8.06.2016

Recipe Evolution

Many years ago, I tried wrapping fish in potato slices, sautéing it, then finishing it in the oven. It was "the thing" at the time. It never worked because the potato and fish never finished cooking at the same time. To me, it wasn't worth having overcooked fish just to have a nicely browned, fully cooked potato crust. Or undercooked fish wrapped in bland shoe leather.

I let go of the idea - which wasn't mine in the first place - and almost twenty years passed by.

Then I saw a recipe in a Provençal cookbook that wrapped fish in paper-thin slices of courgettes - or zucchini. Hmmm.... another way to use zucchini...

Several things about this appealed to me. For one, zucchini tastes wonderful raw (as in the Zucchini, Feta, and Mint Salad last week) so, no matter what, I wouldn't need to overcook the fish. Second, I figured the green striping would be quite pretty. Third, I find fish/seafood and seafood with zucchini is a great combination. (Remember those Shrimp and Zucchini Fritters from last month?)

The cookbook recipe called for frying the wrapped fish, which I did the first time. It tasted fine, but was difficult to manage; the zucchini shrank in the frying process, leaving gaps, and making for a not-so-attractive presentation. Also, it was very difficult to turn neatly, and the browned zucchini wasn't as pretty as I thought it would be.

And, let's be honest, pretty is very important when it comes to food. We all eat with our eyes, right?

Aside from the aesthetic aspects of the dish, I actually found the flavor of the dish a bit dull. It needed oopmh. And, thus, the evolution of this recipe started.

The plain goat cheese stuffing was bland, so I added grated lemon zest and herbes de Provence, using the grinder my friends Patricia and Philip gifted me. I brushed the tops with some Australian lemon myrtle-infused macadamia nut oil for extra moisture, and then sprinkled crushed Australian pepperberries over the whole for added flavor. These last two ingredients were sent to me by John of He Needs Food in Sydney. If you haven't visited his blog, do yourself a favor and click the link - stunning photography and recipes, as well as great travel articles!

I recalled another favorite salmon dish I make - Salmone al'Arancia - which is cooked en papillote. I didn't think this salmon dish needed that level of individual preparation, but the concept of steam-baking made sense. For the next version, I simply set the wrapped salmon portions on a rimmed baking sheet, brushed them with oil, sprinkled them with pepperberries, and baked them covered with foil. It came out beautifully and looked good, too.

However, when serving, the fillet looked lonely on the plate, and really needed some color. In its next incarnation I smeared a puddle of tomato sauce on the plate and gently slid the salmon bundles on top of the sauce. In the final recipe you see today, I included some chile flakes in the sauce for some background zing, and a final flourish atop each serving of chopped or sliced kalamata olives.

I have now made this dish for several friends, all of whom survived - and reported enjoying it! My thanks to them for their bravery!

As part of my monthly series on food paring with Provençal wines, I served this with a 2015 Tavel from Château de Ségriès. To read more about this food and wine pairing, visit the Provence WineZine.

~ David

Salmon with Herbed Chèvre Wrapped in Zucchini

4 skinless salmon fillets, about 4-5 ounces each
4 ounces chèvre, chilled
herbes de Provence
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 medium zucchini, washed
lemon myrtle-infused macadamia nut oil (or olive oil)
salt
8-10 Australian pepperberries (or black peppercorns), crushed
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 shallot, coarsely chopped
1/4 teaspoon dried chile flakes, or to taste
3 cups strained or crushed tomatoes
salt, to taste
2 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter
10 kalamata olives, chopped or sliced

Wash the salmon well, and make sure all the pin bones have been pulled. Using a very sharp knife, slice a pocket in the side of the salmon fillets, as shown.

Slice the chèvre into 4 equal pieces. Coat both sides of each cheese slice liberally with herbes de Provence, then mold the cheese to fit the slits in the salmon. Before placing cheese in the salmon, sprinkle each piece of cheese with a quarter of the lemon zest. Stuff the cheese into the slits, and set aside.

Using a mandoline or vegetable peeler (I used the latter), make 28-32 thin ribbons of zucchini from the two zucchini; reserve any leftover zucchini pieces for another use.  Place 7-8 slices on a cutting board, overlapping them as shown in the photos. Place a stuffed salmon fillet, skinned side up, in the center of the zucchini. Starting at one end, fold the left end up and over, trimming if necessary, then the right side. Press gently; the moisture of the zucchini will act as an adhesive. Repeat with all the zucchini slices, then turn over and place on a lined baking sheet. Brush the zucchini with the lemon myrtle-infused macadamia nut oil (or olive), and season with salt and crushed pepperberries (or black pepper).

After all the fillets have been wrapped and seasoned, cover the baking sheet with foil, being careful not to let it touch the zucchini on top. Set aside in the refrigerator while you make the sauce. (Both can be done several hours ahead of time and kept chilled.)

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan, and sauté the shallot until clear. Add the chile flakes and cook for 30 seconds more. Add the tomatoes and cook for 5-7 minutes until slightly darker and thicker. Season sauce with salt, then strain into a clean saucepan; stir in the butter and set aside. (If you prefer a more rustic sauce, don't bother straining it.)

Preheat oven to 400°F. Bring fish to room temperature while the oven heats. Place the tray of covered fish in the oven and roast for about 15-18 minutes, depending on the thickness of the salmon.

Reheat the sauce and divide among 4 plates, tilting and gently swirling to make a circle. Place salmon on the tomato sauce, garnish with olives, and serve.

Serves 4.

42 comments:

  1. You are so creatively persistent! I love the evolution of this dish, and the mouth watering description. I can't wait to try it. Thanks for sharing, oh, and I love your grinder!

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    1. Thanks, Lois - I love when I find a recipe that is perfect the first time, but (more often than not) I tinker and tinker until it is hardly recognizable as the original recipe.

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  2. David, this is such a pretty dish and the flavors sounds amazing. Your herb and lemon update to the cheese filling definitely adds the "wow" factor! Would have loved to be on your taste-testing panel :)

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    1. Marcelle - between the lemon in the filling and the lemon oil on top, the lemon is actually my favorite part of this!

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  3. I've tried prosciutto, this is much more fresh. GREG

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    1. Hmm. Never thought of prosciutto for salmon, Greg - although it sounds perfectly reasonable!

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  4. After all the tinkering it's really turned into a beautifully elegant dish. Such lovely flavours! Glad you enjoyed the Aussie natives, especially the lemon myrtle macadamia oil. I can imagine how good it all tasted together.

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    1. John, that oil is amazing. I just used it again today in a corn, shrimp, tomato, and basil salad. Fab!

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  5. A divine recipe, David. Good on John for sending the macadamia oil. It's a beautiful product!

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    1. Thanks, Liz! You all talk about all these great ingredients that are native to Australia - makes me think I should open and Aussie import store!

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  6. Love how you tinkered with this dish David, the salmon looks perfectly baked and the end result is beautiful. Have a glorious week-end.......

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    1. Thanks, Cheri! It came out well - and in one of the trials, I accidentally over-baked it by 5 minutes! It was still moist and perfect. Guess this method is forgiving!

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  7. You worked that recipe until you got it right!! Looks and sounds lovely and I adore anything with goat cheese! Not sure if those pepperberries are pink pepperberries, but just so you know, if they are, anyone with tree nut allergies will also react to them as they are related to cashews. My daughter almost died from them :(

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    1. Thanks, Christina! No, the pepperberries aren't related to pink peppercorns, although for some who cannot get Aussie pepperberries, pink peppercorns might be a good substitute IF you don't have the tree nut allergy!

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  8. I always love that you keep trying a recipe until it comes out perfectly.

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    1. Thanks, Carol! I will make this for you next time you come out!

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  9. You created something special here. I can just imagine all the flavors coming together.

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  10. Golly, this looks absolutely divine! The colours are just beautiful. So glad I'm growing zukes now. Looking forward to trying to create this luscious recipe too. :)

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    1. Have you already been able to plant your zucchini for the season, Ngeun? This has become one of my favorite preparations, especially as it can be done in advance - very nice for entertaining!

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    2. I recently went through a seed sowing phase for flowers, foliage and fruits to photograph and paint and sowed more seeds than I now know what to do with. I start them indoors in small pots and then transplant them to the balcony when they’re bigger. Luckily and surprisingly, a golden zuke seed germinated. Hopefully, it’ll grow trouble free and fortunately, we’ve been getting some sunshine. It’s still a tiny plant but appears to be showing buds already. Please pray with me!

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    3. I will! Good luck, and I look forward to seeing the paintings!

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  11. Amazing! I love the presentation dish! Great recipe!

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    1. Thanks, Cathleen - I hope you all enjoy it!

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  13. Yes, I remember wrapping salmon in potato slices. I won't ever go down that path again. Seeing your final dish, I think we should all thank you for sticking with it until you got it just right. The dish looks beautiful and I'm sure its taste is equally delicious. Well done, David!

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    1. I am glad I am not the only one who remembers the potato wrapping phase. What a bad idea. The zucchini also makes me think that eggplant could be good, too, but definitely sautéed and not baked. What do you think, John?

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  14. What a fresh and elegant dish, D. It's stunning! xo

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  15. This looks absolutely stunning and my mouth is watering! What an amazing flavor combination and a beautiful presentation! This is going on my must-make list.

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    1. Thanks, Caroline! I hope you and Mike enjoy it when you make it!

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  16. Wow, David, this is a truly stunning recipe. Just gorgeous -- the colors, the flavors, the textures. Perfection.

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    1. Thanks, Valentina! It was fun to create! (Or, re-create!)

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  17. It was so interesting to hear the evolution of this David! And it turned out beautiful. When I first saw it, I thought it was some exotic tuber! Now I think I'll go back to the drawing board on some of my recipes that were just shy of working!

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    1. Thanks, Inger - I find if I don't work through a recipe within a couple of weeks, I completely forget about it... which may also be a sign that it wasn't worth the effort in the first place!

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  18. David, what a beautiful preparation! I love getting to know the evolution of the dish as well.

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  19. This sounds delicious and what a great story for how the recipe evolved.

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  20. This is indeed a beautiful dish. it is a blend of ingredients and flavors i would not have imagined (good thing I am not writing a food blog!) but the final product sounds delicious, especially with the Tavel you picked out!

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    1. I hope you and Towny try it... WITH the Tavel!

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