Monday, February 7, 2011

Birthday Meal

It's that time of year again. A little over, actually.

Every year, for Natalie's birthday, I try to scratch-build a recipe. Something new, especially for her.

One of the benefits of being untrained in cooking is that I don't know what's been done before, you see. I can blithely go ahead, put some stuff together, and be pleased with it, neither knowing nor caring if it already exists in some celebrity chef's compendium of recipes somewhere. Therefore, the dish that follows is an original - as far as I'm concerned. Your Mileage May Vary.

Smoked Salmon Salad With Sour Cream, Grilled Vegetables, and Potato Rosti.

Obviously, this one comes in several parts. First, preparing the cream:

I wanted a little texture, so I didn't stick to plain sour cream. I added chopped fresh dill and baby capers and black pepper for flavour, and I used a little gelatine to 'set' the sour cream so I could layer it without having it run everywhere. Pretty easy -- 400ml sour cream, a dessertspoon of gelatine powder, and just enough boiling water to dissolve the gelatine. Whisk the gelatine until it's a bit cooler. Throw in a good handful of chopped fresh dill, a couple tablespoons of pickled baby capers, and whisk the whole lot together. Put it in the fridge to cool.

The salad:

This was nice and easy. 250gm or so smoked salmon, chopped into little pieces. Four nice, ripe tomatoes, cut into small cubes. A handful of fresh basil leaves, shredded. Sea salt to taste, squeeze of fresh lemon juice over the top, stir the lot together.

The rosti: Oh, come on. Potato rosti, man. Grate the better part of a kilo of fresh, washed potatoes. Squeeze out the moisture. Add a couple eggs, some salt and pepper, and 1/3rd cup of so of self-raising flour. Stir the lot together. Put enough oil in a well-seasoned pan to allow shallow frying. Fry big dollops of the potato mix. Use a metal eggflip to squish your dollops down to about 1cm thick. Turn them once. Fry over moderate heat until both sides are golden brown. (If you wanna get really arty, grease a couple egg-rings and throw them in. Use 'em to confine your rosti into an anal-retentive circle shape.)

The grilled veg: I used big slices of capsicum and garden-fresh zucchini. They got salted and peppered, and coated with olive oil. Then I put them under the grill until they got a bit of colour. Finally, I put them in a bowl and drizzled them with a little balsamic vinegar and a little white truffle oil. (Don't miss that last, if you can. Mmmm!)

Assembly: on each plate, I laid out the zucchini and capsicum slices in a star shape. A potato rosti went into the centre of each star. On top of each rosti I spread a thick layer of the sour cream. And atop that went a couple good dollops of the salmon salad. Finally, I laid some very thin Vidalia onion rings decoratively over the top.

Job done.

The dish went really, really well with a truly remarkable '03 Pipers Brook Chardonnay cleanskin. The sweetness of the vegetables and balsamic vinegar nicely complemented the smoky, salty salmon, and the tang of lemon, with the tomato and the basil providing lovely, complex aftertastes. The rosti were crunchy on the outside, and firm but soft through the middle, providing a lovely contrast of textures - and the amazing scent of truffles kind of floated through the whole meal.

Natalie actually had two whole plates worth - which is a bit of a miracle, since she's a careful eater. But it really was a wonderful dish.

I finished up with a baked custard (because the chickens have been laying heavily) and stewed blackberries. So now we're all lying around, burping gently...