Cayuga Lake Salmon, Blue Cheese and Porcini Coulibiac

I know I’ve already posted a coulibiac recipe about a year ago, but this one is a bit different. While still keeping the format of a traditional coulibiac (dough, fish, rice), I chose the other elements based on their chemical composition. As it turns out, ingredients that share a lot of chemical compounds are more likely to pair well together. When it comes to salmon, the so-called chemical pairings include:

  • various fish species — not really a surprise;
  • beef, followed by other meats to a smaller extent — I don’t think this makes a great pairing, but it’s interesting to note that in many regards, salmon is to fish what beef is to meat;
  • blue cheese, as well as several other cheeses;
  • black tea, and some other teas;
  • porcini mushrooms;
  • and… strawberries (we’ll leave that one out today).

There’s also a simpler, more pragmatic reason for me coming up with this dish: it’s great to catch lots of salmon and trout, but then you have to cook and eat them, and new recipes are always welcome. By the time I was ready to take pictures for this post, though, my stash of land-locked salmon was long gone, and what you see is the more conventional, pinker Atlantic salmon.

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Salmon Coulibiac

Originally, a kulebyaka was a closed pie filled with several layers, often separated with pancakes to prevent mixing. The dish could be served at any time during the meal, and fillings consisted of almost anything, including meat, fish, mushrooms, onions, cabbage, buckwheat, hard-boiled eggs — sweet ingredients to create a dessert pie weren’t unheard of either. However, it was only in the 19th century that French chefs who had worked in Russia brought the dish into the international spotlight, after distorting both the recipe and its name. The ingredients of the new coulibiac took a luxurious turn and showed a preference for game, foie gras, salmon, rice, butter, and puff pastry. Nowadays, the dominant version in both Western and Russian restaurants consists of a combination of salmon, rice, mushrooms and hard-boiled eggs.

My rendition, partly motivated by a recent meal at M. Wells, is definitely more a coulibiac than a genuine kulebiaka. In fact, the large piece of rare, pink fish, the leek risotto and the salmon roe sauce restore some of the luster to a dish that has too often become a shapeless blob of overcooked salmon (the steak of the sea, industrially farmed to cost as little as possible). Partly freezing the fish is key to obtaining the right doneness (which is only somewhat visible on the pictures below). The timing may vary slightly with your freezer, but the fillet should not be rock solid when you take it out, or it will reject lots of water and make the pastry soggy. Store-bought puff pastry certainly saves a lot of time, but not all doughs are born equal. In particular, beware of the brands that don’t use butter — that’s not really puff pastry anymore!

Try this dish with potato knishes. I find that the leftovers are also delicious when served cold.

Leek purée
Yields 8 servings

6 oz leeks, sliced
2 1/2 oz butter
salt
6 oz chicken stock

  • Sauté the leeks with half of the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat for 3 minutes, stirring regularly. Season with salt, add the chicken stock, and simmer until the leeks are soft. Let cool for 5 minutes.
  • Transfer to a blender, add the rest of the butter, and process until smooth. Reserve.

Leek risotto
Yields 8 servings

4 1/2 oz arborio rice
1 tbsp olive oil
salt
black pepper, ground
4 1/2 oz white wine
9 oz chicken stock, hot
leek purée
1/2 oz chives, chopped

  • Sauté the rice with the olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Season with salt and pepper, add the white wine, and simmer until almost fully reduced. Add half of the chicken stock, simmer again until almost fully reduced, then repeat with the rest of the stock.
  • Rectify the seasoning and stir in the  leek purée. Transfer to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let cool. The risotto will still look very runny, and that’s fine: the rice will absorb more liquid. Reserve.

Assembly
Yields 8 servings

2 lb cleaned fresh salmon fillet, center cut
16 oz puff pastry
10 oz smoked salmon, thinly sliced
leek risotto
egg wash (1 egg yolk mixed with 1 oz water)

  • Place the the salmon on a piece of plastic wrap, fold the fillet lengthwise, and roll into a cylinder. Wrap tightly with another layer of plastic wrap, and freeze for 4 hours.
  • Roll the puff pastry to a 12″ x 15″ rectangle. With the longer side of the rectangle facing you, line with the slices of smoked salmon, leaving 1″ clear on each edge except the one closest to you. Spread the leek risotto on top of the smoked salmon. Unwrap the salmon from the freezer, and position it near the edge of the rectangle closest to you. Brush the exposed puff pastry with egg wash, roll into a cylinder, and seal the dough on both edges. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with greased parchment paper, and brush all sides with egg wash. Bake in a 425 F oven for about 25 minutes, until golden brown.
  • Let rest for 5 minutes while you prepare the sauce, then slice and serve.

Sour cream and salmon roe sauce
Yields 8 servings

3 oz white wine
12 oz sour cream
1 tsp vodka
4 1/2 oz salmon roe
4 tsp chopped chives

  • In a small saucepan, heat the white wine and 1/2 of the sour cream over high heat, and reduce by half. Remove from the heat, and mix in the vodka and the rest of the sour cream.
  • Just before serving, add half of the salmon roe and chives, barely swirling the saucepan to incorporate them. Use the rest of the roe and chives to decorate the dish.

Red Alert: Coulibiac at M. Wells

Red Alert! Eastern European dishes are invading random Western restaurants! Should you duck and cover, or welcome the enemy?

The salmon coulibiac at M. Wells Diner is a serious dish that serves about 4 people. The favor profile is very focused: salmon, salmon roe, dill, chives and lemon — no mushrooms, rice or eggs like in some other recipes. The salmon is perfectly cooked, a rare prowess when it comes to puff pastry casing. The garnish consists of fried pickles. Do we really need fried dough with puff pastry? I’m not sure, but this almost made me love pickles.

Randomly, it turned out that the table dining next to us were the Law & Food guys! Hello!