Friday, May 2, 2008

Seared Salmon with Pea Risotto and Tomato Puree

I have started cooking for the school's restaurant, and, to say the truth, it has been quite the ride so far. There is a mix of stress, excitement, and genuine pleasure which all mixed together make for fast-paced days with very little time to rest. I am getting used to all the organization that a professional kitchen demands, and the real pleasure of cooking for busy and hungry New Yorkers.

A lot of the time spent in a kitchen is prep work. In the morning, fish or meat must be prepared, cleaned, portioned and made ready to use. Vegetables must be pre-cooked, and certain things cooked partially only. Risotto, which has quite a fussy texture for instance, must be cooked 80% of the way in the morning, and then set to cool by being spread on parchment-lined sheet pans. The risotto is then re-moistened with chicken stock when ordered, and then garnished with finishing touches such as cheese and peas.

Kitchen life, in many ways, resembles the strict setup of army life. Organization is key, hierarchies must be respected, and the chef must be addressed by reminding oneself that he or she is, indeed, the leader of the day. "Yes chef", and "no chef" are the only acceptable answers to be pronounced. The "barker", or frenetically angry cook at the front of the kitchen makes sure that orders are respected and deadlines not passed. He screams "order in" once a meal had been ordered, and "fire" once the meal is to be brought to the customer right away. The cooks are expected to be disciplined, respectful of orders and extremely meticulous.
Although, I have never experienced the battlefield firsthand, I can rest assured that life in the kitchen has already brought me pretty close.


4 salmon fillets
2 tablespoons of whole butter
A drizzle of blended oil
Salt and pepper

About 3 cups of chicken stock
1 cup of arborio rice
A knob of butter
2 minced shallots
2 minced garlic cloves
2 sprigs of thyme
1 bay leaf
1 glass of white wine
A good handful of grated Parmesan cheese
A handful of peas, cooked

Pea Puree
1/4 cup of heavy cream
3 tablespoons of water
Salt and Pepper
1/2 cup of peas

Tomato Broth:
4 tomatoes
1 minced shallot
1 minced garlic clove
1 sprig of thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon of sugar

Chopped chives
Basil leaves

Pea Puree:
Start by making the pea puree. In a blender, mix the peas, water, salt and pepper and blend until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and add the cream. Mix well.

Tomato Broth:
Take two of the tomatoes, remove the cores and chop in half. Remove the seed and transfer to a separate bowl. Using a blender, blend the tomatoes until you obtain a smooth puree. Strain through a fine strainer. Disregard the tomato foam that is too thick to be strained. Transfer the strained liquid to a bowl, add the sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Strain the seeds as well, and add the liquid strained to the bowl. Reserve.
Peel and core the other 2 tomatoes. Chop finely. In a pan, heat some oil and add the shallots, garlic and thyme. Once the shallots are softened, add the tomatoes. Season. Cook on low heat until the moisture has mostly evaporated. Reserve.
Heat the stock in a pot - bring to a boil and reduce to a low simmer. Melt the butter in a pan on medium low heat and add the shallots, garlic, thyme and bay leaf. When the shallots begin to soften, add the rice. Mix with a wooden spoon until lightly toasted. Add the wine and stir constantly. Once the wine has evaporated, add the stock, ladle by ladle, gently stirring. Add more stock once the rice has absorbed the liquid. Adjust the seasoning during this process. After about 18 minutes of cooking time, the rice should be tender and creamy. Add the cheese, peas, pea puree and stir until smooth.

Preheat oven to 450 F. Season the fillets with salt and pepper. Drizzle some oil in a oven-proof pan on medium high heat. Once the oil is hot, add the salmon, skin side down. Press the fish down to make sure it does not curl. Once the fish skin begins to become crispy (after 2-3 minutes), add the knob of butter. Gently pour the fat out of the pan and transfer to the oven. Cook for an additional 1-3 minutes for a medium rare salmon.

In a pan, heat the two types of tomato preparations together.

Plate by placing a circle of risotto in the middle of each plate. Circle with the tomato broth and top with the salmon fillet, some basil leaves and chopped chives . Enjoy!

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