Tuesday, March 15, 2016

My Salmon is Soused...

I had fresh salmon fillets and wanted something different to do with them.  Many of my historical recipes don't deal with salmon (it was protected and regulated and thus was expensive during the Elizabethan era) but I did find something intriguing in my copy of Dining with William Shakespeare, by Madge Lorwin.

ISBN 0-689-10731-5
On page 99, in the chapter labeled "A Feast for Beatrice and Benedick", there is a recipe titled

To Marrinate Salmon to be Eaten Hot or Cold.

The original recipe, taken from Robert May's The Accomplisht Cook, is:

Take a Salmon, cut it into joles and rands, and fry them in good sweet sallet oyl or clarified butter, then set them by in a charger, and have some white or claret-wine, and wine-vinegar as much as will cover it, and put the wine and vinegar into a pipkin with all manner of sweet herbs bound up in a bundle, as rosemary, tyme, sweet marjoram, parsley, winter savory, bay-leaves, sorrel, and sage, as much of one as the other, large mace, slic't ginger, gross pepper, slic't nutmeg, whole cloves, and salt; being well boild together, pour it on the fish, spices and all, being cold, then lay on slic't lemons and lemon-peel, and cover it up close; so keep it for present spending, and serve it hot or cold with the same liquor it is soust in, with the spices, herbs, and lemons on it.

You can view Robert May's book through Project Gutenberg here:  The Accomplisht Cook.  It was published in 1685 and was "Approved by the fifty five Years Experience and Industry of ROBERT MAY; in his Attendance on several Persons of great Honour."

Ms. Lorwin's adapted version is:

One 1 1/2-pound piece of thick salmon fillet
4 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup minced parsley
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
4 cloves
1 bay leaf
1/2 nutmeg, broken up
1 large piece of whole mace
1/4 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon rosemary
1/4 teaspoon marjoram
1/4 teaspoon savory
1/4 teaspoon sage
6 tablespoons wine vinegar
1 1/4 cups claret
1 lemon, sliced thin and seeded

I love all the spices!
Rinse the salmon fillet under cold running water and pat it dry with paper towels or a clean white cloth.  Cut into approximately 2 1/2-inch squares.  Melt the butter in a skillet large enough to hold all the fish in a single layer.  Arrange the fish pieces in the skillet and saute' over low heat only until the flesh is no longer translucent, turning once -- about four minutes on each side.  Remove the skillet from the heat and set aside, covered, until the sousing liquid is ready.

Beginning to cook
Turned once
Add the herbs, spices, and wine vinegar to the claret and bring the mixture to a boil.  Lower the heat to simmer and cook ten minutes.

Looks a bit muddy but smells good
Layer the pieces of salmon in a small, deep bowl -- a 1 1/2-quart stainless steel or glass bowl is a good size.  Pour the hot marinade, including the seasonings, over the salmon.  Arrange the lemon slices over the top, pushing a few down into the liquid at the sides of the bowl.  Cover and set aside until the marinade has cooled.  

I used one lemon, not two
Refrigerate until needed.  Serve the salmon cold with some of the marinade poured over it.

This dish keeps well for a week to ten days; after that the fish begins to toughen.  But if you plan to keep it that long, peel the lemon before slicing it, since the peel tends to give the fish a slightly bitter taste if left more than a day or two in the marinade.

We preferred the salmon cold, but if you wish to serve it warm, reheat it in the marinade in the top of a double boiler.

My Notes

I was out of parsley and fresh ginger (and dried ginger) so I skipped the parsley and used dried, ground galingale in place of the ginger.  About 1/4 teaspoon of the galingale.  Also I used cubebs instead of peppercorns, just because I could.

My sage and mace were ground.  The nutmeg was broken up by pounding it a bit in the mortar.  Oh my, it smelled good.

The rosemary and thyme were fresh from the garden.  I used about a teaspoon of each.

I used white wine vinegar and chardonnay for the wine.  "Claret" used to mean clear wine and I felt that white wine was the best choice here.  And yes, my lemon was a Meyer lemon! The tree still has some fruit on it.

The salmon cooked for almost exactly four minutes on a side but wasn't "no longer translucent".  I didn't worry about it because I set the skillet aside as Ms. Lorwin instructed and the residual heat finished cooking the fish.

I was concerned about the spices being poured on the salmon.  This seemed appropriate to get them to infuse their flavors in the meat but I really didn't want to take a bite of it and crunch into a whole cubeb or chunk of nutmeg.  My hope was that I could somehow rinse off the big bits of herbs and spices before serving.

It took about an hour before I felt the marinade had cooled enough to refrigerate.  Then the whole dish cooled for about four hours before eating.

The Verdict

I served the salmon cold alongside a tossed salad with a variety of vegetables.  It was easy to brush off the big pieces of spices so that turned out to be not a worry at all.  I poured a little of the marinade on each piece but put it through a fine mesh sieve first, to remove the chunks.

This was really good.  I am not super fond of fish but like it well enough.  This was cooked thoroughly, did not smell "fishy", and the marinade have enough acid bite (just a little) to make the fish and the spices blend together well. The flesh was firm and moist.

The spices were not overwhelming nor were they dominated by any particular flavor.  Just a balanced blend with occasional little dashes of flavor on your tongue.

My two guest tasters both liked it, enough to ask for seconds.  We all agreed that serving it cold seemed the better choice to let the flavor of the marinade shine through.

Success!  Easy!  Give it a try!

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Playing with Fire -- Cooking on My Hearth (part 2)

The success of cooking shish kabobs in my home's hearth emboldened me to try out my Dutch oven again, this time by making bread.

After the fire was burning for a while and producing coals, I started the dough for a simple wheat with rosemary in the bread machine.

I wanted a loaf shape so I planned on using a metal loaf pan sitting on a trivet in the Dutch oven.

Nifty blacksmith-made trivet!
When the dough was ready, I put it into the Dutch oven which had been sitting near the fire.  This was a lovely place to let the dough do its last rise:  comfortably warm and completely draft free.  Be sure to put on the lid.

Ready to rise
There was a nice pile of coals waiting for me when the dough was ready to bake.

There weren't many flames in the rest of the fire place but the coals seemed like enough, so I set up the oven with coals underneath and more above.

The flash hides the glow.
But it turned out not to be enough coals or enough heat after all.  I think with the charcoal I use in my public demonstrations it would have been but it appears that burning firewood does not produce the same amount of heat for the same length of time and I completely misjudged my fire.

I didn't take a picture of the bread in the Dutch oven but here is a worded image:  The risen dough had risen a little more and was dry on top but had not baked at all.  I finished it by baking it in the regular oven and it came out fine although a little flat on the top where it fell.

So the next night I tried again, this time with a raisin bread recipe.

I started the dough as soon as I started the fire.  I loaded the fire up with extra wood because my goal was to have a good set of coals and extra flame with more coals being produced while the bread was baking.  Just in case!

Again I used the Dutch oven sitting outside the fire place as a warm spot for the dough to rise.

Before rising
It has risen!
I had a good supply of coals for the top and the bottom and also some off to the side in reserve.

The glow is intense enough to show up despite the flash.
Without the flash
This seemed just fine.  After about 30 minutes I could not smell bread baking and I worried that the coals on top had died down too much to be effective.  So I took a small piece of burning wood and put it on top of the oven.

Once the 45 minutes of baking time was up, I lifted the lid to see how the bread was doing.  *I didn't lift it previously because everything I have read about baking in a Dutch oven warns us that lifting the lid releases the heat inside and can ruin your baking.

What did I find?  That extra piece of wood was completely unnecessary:

This time being "upper crust" is not an advantage.
The loaf sounded hollow so I removed the pan from the Dutch oven and tipped the loaf out to cool.
Then I sliced it to see how the baking went.

Nearly done.
The loaf was pretty and mostly cooked correctly.  It was too moist overall and almost doughy at the bottom.  Of course there was that burnt top, too.

This tells me I should have had more coals beneath the oven and fewer on top.

Still, the bread was tasty once I cut off the burnt part, and I was saved from tasting the burnt raisins on the top, a flavor I despise.

And then I discovered the bread was even better once it was lightly toasted.

What I Learned

As in Part 1, I learned that fire management is very important.  I had to pay attention to how fast the wood was being consumed, how fast the coals gave up their heat, and to add more wood to keep up my heat supply.

The second baking attempt had enough heat to actually bake the bread but then I messed up the balance between the top and the bottom of the Dutch oven so that the top burned and the bottom was not baked enough. I didn't not experiment with using my hand held over the coals to test their heat but now I see how crucial that can be for the balance.

I suppose the air space formed by the trivet makes a difference in how much heat needs to be beneath the oven. I used the trivet to allow air to circulate around the loaf pan.  Perhaps it didn't need to be raised at all.

I have seen bread baked without a pan in a Dutch oven.  It was just set down on the greased bottom of the oven. I wanted a loaf shape but I also got the benefit of being able to pull the first, failed loaf out of the oven to finish baking it in the electric oven.  It was easier to remove the pan with the successful loaf without having to move the Dutch oven out of the fire place, helpful considering the weight of the oven and all the ash.  My tiles stayed cleaner.

There is a difference between cooking over a fire pit with coals and cooking beside a fire place.  It is harder to see into the fire place and lifting heavy pots from the side is a challenge.  I used my lid-lifter to look into the Dutch oven while the coals were still on it but I had to make sure I lifted straight up to keep the ashes out of the food.  So I also had to make sure I didn't scrape my hands on the hot chimney while lifting.

None of this makes the job impossible.  I hope I can have more fires so I can practice more cooking on my hearth!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Playing with Fire -- Cooking on my hearth (part 1)

I live in California and we are experiencing an El Nino winter:  wet and cold.  I know this is really nothing compared to the places that are being buried in snow and all that, but this is unusual weather for us.  The upside is that my yard is being watered regularly (hooray for the rain) and it has been cold enough for me to build a fire in my hearth and actually enjoy the heat it puts out.  It has been several years since this has happened!

I've built several fires in the last few weeks.  One day when I was watching one and wishing I had marshmallows to toast, it occurred to me that I could practice my demonstration cooking.  Why not?  I always need more practice and this would be using wood and embers instead of the charcoal I normally work with.  Also cooking in the enclosed fire place is different than an open pit.

The last time I tried this was in 2012 when I made Boston Baked Beans in my Dutch oven using charcoal.  You can read about it here:   Boston Baked Beans.

My first attempt was with a lovely piece of beef which I cut up to make shish kabobs.  These are chunks of meat and vegetables put on a skewer and cooked near the flames or over glowing embers.

I used the beef, big pieces of onion, thickly sliced mushrooms, and chunks of tomato.  Once the food was cooked (or close to it), I brushed the kabob with a honey-ginger sauce to give it some extra flavor and cooked it a few minutes more.

To add to the fun, I took several slices of sourdough bread, buttered and sprinkled with garlic powder, and wrapped them in foil.  This I put on some coolish embers to the side of the fire and turned it a few times while the kebabs cooked.

What I Learned

My primary experience in cooking shish kabobs is at the beach, working near a bonfire.  There is so much heat spread out in a big space that it is easy to cook the whole thing just by propping the skewer up against a rock and using the sand to keep it from tipping over.

So for my hearth I had to plan on where the skewer was going to be:  the tip needed to rest on something, the handle needed to rest on something where I could reach it easily for turning, and I needed to know where the heat was in order to cook things evenly.  These had to be sturdy locations because letting the food fall into the ashes and embers is not a tasty choice.

I also had to plan on where to place the skewer before it went into the fire and where to place it when it came out.  Also where I would hold the skewer to brush on the sauce.  This was drippy and messy and I really didn't want sauce all over the tiles in front of the fire.  So I had a bunch of platters handy and decided in advance which was going to do what job.

So I figured out to use a log that was not burning too much to hold the tip of the skewer and was pleasantly surprised to find the fire place screen was a good place to rest the handles.  That left a good open space in which to place the heat.

See the foil packet?
*Important:  When you put the food on the skewer, plan to leave several inches between it and the tip and it and the handle so the food is not touching the places that are supporting the skewer.

My first mistake was not spreading the hot embers out evenly beneath the skewers.  Most of the heat was near the tip and that meat cooked quickly and scorched a little.  The meat near the handle barely cooked and the veggies didn't cook much at all.  The onion was too raw for my taste, even with turning the skewers regularly to cook them on all sides and rotating their order to get each one near to the heat.

Looks good, but...
...some of the meat was too rare, while...
... the rest was just right.
What I realized is that I had planned on reversing the skewers at some point, which is silly because then the handles would have gotten too hot.

When I spread the heat out evenly, the meat along the whole skewer cooked at the same rate.  The veggies got cooked more but still the onions were too raw.  I think the next time I try this I will cut the onions smaller and perhaps brush the onions and mushrooms with oil before they get put on the skewer.

This had the heat spread better beneath the entire skewer.
The sauce still splashed some and I got drips on the tiles but they cleaned up easily.

The Verdict

The meal was good despite the raw onions.  Once I got the embers distributed correctly, the food cooked better and was tasty. The butter had melted on the bread.   I declare it a success in flavor and in experience.

Much, much better.
What is really important is managing the heat, paying attention to where the flames are and how hot the coals are.  I am so used to a gas stove and an electric oven that I don't have to think about the heat distribution!

Another aspect of fire management is keeping the flames that you are not using for cooking low enough that it is not uncomfortable to sit near while you work.  Since the weather was cold I was happy but if the fire had been bigger, I would have been sweating and feeling like I was cooking, too.