Saturday, December 27, 2014

Herb and Sourdough Crusted Salmon a la Fromage St Agur with Blackberry Gastrique

     An Elegant Flavor Combination!   
     The flavors of today's Herb and Sourdough Crusted Salmon a la Fromage St Agur with Blackberry Gastrique entrée may seem challenging from a conservative perspective.  These flavors have been combined in entrees throughout the long history of haute cuisine.  
     Wine with a deep fruity berry flavor is often paired with a variety of regional French Bleu Cheese.  A berry flavored gastrique accents and balances the flavor of a rich bleu cheese in a similar way.  Blackberry gastrique tastes nice with French herbs that are used in savory cooking.  Fruit gastriques also go well with the rich flavor of salmon.  Every item in this entree goes well together, even though the flavor combination seems impossible.  
     Herb and Sourdough Crusted Salmon a la Fromage St Agur with Blackberry Gastrique is one of the recipes that I created in 2112, while working as a sauté cook and saucier in the Technique Restaurant at the Le Cordon Bleu College Campus in Las Vegas.  The chef at the restaurant gave me the freedom to create a special du jour each day.  Room to create was what I personally needed at that time, after spending six weeks cooking standard food service cuisine at a resort in Death Valley.  Food service cuisine is consistent, but it is not creative.
     On the night that I ran today's recipe as a special du jour at the Technique Restaurant, I offered to cook dinner for the the number one ranking executive chef in charge at the Las Vegas campus.  The top administrative executive chef happened to be one of the highest rated pastry chefs in the world, so offering her a nice savory special du jour creation was the appropriate thing to do.  
     It is always best to offer a chef the same food that is cooked for the paying customers.  This gives a chef the chance to see why customers like or dislike the recent special du jour offerings and it gives the chef the opportunity to judge whether a special du jour is popular enough to be placed on the regular menu.  Some of my special du jours outsold the regular menu offerings by a wide margin and the restaurant sales receipts drew some attention in the front offices.    
     I have cooked for great chefs most of my life, so there was no pressure involved, when cooking dinner for one of the world's top pastry chefs.  The executive pastry chef was preparing candy and pastries for a Culinary Federation Fundraiser that had several of the world's greatest chefs on the guest list.  She gladly accepted the dinner offer, because she liked salmon!  This was a lucky guess on my part.  So, viola!  This proves that intuition is part of the chef game! 
     The Herb and Sourdough Crusted Salmon St Agur with Blackberry Gastrique ~ Oven Roasted Potato and Alsace Braised Cabbage special du jour was plated just like it would have been served to a paying customer.  The entrée in the pictures above is the actual plate that I cooked that evening at the Technique Restaurant.  The executive chef in charge of the restaurant operations preferred simple classic presentations, so I followed his guidelines.  I happen prefer classic food presentation style too.  
     This entree was sold for less than $20, because the campus restaurant was intended to promote Le Cordon Bleu, so the price was a real bargain.  Even though this entrée looks fancy, the food cost percentage was actually very low, so it was a profitable item.  This entrée certainly had some gourmet flair mixed with a comfortable theme.  Many chefs tend to like these two contrasting food themes on the same plate.    
     After munching on the dinner entrée, the top executive pastry chef complimented the special du jour creation and there was no criticism.  She liked the contrasting French cuisine themes and flavor combination.  My overall work at Le Cordon Bleu was complimented and the executive pasty chef asked me if I had ever given thought to becoming a private estate chef.  She offered recommendations for avenues of pursuing employment as a private estate chef in Las Vegas, via the school's job placement service.  I smiled and I could not help but to think about the proverbial "dollar signs spinning on an imaginary cash register!"    
     I personally never have really liked the thought of being a private chef before that moment, but when a world class top pastry chef suggests pursuing the private chef work, then it is easy to change one's own point of view.  The chef went on to explain that good private chefs are in demand in Las Vegas, so her suggestion definitely was apropos.  After chatting with the exec chef, my personal interest was spurred.    

     Many star entertainers, famous athletes and top brass executives in Las Vegas have personal chefs who cook their favorite food every meal.  Many casino owners also employ a private chef.  A chef needs extensive culinary knowledge to please this kind of clientele, even if the client prefers good old fashioned southern style home cooking.     

     Fromage St Agur:
     French St Agur cheese comes from the village of Beauzac in the Monts du Velay.  This cheeese was created by the Bongrain Cheese Company in 1988, so it is relatively new, but the French bleu cheese making heritage involved in making this premium cheese dates back many centuries.  
     St Agur is made with pasteurized cows milk and it is enriched with cream.  St Agur is aged for 60 days, so a mellow aromatic sharp flavor develops.  This soft bleu contains 60% butterfat and it literally melts like butter.  Those who like modern pasteurized soft rich French bleu cheese that has a mellow sharp flavor will like St Agur.     

     Blackberry Gastrique:
     This recipe yields enough gastrique for 6 to 8 small portion applications.  (About 1/2 cup.)
     Gastriques have concentrated rich flavors, so a little bit goes a long way.  Gastrique has a very long shelf life if it is refrigerated.  Chilled gastrique does need to be warmed before serving.  
     The sugar can be cooked to the hard crack stage for a semi sweet gastrique, or it can be caramelized for a savory flavor.  Gastriques are not only a sauce, they are a digestif.
     Always wear protective clothing when working with molten sugar!
     Step 1:  Chop 1 1/3 cups of ripe blackberries into small pieces and set them aside.
     Boil 1 cup of water in a small sauce pot over medium high heat.
     Add 1/3 cup of sugar.
     Reduce the liquid, till the sugar starts to bubble and foam.
     Watch the sugar to be sure that it does not overcook, when it just starts to turn an amber color.
     When the sugar turns a very light brown color, add the reserved chopped blackberries.
     Reduce the temperature to medium heat.
     Do not stir!  Carefully and gently shake the sauce pot, till the molten sugar coats the blackberries.
     The hot lightly caramelized sugar will instantly seize the blackberries.  The flavor and color of the fruit will be pulled into the sugar.
     Step 2:  Cook the sugar and blackberries, till the sugar starts to melt back into a liquid state.
     Add 2 tablespoons of cider vinegar.
     Add 2 ounces of dry white wine.
     Add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice.
     Add 1 cup of water.
     Add 1 small bay leaf.
     Add 3 pinches of thyme.
     Add 1 small pinch of tarragon.
     Add 2 tablespoons of chopped shallot.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of lemon zest.
     Add sea salt.
     Add 1 tablespoon of whole black peppercorns.
     Bring the sauce to a gentle boil.
     Step 3:  Reduce the temperature to very low heat.
     Gently simmer and reduce the sauce, till it can lightly glaze the back of a spoon.
     Remove the pan from the heat.
     Step 4:  Pour the gastrique through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl.
     Do not press the fruit pulp through the strainer!  Discard the spent fruit pulp.
     The gastrique should be translucent.  It should have the color and flavor of blackberries, with a hint of digestive aid savory undertones.
     Set the gastrique aside.
     A gastrique can be kept in a container in a refrigerator for up to 6 months.

     Alsace Braised Cabbage:
     This recipe yields 2 to 3 petite portions!
     This braised cabbage recipe is made with simple rustic French Alsace style.  Back when I worked as a sous chef in the mid 1980's, a French chef at a café made this as an accompanying vegetable for lunch entrées one day.  Basically, the cabbage is very lightly caramelized and it is sweetened with carrots as it slowly braises.  Selecting naturally sweet tasting carrots is essential for this recipe.    
     Step 1:  Heat a sauté pan or a small sauteuse pan over medium low heat.
     Add 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter.
     Add 1 tablespoon of coarsely chopped cured bacon.
     Gently sauté, till the bacon starts to become a golden brown color.
     Remove the bacon lardons from the pan and set them aside.
     Step 2:  Raise the temperature to medium/medium low heat.
     Add 2 1/2 cups of thin sliced cabbage.
     Add 2 tablespoons of chopped onion.
     Add 1 small clove of garlic that is coarsely chopped.
     Sauté till the cabbage wilts and some light caramelized highlights appear.
     Step 3:  Add 1/3 cup of rustic style thin bias sliced sweet carrot.
     Add 1 pinch of caraway seed.
     Add 1 pinch of thyme.
     Add 1 pinch of dill weed.
     Add 1 small bay leaf.
     Add sea salt and black pepper.
     Add 1 cup of light chicken stock.
     Add 1 cup of water.
     Bring the liquid to a gentle boil.
     Step 4:  Reduce the temperature to medium low heat.
     Simmer and reduce, till half of the liquid evaporates.
     Reduce the temperature to very low heat.
     Cover the pan with a lid.
     Slowly braise the cabbage, till the flavors meld and the carrots sweeten the cabbage.  There should only be a small amount of braising liquid in the pan.  Only add enough water to keep the cabbage moist if necessary.
     Keep the cabbage warm over very low heat.

     Roasted Tournée Potatoes:
     This recipe yields 1 portion.  The yield of this recipe is easy to expand.  Credit must be given where credit is due.  Fellow students turned the potatoes in their first classroom session!
     Cut 3 tournée shape potatoes.
     Heat a small sauté pan over medium/medium low heat.
     Add 1/2 tablespoon of unsalted butter.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon of vegetable oil.
     Add the tournée potatoes.
     Gently sauté, till the potatoes start to cook.
     Season with sea salt and white pepper.
     Place the pan in a 325ºF oven.
     Roast the potatoes, till golden brown highlights appear and the potatoes become fully cooked.  (Turn the potatoes in the pan occasionally.)
     Keep the potatoes warm on a stove top.
     Coarse Fresh Sourdough Breadcrumbs:
     Select a stale soft sourdough bread.
     Trim the crust off of the bread.
     Cut 2 cups of large cube shaped pieces.
     Place the sourdough cubes in a food processor.
     Pulse the food processor, till coarse fresh soft breadcrumbs are formed.  The course fresh breadcrumbs should be no larger than 3/16" and the should not be finely ground.
     Set the fresh sourdough breadcrumbs aside in a shallow pan.

     Fresh Herb Egg Wash:
     Place 1 large egg in a mixing bowl.
     Add 1/4 teaspoon of lemon juice.
     Add 1 pinch of sea salt and white pepper.
     Add 1/2 teaspoon each of finely minced leafy herbs:
     - Italian parsley
     - Basil
     - Oregano
     - Tarragon
     Whisk the ingredients together.
     Set the egg wash aside in a shallow pan.
     Herb and Sourdough Crusted Salmon a la Fromage St Agur:
     This recipe yields 1 standard entree portion!
     Way back in the 1990's, I was working at trendy French restaurant that won the golden spoon award for thirty years in a row.  We created nice trendsetting entrees and we were quick to adapt new cooking ideas.  Sourdough crusted seafood was one of the new cooking ideas that we perfected at this restaurant.  
     Sourdough crusting is not the same thing as breading fish with sourdough bread crumbs.  Only the top surface of the fish filet is crusted.  Only a thin coating of egg wash is needed, so the fresh soft sourdough bread crumbs adhere to the fish filet.  The fish is sautéed sourdough side down, till crisp, then the fish is flipped and finished in an oven.  The idea is to allow the fresh sourdough bread crumbs to become aromatic and to do so, the sourdough coating has to gently roast.  When done correctly, the aroma and flavor is irresistible! 
     Step 1:  Preheat an oven to 325ºF.
     Select a thick Atlantic Salmon filet that weighs 6 to 8 ounces.  (remove the skin)
     Lightly season the filet with sea salt and white pepper.
     Place the salmon filet in the shallow pan of herb egg wash, with the skin side of facing up.  Only coat the bone side of the filet with a thin layer of egg wash and leave the skin side bare.
     Transfer the salmon filet to the shallow pan of fresh sourdough bread crumbs, so the egg wash side is facing down.
     Gently press the salmon filet on the bread crumbs, so they adhere to the thin layer of egg wash.  Only one side of the filet should be crusted and the skin side of the filet should be bare.
     Step 2:  Heat a sauté pan over medium/medium low heat.  (This same temperature is used for cooking eggs or grilling bread.)
     Add 2 1/2 tablespoons of clarified butter.
     Place the salmon filet in the pan, so the sourdough crusted side faces down.
     Gently pan fry the salmon, till the sourdough crust begins to become a light golden brown color.  (The crust will finish browning later in the oven!)
     Carefully use a spatula to flip the fish in the pan.  Add a little bit of clarified butter, if necessary.
     Sauté till the bare side of the salmon is a little bit more than halfway cooked.
     Add 2 ounces of dry white wine to the pan.  (Do not allow the liquid to make contact with the sourdough crust!)
     Add 2 ounces of fumet or light chicken stock to the pan.
     Step 3:  Place the pan in the 325º oven.
     Roast the salmon, till it becomes fully cooked and the sourdough crust becomes crispy golden brown.  (This only takes a few minutes!)
     Remove the pan from the oven.
     Step 4:  Evenly space 4 dollops (1/2 teaspoon size) of St Agur cheese across the top of the crusted salmon.
     Return the pan to the oven for about 30 seconds, so the St Agur cheese softens and begins to melt.  (The carryover heat will finish melting the cheese.)
     Step 5:  Remove the salmon pan from the oven.
     Use a spatula to place the salmon on a wire screen roasting rack over a drip pan for about 1 minute, so any excess liquid or oil drains off of the salmon.  (This is a preventative measure.  Excess jus can cause the gastrique to "bleed" when the salmon is plated!)
     Keep the pan warm on a stove top.

     Herb and Sourdough Crusted Salmon a la Fromage St Agur with Blackberry Gastrique ~ Oven Roasted Tournée Potatoes and Alsace Braised Cabbage:
     Place 1 petite portion of the Alsace Braised Cabbage on the plate.
     Arrange the tourne potatoes on the plate, so they look nice.
     Use a spoon to decoratively stream a small portion of the blackberry gastrique on the plate.
     Use a spatula to place the Herb and Sourdough Crusted Salmon a la Fromage St Agur on the plate, so it partially covers the gastrique on the plate.
     No garnish is necessary!

     Voila!  A very nice tasting elegant French salmon entree that is worthy of being served to the queen of the house on New Year Eve or Saint Valentines Day! 

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