Happy 2012!

The New Year’s Eve menu went off pretty much as planned, and I think everyone had a good time. I’ll blog the dishes over the next several days. Starting…now, with the celebratory little bite we had at midnight alongside the bubbly.

“Salmon Cornets” is a classic Thomas Keller French Laundry recipe, typically served as an amuse-bouche. Keller presents it with salmon tartare; I decided to use house-cured-and-smoked salmon instead.

Starting with a one pound center-cut piece of Irish organic salmon fillet, I cured it more or less per Ruhlman’s instructions in Charcuterie, substituting one or two spices of my own choosing. The cure consisted of: kosher salt, curing (pink) salt, dark brown sugar, juniper, white pepper, ground bay leaf, allspice, and cloves – sort of a sweet-and-savoury mash-up.

I cured the salmon in the fridge for 36 hours, wrapped in plastic and sitting under a heavy weight:

"Declining balance": thicker part of the salmon gets the heavier side of the pile of change.

Next, I got all McGyver. I wanted to cold-smoke the salmon – i.e., give it smoky flavour while leaving it silky and sliceable, as opposed to hot-smoking, which leaves you with flaky cooked salmon. Lacking a dedicated cold smoker, I busted out the following gear:

  • Cardboard box
  • Flexible aluminum dryer vent hose
  • Duct tape
  • Weber “Performer” kettle grill

Behold! The ghetto smoker:

What’s going on here? A few lumps of charcoal are smouldering in the kettle grill. Atop the charcoal is a small quantity of soaked wood chips – I used a mix of cherry and maple. The top vent on the kettle grill is duct-taped to the dryer vent hose. The other end of the hose leads into a sealed cardboard box – a flap on the opposite side gives access to the smoking chamber.

You can just barely see some bone marrow smoking away - for another dish to be revealed later.

The temperature inside the grill.

The temperature at the same time inside the smoke chamber. Anything under 90'F is acceptable for cold-smoking. The ambient outdoor temp at the time was about 0'C / 32'F.

The salmon chilled out for about 4 hours inside the smoker. I added wood chips about 3 times, and charcoal once, over this period.

Here is the finished product:

Back inside, Chef C and I got started on the cornets – savoury pastry cones – that would hold the salmony goodness.

First, I made a 4-inch hollow stencil:

This was cut out of a box of corn flakes - by happy accident, the box had a graphic of a magnifying glass (focused on the nutritional info) that was exactly 4 inches wide inside, and with a handle that provided a tab for picking up and moving the stencil. This sort of thing makes me irrationally gleeful.

I mixed up a batter of flour, sugar, salt, softened butter and egg whites, and applied it to the Silpat with an offset spatula. The thickness of the thin cereal-box cardboard provided a perfect guide for the batter.

Batter circles, sprinkled with black sesame seeds.

After about 6 minutes in a 400’F oven, the fun really starts. I relied on Chef C’s iron fingers to do the hard part of this dish: balancing the sheet pan on the oven door in order to keep the sizzling, buttery batter flexible, you need to flip the circles over and roll then around aluminum Cream Horn Molds. Then they go back into the oven for several more minutes – they need to be rolled around every couple of minutes in order for them to brown evenly.

The filling was made of creme fraiche (which I lightened slightly with yogurt), white pepper, minced red onion, and salt. And, of course, finely diced smoked salmon. Here’s the final dish, with the cornet tips poked into a bowl of coarse salt.