People always ask me if the recipes on this blog are mine. Some of them are, but I also love trying out great recipes that I hear or read about. In all honesty, does it really matter? I mean, how original are anyone’s recipes anyway?
Enamored as I am of the New York Times‘s Dining Section, I picked up The Chefs of the Times a couple years ago. It’s a terrific cookbook. The contributing chefs are a “who’s who” in the culinary stratosphere: Romano, Vongerichten, Samuelsson, Boulud, Palmer, Portale, Keller, Richard, Trotter, et al. Each chef has a chapter devoted to them. What is great is that, as a preface to each recipe, each chef has composed a short written introduction about what they wanted to achieve and how they became satisfied with their finished product.
It is reassuring to keep in mind that for all their talent and ingenuity, chefs don’t exist in a vacuum. The concepts they are hoping to make reality on a plate are influenced by all kinds of things: nostalgia, personal experience, individual taste. I would also suspect that many of them owe a great deal more to Julia Child and Mastering the Art of French Cooking than they would admit in public. Certain taste combinations? They had to taste them first somewhere. The specific smoothness of mashed potatoes, for instance, that they are seeking? They must have compared theirs to either the incomparable smoothness of someone else’s potatoes, or the chunkiness of another’s.
Regardless, these little introductions are great windows into someone else’s creative process. It is true though that if you read a lot of cookbooks, you do start to see how much everyone’s recipes resemble one another. Everyone seems to have a version of Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s molten chocolate cake for example (if there was ever a recipe to which one person can lay the claim for “I was the first,” it would be this: JGV’s extremely lucky “mistake”).
Sometimes, you just make a recipe so many times, you stop actually needing to consult a recipe anymore.
This is one of them. I don’t even remember what the original recipe was. I make it a little differently every time, but the components are the same, as is the technique. This is from The Chefs of the Times. It is a Jean-Georges Vongerichten recipe and a damn good one. You can look up the original, or you can just feel your way through this one and make it your own.
Factor in one portion of salmon per person. You want to ask your fish monger for a center-cut fillet, about 2 to 2 1/2 inches wide. Skin on. Ask them to kindly remove the bones if you don’t want to do it yourself.
Estimate about one Russet potato per person. This will give you enough fluffy mashed potatoes for each guest, and just enough leftovers to eat cold out of the fridge at 3 o’clock in the morning the next day.
About 2 tablespoons of butter per potato
Heavy cream or milk, or a combo of both
About a tablespoon of grapeseed oil per person
About a tablespoon of roughly chopped chives per person
Salt and white pepper (optional) to taste
A hand-held blender, food processor, or blender
How to prepare:
1. There are a million ways to make mashed potatoes. Some people like really loose spuds, some people like it like Spackle. For this recipe, I like the potatoes creamy, but not too watery. Bring a pot of well-salted water to boil. While you are waiting for the water to boil, peel the potatoes and cut them into large dice. Boil them until you can easily crush a piece of potato against the side of the pot with a wooden spoon. Drain the potatoes in the pot. Add the butter and mash the potatoes with a potato masher. Add some heavy cream, milk, or a combo of the two, and continue to mash the potatoes. Keep adding as much liquid as you like, a little bit at a time, until you have achieved the consistency that you want.
2. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 250° (this is JGV’s genius idea). Lay the salmon fillets out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. You can put them skin-side up or down, depending on what you like better (I prefer up). You can smear them with a little grapeseed oil, but I’ve forgotten sometimes and no one has noticed. Put the salmon in the oven and set a timer for about 10 minutes. I’m serious. Just 10 minutes!
3. While the salmon is in the oven, blend or process the chives with the grapeseed oil and a little pinch of salt.
4. After 10 minutes, check the salmon. The meat should flake. It might look undercooked, but if it flakes and the skin comes off easily, it is done. If you would like it more done, just leave it in the oven for longer, checking it again every 2 minutes or so. Remove the skin. You can scrape any gray, fatty stuff or white protein off of the fillets before plating the dish.
5. Put a nice mound of mashed potatoes on a warmed plate. Top the potatoes with a piece of salmon. Drizzle the broken chive oil on top of the fillet and around the plate. Serve immediately.
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