Thursday, January 8, 2009

Salmon with Aioli and Leeks

You could say it is a New Year's resolution of mine to cook more French food and less Italian. And now that I think of it, why? Italian food is quite delicious, and I pretty much know what I'm doing. I'm familiar with the ingredients and techniques, yet there is still so much I haven't cooked, so many territories yet to be discovered, enjoyed and documented. And I'm so much less likely to biff things up. But that would be so boring--delicious, but boring. I got a couple French cookbooks for Christmas, and I wasted no time jumping into a braised lentils recipe one dark and lonely night a couple weeks ago. But then friends called and I was out eating Creole rice with them mid-preparation. As a result (or maybe because of some other fluke), the lentil were heinous and inedible. Well, I did eat them, but I didn't enjoy it. And then I tried to bring the leftovers to work and the smell solicited dry heaves.
But instead of giving up, I went straight for the gold, the quintessential French accoutrement: aioli. Made of garlic and olive oil, what's not to like about the sauce? Well, there's a thickening process for one thing, and that always makes me nervous (unnecessarily in this case, and now I'm fascinated with emulsifying). And raw egg yolks, hmm, fishy. I'm no chef, but I'm pretty sure the lemon juice and vinegar cook the eggs. Truly, this recipe was surprisingly easy, not very messy and pretty quick.
I even got to use my garlic mincer last night. The mincer may have been the kitchen accessory that spawned my interest in cooking. Before then I thought the only garlic available was in a powder or salt. What's not fun about squeezing the guts out of a pungent clove?
But when I got to the part of the recipe that said "1 1/2 cups olive oil," I balked. "WTF? We're in an economic crisis here, I am not pouring five dollars worth of oil into aioli." It turned out I didn't even have that much oil.
So I halved the recipe (the remainder of the oil is back in that bottle), and voila, still more aioli than I was able to use on the salmon. What I love about this as well is that there is so much room for improvisation on this recipe. I've seen aioli with all manner of herbs and spices. One of my favorite restaurants serves it with their sweet potato fries--a-maz-ing. The salmon recipe is a tweak from The French Market by Joanne Harris and Fran Ward--do yourself a favor and skip the braised puy lentil recipe--with aioli and leeks instead of straigh dijon mustard (leeks are a mild member of the onion family, no worries, that's a vegetable I've looked up before on Wikipedia).
Aioli: 4 cloves garlic, minced sea salt (or kosher) 2 egg yolks 3/4 teaspoon dijon mustard 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar (yeah, I used balsamic) 1 1/2 cup olive oil pepper Mince garlic cloves (or bash up with a pestel and mortar) and whisk with salt. Add egg yolks (if you save the whites you can make macaroons--I am kicking myself for letting them go down the drain), vinegar and dijon and whisk together until smooth. Slowly whisk in the oil. Add pepper and more salt to taste. Salmon with Aioli and Leeks: 2 salmon fillets 1 leek aioli olive oil salt and pepper Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place fillets on baking tray and sprinkle with olive oil, salt and pepper. Brush aioli generously onto the fillets. Dice leeks to make little disks (as seen in the photo above) and place on the fillets. Bake for 12 minutes or until the salmon is flaky.

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