Put the cleaned mushrooms into a colander to drip until all are cleaned.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Harvest Bisque

I've only ever written one fan letter to a cookbook author. It was to Susan Branch, circa 1990. If you've never heard of Susan Branch, she's cookbook author, artist and all-around cottage industry. My introduction to her came via The Heart of The Home, a delightful cookbook filled with family memories, favorite quotes and yummy recipes. It was so engaging. I felt as though I were actually getting a glimpse into this woman's life.

Even back then, I wanted to write cookbooks. I think that fan letter was probably something to that effect. How could I do what she was doing? I don't really remember. What I do remember is that she wrote back! She was kind and encouraging, and she made a fan for life. I think I have every cookbook she's ever penned and a year hardly goes by that my sister-in-law doesn't gift me one of her calendars.

With all the gloomy rain we've been having I decided to make an old comfort-food favorite from The Heart of the Home - Butternut Bisque. It is a simple, quick and satisfying soup.  I've made it dozens of times over the years.  The only thing that is difficult is peeling the butternut squash.  The skin of the squash is so thick and tough that paring it away can be time consuming. I just wasn't in the mood to fuss with it on Sunday so I decided to buy some frozen squash instead.

My big box grocery carried a very generic, frozen squash - probably made from a combination of winter squashes. That's probably where things got iffy. Butternut squash has a natural sweetness, far sweeter than Acorn or Hubbard Squash. Anyway, I followed the rest of the recipe as specified and, frankly, it fell flat.

Not one to give up, I did a little tinkering I ended up with a fabulous new concoction that I'm calling Harvest Bisque. I added a few additional spices including little coriander and orange for sweetness. Frankly, no insult to Susan, but I think mine is a little better.  Try it yourself and see!

Harvest Bisque

Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large onion, diced
2 medium carrots, peeled  and sliced thinly
1 celery stalk, diced
2 medium russet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 14-ounce packages of frozen squash, thawed
4 cups chicken stock, homemade if possible
2 teaspoons sweet curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon orange zest
1/3 cup orange juice
a pinch of nutmeg
sea salt to taste
1/2 teaspoon good quality white wine vinegar, optional
sour cream for garnish, optional
freshly ground pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a large saucepan or small stockpot over medium heat.  Add the onion, carrots and celery and sweat the vegetables until they are soft, about 10 to 15 minutes. Add the potatoes, squash, stock, curry powder, ginger, coriander, white pepper and bay leaf.  Stir to combine. 

Increase the heat to medium high, and bring the soup to a boil. Reduce the heat immediately , cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.

Remove the soup from the stove top and allow to cool slightly.  Use an immersion or stick blender to puree the soup to a smooth and creamy consistency.  If you don't have an immersion blender, pour the cooled soup into a blender and puree under smooth.

Add the orange zest, orange juice and a pinch of nutmeg to the pureed soup.  Taste for salt and add as needed.  If the soup needs a little brightness, you can add a little white wine vinegar.  Sometimes adding an acid like wine vinegar and liven a dish.

Served the soup immediately. Garnish with a dollop of sour cream and freshly ground black pepper if desired.

Chef's Note: You may substitute fresh squash for the frozen squash.  If you do so, use a 2 1/2 lb Butternut or Hubbard squash. Peel, seed and cube the squash. Increase the chicken stock to 5 cups and increase the cooking time to 40 minutes.