I've been reading Ruhlman's Twenty: 20 Techniques 100 Recipes A Cook's Manifesto after receiving a review copy, and it's written in such a straightforward, accessible style, it's a pleasure to read. This is no dry, kitchen science textbook. Instead, it offers twenty topics and all the ways those topics affect different types of cooking, and there are recipes with photos for each. Whatever your level of comfort with cooking, each chapter offers clear explanations of techniques and concepts that will improve your skills in the kitchen and the food you serve. From the very basics of being organized in the kitchen to seasoning to the various wonders of eggs and on and on, this book offers examples, tips, and some scientific facts about what works best and why. In the butter chapter, the basics of how butter shortens the strands of gluten in flour are explained, and then there's a description of beurre monte which is made by whisking butter into hot water and can be used to poach shellfish. There's also a mention of brown butter, compound butters, and butter used for confit. The reminders and insights about all of the uses of this one simple ingredient were an inspiration. With an understanding of basic techniques, you can cook with confidence and creativity. At the end of each chapter, there are corresponding recipes that make you want to put the ideas into practice, and it wasn't long before I was on my way to the kitchen.
Chapter two is about salt, and it includes types of salt, seasoning, brining, and preserving. Two recipes I started immediately were the lemon confit and the citrus-cured salmon. They are both so unbelievably easy, I have no idea why I'd never tried either before. For the lemons, they're simply packed with a mix of salt and sugar, covered with water and left to cure for a month. Check back in a few weeks, and I'll be mentioning them again. The salmon is almost as simple as the lemons. I'm so glad I decided to try this right after seeing it in the book. I luckily showed up at the fish counter on the last day that fresh, wild salmon was available this year. I brought home a big fillet and prepared the cure. Two parts salt to one part sugar were combined, and a lemon, a lime, an orange, and a grapefruit were zested. Organic citrus is best to avoid any chemical residue on the outer skin when using the zest. Some of the salt mixture was placed on a big piece of foil, the salmon was set on that, the citrus zests were sprinkled over the salmon, and the remaining salt mixture was poured over the top. Another piece of foil was placed over the salmon, and it was tightly folded together and sealed all around. The foil package was placed on a baking sheet, and a baking pan weighted down with jars from the refrigerator was set on top of the salmon. By pressing the salmon, more water is released as it cures. It was left in the refrigerator for 24 hours. Some recipes from other sources do suggest a longer curing time, and it depends on the thickness of the salmon. You should check it after 24 hours, and if the flesh still feels raw, leave it in the cure for another day. Since the salmon I used was rather thin, 24 hours was enough time for it to become firm. The salt mixture was washed off, the salmon was dried, and it was time to slice.
The only difficulty with home-cured salmon is slicing. A long, thin, serrated knife is best, but a bread knife was the closest thing I had. I did what I could. The slices weren't nearly as perfect and lovely as store-bought cured salmon, but I was proud of them anyway. I'll definitely be curing salmon again in the future, so I'll eventually get more practice at this. First, I had to use some salmon on a bagel. It was fresh and lovely with just a hint of citrus. Up next, I used some of the salmon in the smoked salmon panzanella with feta, dill, and grapes from the book For Cod and Country. It was a minor luxury to have so much cured salmon on hand, and now that I'm comfortable with that technique, I'm looking forward to mastering a few more of the twenty.