A Supreme Salmon Luncheon
In the latter part of July or the first part of August one suddenly wonders why on earth he left the sunny slopes of Vermont or the balmy afternoons in Nantucket to go stand in the sleet in a freezing river in Iceland. There isn't even a tree or rock big enough to stand behind or crawl under to avoid the wind. But, one eventually thinks of gravlax on pumpernickel with dill sauce and, with renewed vigor, makes eighty more casts into the howling wind. When one feels that authoritative tug on the line, it's all worth any temporary discomfort and the several thousand dollars spent getting there. One has caught the king of fish, an Atlantic salmon.
It doesn't sleet every day. Once the temperature rose to sixty-eight degrees and the sun shone brilliantly. All the guides immediately took their shirts off and the cook fainted in the kitchen from the excessive heat. It was so bright that the salmon lay on the bottom like logs and wouldn't go near any fly that dangled tantalizingly near. After we had tried fifty different patterns, Leigh tied on a Hornburg and used it dry, skittering it across the slick water. Wham! A salmon leaped half out of the water to get it. The guides had never seen anything like it: a salmon taking a dry fly. They continued to stare in amazement as four of us, one after the other, took a nice salmon with the same method. So much for taking a guide's advice as gospel.
Another thing the guide might balk at is your refusal to let all the fish go to the smokehouse. Clean one or two right there on the river and make gravlax. It can be frozen and used up to nine months later for an unforgettable first course or meal.
Gravlax, without doubt, is the purist's favorite way to eat Atlantic salmon. It dramatically demonstrates the superior quality of this most-prized fish. The flavor is more delicate than smoked. It has a firm, satiny texture and a beautiful pale color.
It must be made 2 days before it is to be served. The salt, pepper and herbs cure it, and this cannot be rushed.
- 1 fresh salmon, any size
- ¼ cup medium-ground pepper (An easy equivalent is one 2-ounce jar of lava black pepper, medium grind.)
- ¼ cup dried dill (One 2-ounce jar dillweed)
- 1 pound light brown sugar
- 1 cup salt
- A plascic bag large enough to hold the size salmon you aspire to catch
- Packaging tape
- 5 pounds of weight (canned goods, books, old flatirons)
- 1 clean pair of pliers
| An 8-pound salmon is ideal for this dish. Fillet the fish, in half, leaving the skin on. Lay the two fillets flat on a counter or board, skin side down. Then take out the twenty-odd rib bones that have been unavoidably severed when you filleted the salmon. Use your index finger to locate the brittle ends of bone (about 1 inch below the fish's back), and pull them slowly out with a clean pair of pliers.
Mix the dill weed, pepper, and salt together (you can pack this in a plastic bag or jar and take it wherever you go fishing). Spread the spices evenly over the fillet halves.
Spread brown sugar 1/4 inch thick on one fillet, and sandwich the halves together. Slide the fish into a large plastic bag, and remove air from the bag by rolling it up. Fold the end over and tape it securely shut—it has to be airtight. (A good way is to start at the opposite end from the open one and wrap tape around and around the fish as you roll up the bag, finally taping the open end shut where it is doubled over on itself.) This whole process takes less than 20 minutes.
Put the packaged fish between 2 boards or trays and weight it down with 5 or 6 pounds of canned goods, books, rocks, or old flatirons. If the temperature is 70° or lower, leave it out for 24 hours, turning it over every 8 hours during that period. If the temperature is over 70°, refrigerate the salmon (with weights) for 48 hours. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving if you have cured it at room temperature.
To serve, unwrap the fish and scrape away most of the dill and spices and pat dry with a paper towel. Slice thinly with a very sharp knife on the diagonal.
For a luncheon, arrange 3 or 4 slices on buttered pumpernickel bread, garnish with one or 2 paper-thin slices of sweet onion, a few capers, and serve with the traditional Icelandic mustard-dill sauce.
A smaller portion makes a lovely first course for a seated dinner party. For canapes, use the gravlax plain and thinly sliced, accompanied with a tray of freshly baked Rye Brittle Bread.
Traditional Icelandic Dill Sauce
- 1 cup light olive oil or cooking oil
- 4 tablespoons cider vinegar
- 2 tablespoons Swedish mustard (Dijon is fine, too.)
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh dill
Whisk first 4 ingredients together, add the dill, mix lightly, and serve in a sauce boat next to the gravlax.
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Rye Brittle Bread
Yield: 4 Flat Sheets
- 1 package dry yeast
- 1 cup warm water
- ¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, plus ½ stick butter melted separately
- 1½ teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 cup white all-purpose flour
- 3 cups rye flour
- 2 tablespoons caraway seeds (optional)
Pour warm water into a large bowl, sprinkle in the yeast and stir until thoroughly dissolved. Add sugar, salt, and ½ pound melted butter, and whisk until sugar and salt are dissolved. Add 2 cups rye flour and beat until smooth.
Sift together 1 cup rye flour and 1 cup white flour and add to the first mixture to make a stiff dough. Divide into 2 batches and run each in a food processor with a steel blade for 3 minutes. If dough is too dry, add 2 tablespoons water, one at a time, watching for the dough to form into a ball. Or knead for 8 to 10 minutes by hand.
Form into one large ball and place in a buttered bowl, rolling to coat with butter. Cover with a clean tea towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350° if you want to bake it now.
Punch the dough down and divide into 4 equal pieces. Take one piece at a time and pat together in a small rectangle on a lightly floured piece of waxed paper. (Wipe the counter with a damp sponge before placing the waxed paper so that it will stay in place.) Roll out into a rough rectangle of about 12 x 14 inches. It should be as thin as possible. This is a very elastic dough and if you have trouble rolling it out, push the rolling pin away from your body, not back and forth. Lift the dough and turn it on the paper in order to roll it out evenly.
At this point, you can proceed to bake the bread or hold it until you want to use it. It is much better fresh and piping hot from the oven. To keep, simply roll up the wax paper with the dough inside it, wrap it in foil, and refrigerate for up to 6 hours until you want to bake it. Or wrap and freeze for months. Take it out of the freezer at least 3 hours before you want to bake it, so it has time to defrost completely before you try to unroll it.
To bake, place the unrolled rectangle on an un- greased cookie sheet in the preheated oven for 8 minutes. Melt the ½ stick of butter. Remove the bread from the oven, brush melted butter over the entire surface, and sprinkle on the caraway seeds. Return to the oven quickly and bake about 5 to 6 minutes more. It should be lightly browned and crisp. Slide whole on a silver platter or a board and allow guests to break off individual servings.
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Cucumber and Pepper Salad
- 3 medium-sized cucumbers
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1 ¼ teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 3 green bell peppers, cut into 2-inch squares
Peel and seed cucumbers (a melon baller works wellto seed}. Cut into 2-inch lengths. In a large bowl, stir the lime juice and salt together until the salt dissolves. Drop in the cucumbers and peppers, mix thoroughly, and cover with foil or plastic wrap. Marinate at room temperature for at least 8 hours before serving.
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- 2 pints fresh blueberries
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
- juice of 1 lemon
- ¼ pound butter
- 1 cup flour
- 1 cup blanched almonds, ground
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 400°.
Wash blueberries, drain, and place in an enamel pan. Add sugar and lemon juice and let stand l hour. Grind almonds in food processor or blender. Add flour, sugar, and vanilla and run the machine a few seconds to mix well. With the machine running drop in butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, through the feed tube and process 5 seconds. (If doing this by hand, cut butter into the mixture of dry ingredients and mix well.} Re-move to a bowl and set aside in a cool place.
Put blueberries, sugar, and lemon juice on low heat, bring to a boil, and simmer gently 10 to 12 minutes. Don't let the berries turn to mush. Remove from heat and add nutmeg. Sieve the juice off the berries into a heavy-bottomed pan. Place juice on the heat and reduce it to a thick syrup, about 15 minutes. Stir frequently and keep the heat low so the juice barely bubbles.
Butter an ovenproof dish, approximately 9 x 12 x 2 inches. Pour blueberries into a dish and pour the heavy syrup over them. Take half the almond-flour mixture and sprinkle over the top of the berries. Place in the preheated oven for 10 minutes.
Remove from the oven and sprinkle the remaining half of the almond mixture on top. Replace in the oven for another 8 to 10 minutes, until the top is lightly browned. Remove from the oven and let cool at least 15 minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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