Sunday, September 28, 2014

Salmon Gefilte Fish Terrine

There are some novelists who seem to write the same book over and over. Whether it's a lost child, a distant parent, a romance soured — the titles may change, but the themes stubbornly persist. It's as though they try to move on to new ideas, but these tropes push their way in and demand to be reworked again and again, until they finally are made right. And I know how this is. I'm the same way with gefilte fish.

My gefilte fascination has become something of a running joke. I tell stories of West Coast variations, and Russian gefilte history. I make fancy chefs and scholars eat several variations. You would think that I would run out of gefilte stories to tell. But please. There are always more.

This year, as the Jewish holidays approached, I explored the surprisingly rich story of the sweet-savory gefilte divide. But you can't eat a story. And so, when it came to my own holiday table, I had find a new way to bring the gefilte to the plate.

I've long been fond of this smoked gefilte fish recipe, yielding patties that are both smoky and delicate. But I was ridiculously busy this week, and didn't quite have the time to shape and steam round after round of hand-shaped patties. And so when I saw a recipe for a single gefilte terrine made in a bundt pan — not to mention using our local West Coast salmon — I was sold.

But, of course, I couldn't resist changing the story a bit. I added some smoked fish and scallions, as I love what they add to my other variation. And instead of grating, I simmered and pureed the carrots, to integrated them a bit more fully into the mix. I dropped the dill and mustard, to better let the fish flavor come through (and allow it to better pair with a carrot-citrus horseradish). And it was delicious. I may just tell this same exact gefilte story next year.

Salmon Gefilte Fish Terrine

adapted (heavily) from Joan Nathan, via Tablet Magazine
yields ~ 15-20 slices

2 carrots, peeled and chunked
3 tablespoons olive or other oil, plus addition for topping the terrine
3 medium onions, peeled and diced
1 bunch scallions, sliced
2 pounds salmon fillets, cut into large (~2 inch) cubes
1 pound cod, flounder, rockfish, or whitefish (I used Oregon petrale sole), cut into cubes
1/2 pound smoked whitefish or mackerel (this gives a subtle smoked flavor — if you prefer, you can swap out more smoked fish for some of the fresh white fish, but you'll want to reduce the salt to accommodate)
4 large eggs
4 tablespoons matzo meal
1 tablespoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Place the carrot chunks in a small saucepan, and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the carrots are quite tender, ~7-10 minutes. Set aside.

While the carrots are simmering, pour the oil into a large saucepan or Dutch oven, and bring to a medium-high heat. Add the onions, along with a pinch of salt, and saute, stirring, until soft and translucent but not browned, ~15 minutes (lower heat as needed to keep them from coloring). When done, stir in the scallions, cook for another minute, then turn off the heat. Let cool slightly.

Drain the carrots, and place them in a food processor, along with the onions and scallions. Puree until smooth. Toss in the eggs and matzo meal, and pulse to combine. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment.

Place all of the fish in the bowl of the food processor, and pulse until reduced to small bits, but not totally pureed (you want a bit of texture). Transfer this to the mixer bowl with the onions and carrots. Add the eggs, matzo meal, salt and pepper, and beat on medium speed for 10 minutes.

While the mixture is beating, preheat your oven to 325° Fahrenheit. Grease a large Bundt pan, and find a casserole dish that it can fit inside. Heat a kettle of water until it's not quite boiling.

When the fish mixture has beaten,  pour it into your prepared Bundt pan, then place the pan in the casserole dish. Smooth the top of the mixture with a spatula, and pour a little bit of oil over the top, then cover tightly with foil.

Place the pan-in-dish in your preheated oven, then carefully pour some of the warm water (not boiling hot, lest you shatter the pan) into the casserole dish, until it comes a few inches up the side of the Bundt pan. Bake for one hour, or until the center seems solid.

When the terrine is cooked, remove from the oven, and remove the Bundt pan from its water bath. Let the terrine cool for at least 20 minutes, and up to about an hour. When cool, slide a long knife around the inner and outer edges (both!) of the pan to free the terrine, then invert onto a flat serving plate. Cover, and refrigerate for several hours, or overnight. Slice and serve with horseradish. Keeps up to five days.

Monday, September 01, 2014

Late Summer Matzoh Ball Soup

There are so many little niceties that fall by the wayside of modern life. But really, they only take a few minutes, and they can turn someone's day around. Get-well cards. Sickbed food deliveries. And don't get me started on thank-you notes. Do I sound like a grandma? Well, let me make you a pot of soup.

I can get as wrapped up in my busy life as the next person. But lately, I've been trying to step up in these little ways. I happened to have a get-well card on hand the other day (because I could not resist a letterpressed illustration of a dog in the Cone of Shame), and so it just took a few minutes to write a note to a friend who broke her ankle (also, Portland has overnight local mail delivery, which always seems like something of a modern miracle). Then the other day, a friend posted that he had a miserably high fever (he described his state as 'writhing'). And since this is a friend who's helped me out many times, I couldn't sit back. So I channeled my inner grandmother, and made up some matzoh ball soup.

But there was one complication — despite what the calendar may say, summer is still kind of in effect. And, in the midst of hot, sunny days, a bowl full of my usual dill-and-garlic, parsnip-filled standard just seemed a bit too much. So when sickbed duty called, I gave matzoh ball soup a summer update. And it turns out to be delicious.

I threw my frozen bag of vegetable trimmings in the stockpot, with a few additions and subtractions to create a sunny broth heavy on the carrots, garlic and parsley. Then I shaved the kernels off a few ears of corn, and threw the cobs in to simmer as well. I used my standard matzoh ball recipe (also grandparental in origin), but gave it a similar summer update with a mix of chopped fresh parsley, dill and basil. I kept the simmered carrots for a bit of depth, but rounded the soup out with those oh-so-summer corn kernels, and a few halved sungold tomatoes, both floated in the soup right before serving. And then topped the whole summery mess with another dose of those fresh herbs.

The resulting hybrid is clearly matzoh ball soup, full of all that healing goodness. But it's lighter and brighter, perfect for a warm sickbed evening. My grandmother would be proud.

And speaking of trying to be half the people our grandparents were, I recently produced a radio story about learning to be a man in prison (and beyond). You can take a listen over at NPR.

Late Summer Matzoh Ball Soup

yields 1 generous sickbed delivery, plus a few bowls for yourself

Matzoh Balls:
5 eggs
1/2 cup neutral oil, like canola
~3/4-1+ cups matzoh meal
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
~2 teaspoons salt
a handful each chopped fresh parsley, dill, and basil

To Finish:
~2 quarts broth (homemade is nice, but if you've got a premade broth you can simmer it with the peelings from your carrots, a few garlic cloves, and the corncobs)
3 carrots, peeled and sliced into coins
corn shaved off of 2 ears
~12 sungold tomatoes, halved
a handful each chopped fresh parsley, dill and basil, mixed together

To make the matzoh balls: Whisk together the eggs and oil. Add as much matzoh meal as needed to make a texture somewhat like thick mud — you want it to have some body, but not thick enough to even mound on a spoon (the mixture will firm up upon standing). Stir in the baking powder, salt, pepper, and chopped herbs. Taste, and adjust seasonings as needed (it should be fairly salty). Chill for at least 10-15 minutes.

While the matzoh ball mixture is chilling, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Check the chilled mixture — if it's not firm enough to just scoop after resting, add more matzoh meal, and let rest a bit longer. Shape matzoh balls of your desired size with a small ice-cream scoop, two oiled spoons, or oiled hands, and plop them directly in the simmering water. Turn the heat down just enough to maintain a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally to rotate, for at least 30 minutes. They're done when you can cut them open to reveal a ball that's fully cooked through. When done, turn off the pot, and let them cool in the water.

While the balls are resting/cooking, pot the carrot coins in a small pot, and add water to cover by a few inches. Bring to a boil, and reduce heat until it's just high enough to maintain a simmer. Cook until fully tender, ~20 minutes. Let cool.

To serve, add the carrots (and their delicious cooking liquid!) to the broth. Remove the matzah balls with a slotted spoon, and add to the broth. Heat everything up, and add the corn and tomatoes (just a small bit for each person) for the final minute or so, until just heated through. Ladle into bowls, and top each serving with a smattering of fresh herbs. If you're bringing this as a sickbed delivery, it's best to package the tomatoes and corn together, and the fresh herbs in a separate parcel as well, so that they each can be added later to preserve their fresh taste.