Monday, February 5, 2007

Warm Fruitwood-Smoked Salmon with Potato Gnocchi and Balsamic Glaze, Part II

Let me preface this by saying with the windchill making the temperature outside about 4 degrees, I was happy to have some gnocchi to nosh on tonight. Let's get started with Part Two of the Fruitwood-smoked Salmon dish, shall we? Yes, let's shall.

The first thing I had to do this afternoon (while waiting for my clients to return phone calls and emails) was finish the chive oil. That meant taking the chive puree out of the fridge and covering a glass bowl with cheese cloth so the oil can filter through it.

Then, I poured the chive oil puree onto the cheese cloth and let it sit for an hour while the oil seeped through to the bowl below.

Then, I put the oil into a squeeze bottle, which I did through yet another filter in my funnel (just to make sure it was as "clean" as possible).

With the chive oil done, I prepped my vegetables for the brunoise that goes into the sauce the gnocchi cooks in.

A brunoise [say it with me kids: "broon-wahz"] is a very fine chop/cut of carrots, turnips and leeks -- it's supposed to be little teeny-tiny 1/16" squares, but mine was somewhere in between a brunoise and a mirepoix (slightly larger). I have borderline OCD, but I think you need full-fledged OCD to do a perfect brunoise. But enough excuses. After doing the fine, precise OCD in-need-of-meds brunoise chopping, you blanch each of the vegetables separately and put them aside for use later. Most restaurants prepare tons of this and freeze it for future use. I just did a small amount because I was pressed for time today. Someday, when I have a free day, I'll make gallons of brunoise to store in my freezer. Or, I'll get a life. It's a toss-up.

I then prepped more chives for the dish -- this time a fine chop:

I also did the tomato diamonds just like Keller suggested, but for some reason mine turned out more like parallelograms:

(And, a note to all you 9th graders taking geometry who think you'll never need to use the word "parallelogram" ever ever ever as an adult. Guess what? You do. I did. So there.)

This was the last amount of prep I needed to do until about 15 minutes before dinner time.

I invited the neighbors (who are also close friends, so don't think I'm just knocking on doors asking people over -- I love these guys!) over for a taste-test and asked two of the kids to come over early to be my sous chefs. They did a great job, but their greatest accomplishment was the chive-oil decor on the plates. You'll see that soon.

Now, we get to the meat and potatoes of the meal. Well, the fish and potatoes. I cut the fruitwood-smoked salmon into six squares and submerged them in warm milk -- not quite a poach (about 115-120 degrees). They rested in there for 7-8 minutes while I cooked the gnocchi -- first a toss in warm canola oil, then added in homemade chicken stock I had in the freezer, a few drops of white wine vinegar and a few tablespoons of butter.

Then, you let the gnocchi and sauce simmer and reduce/thicken a bit. While the gnocchi were cooking, I mixed a small bunch of arugula with meyer lemon olive oil, minced scallion, and fresh-ground sea salt and pepper.

Then, when the gnocchi sauce has reduced and thickened (about 8-9 minutes), you add the brunoise, tomato diamonds and chives to the pan and let them heat up in the gnocchi sauce. Then, the salmon comes out of the milk and we're ready to assemble.

The kids (thanks, M and G!) did a great job decorating the plates with chive oil. As I mentioned in my previous post, I have no artistic talent whatsoever and I was apprehensive about decorating or drizzling plates with anything, let alone precious chive oil that took two freakin' days to make. It should tell you something that I trust two 10-year olds to do a better job than I could. I love outsourcing. It's what makes America great. Can't let those terrorists win, no sir. Not when it comes to, um, er, chive oil.

Alright, back to the assembling: first on the plate go 6 gnocchi with some of the sauce it's been cooking in; on top of that goes a piece of the milk-warmed smoked salmon; then, it's topped with the arugula mixture which is then drizzled or dotted with balsamic glaze (which I had left over from the gazpacho and the whipped brie). Here's the final product:

And, here are my proud sous chefs with their final creation:

Let's talk about how this tastes (wish you could be here!). The gnocchi were creamy and hearty, and not mushy at all. I've never made gnocchi before, and I have to say that I was damn impressed with my bad self. The sauce was delicious and the salmon was sweetened and less smoky having been warmed in the milk. It also made it a little more flaky, which was nice, texture-wise. The arugula/shallot combo added a nice bite to the dish (as did the balsamic glaze). All in all, I'd make this again. The portion size recommended in the French Laundry Cookbook is a starter, but you could just up the number of gnocchi and cut the salmon a bit bigger and it would make a nice lunch or light dinner.

Let me also take a moment here to say how much I'm enjoying Michael Ruhlman's writing in this cookbook. I'm a big fan of Ruhlman's work, but these instructions and accompanying text are so straightforward without being pedantic or elementary. There's no second-guessing (at least in this recipe) about the order in which you do things, or how exactly to do things if you don't have all the professional implements the French Laundry staff uses on a daily basis. If you haven't read any of Ruhlman's other books, I suggest you do. You don't have to be into food to enjoy them -- he's a great storyteller who from the first sentence draws you into the lives of the people he's writing about. He's done the same with the French Laundry Cookbook, and dangit, I'm glad I'm doing this project.

Up Next: Staff Lasagna (made by sous chef Eric Ziebold for the French Laundry staff prior to the start of service).

Recommended Wine for the Salmon-Gnocchi Dish: Raymond Reserve Chardonnay, 2004 (I'm usually not a chardonnay person, but this stuff is good. Not as good as the Mer Soleil which is like drinking butter, eating lobster, and having sex all at the same time, but the Raymond is good, too.)

Brands Used:
All produce from Safeway
Fruitwood-smoked salmon from Whole Foods
All-Clad cookware
O brand Meyer Lemon Olive Oil

Music to Cook By: Best of the Doobie Brothers. Just because.


spooneroonie said...

I've never tried gnocchi because I always thought it would taste like lumpy mashed potatoes. Damn, though that looks really good. Everything you make looks good. Ever thought of giving up PR and opening a food joint?

Anonymous said...

Wow -- I can almost smell the food through the internet. This looks great. And, it sounds like the recipes are challenging enough but not out of the realm of possibility. Congrats!

Anonymous said...

Another great post! What's up after the lasagne?

Diner Girl said...

Oh, Spoonie, if I opened up a food joint, then I'd probably hate cooking. Having it as a hobby is what makes it fun. We gotta get you and Spoonlet to DC one of these days for a visit, and a test kitchen day -- SLop or French Laundry. Your choice. :)

spooneroonie said...

I can crap up SLoP dishes at my own house. I'll take French Laundry, hands down.

I do love DC, I've been there three times, it's a beautiful city.

P. said...

Alright, babe. When are you taking this show on the road so that you can come cook at MY house so I can actually ENJOY the food for real and not just salivate from afar? Damn... makes me wish I lived in DC... seriously, get yer ass up here and cook for me, woman! I know how you love to be bossed around.... ha!

FourTimesTwo said...

Quick question: did you smoke the salmon yourself, or did you buy it already smoked? What do you prefer?

Diner Girl said...

FourTimesTwo: I bought the salmon already smoked. I don't have the equipment (or patience, honestly) to smoke my own salmon, and in this case, Keller recommends using salmon that's been smoked with fruitwood, as opposed to cedar (which many folks do). Thankfully, the market had some salmon that had been smoked this way, so that's what I used. And, in the cookbook, they discuss their purveyors for buying already-smoked salmon, so I don't feel like I cheated. When it comes time to de-vein a foie gras or cut apart a pig's head (both of which are in this book and quite frankly scare the bejebus out of me), that's when I will be happy that I hadn't spent hours smoking my own salmon.

BobdG said...

Diner Girl
Deveining a foie gras is no big deal if you do a bit of studying first. What I recommend is that you get an anatomy book (human or avian, it doesn't matter)study the section on liver structure and pay particular attention to the way that the veins branch. Then when it's time to devein your foie, have the book open and use it to guide you.
Make sure the liver is not too cold but not warm. Room temp is about right. Use a really sharp knife or a scaple, stainless steel needle nose pliers and a surgical quality tweezer for the smallest veins.
Also don't yank on the veins too hard, they break easily and you'll have a heck of a time finding the ends.

Nice job on the gnocchi!

Sally Forth said...

I just found your blog and it went immeditately into favorites. I cook from Keller's books often but never thought to post about it. And probably won't in the future!
Love your blog's "voice".
I agree with bobdg that a scalpel makes deveining a whole foie gras much easier. You could also use an x-acto.

hpm said...

as another lucky neighbor, i was just amazed by how delicious this dish was, since i have never liked smoked salmon. but having it poached in milk, and with the gnocchi and balsamic(yummy)glaze made it all so smooth- and i cleaned that plate!!!ok, come spring i will be mowing some extra grass for payback.....xo

MeOhMy said...

Found you from the lovely Mr. Ruhlman's site. What a compliment that he wrote about you, you lucky thing. I love this idea and I look forward to following your tasty posts.

Diner Girl said...

bobdg, thanks for the advice on deveining a foie gras. I'm actually thinking of doing it sooner rather than later, just to get it done! We'll see..... maybe I'll save it for a special occasion.

Thanks for the nice words, SallyForth -- glad you're here.

And, hpm -- you know you're always welcome to the test kitchen!

Rob said...

Great stuff! I just found you via Ruhlman's site as well.

I had one success the first time I tried making gnocchi, but all subsequent attempts have met with shame and disaster. I guess the toss in warm oil seizes their surfaces enough so they don't dissolve in the stock, right? Hm...

Jaye Joseph said...

I also just found you through Rhulman's blog, and I love this! The French Laundry Cookbook was my gift to myself (along with the Les Halles Cookbook) when I hit my halfway point with my chemo treatments.

I kept telling myself I would cook from them when I got through everything, but I haven't done it yet. You're inspiring to get off my ass and start cooking again. I absolutely love your voice as well. Thank you for starting this blog!

Diner Girl said...

MeOhMy, Rob and JayeJoseph -- welcome! Glad to see you're here... please chime in often! And, please feel free to cook along with what I'm doing. It's really fun, I promise. Except when it's not.