The dish I’m showing today would be perfect for celebrating Midsummer. I’ve never been to Sweden or any part of the Nordic region, but I’d love to visit during the Midsummer festival and enjoy daylight all night long. As usual, I’ve been virtually traveling with a cookbook, and this time it’s The Nordic Cookbook by Magnus Nilsson. I received a review copy of this hefty book that covers traditional and contemporary foods from Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, the Faroe Islands, Iceland, and Greenland. Nilsson set out to show the similarities as well as the differences between each part of the Nordic culture. Several dishes are found in multiple locations and go by different names in each place, and some are unique to one area. He accepted that the book could never be a complete record of all the recipes from this large area, but it was intended to inform the reader about this food culture and provide guidance in creating some of that food. It also includes beautiful photos of the areas that were visited during the research phase. There’s a simplicity to the ingredients and most preparations, and flavors are brightened by vinegars, horseradish, and herbs. I loved all the potato recipes including several potato salads, soups, creamed potatoes, gratins, potato cakes, and Potatoes Hasselbacken. Why have I never made those? I learned the dish was invented in the 1950s at a restaurant that became a cooking school called Hasselbacken. There are meat and poultry dishes, sausage and charcuterie, breads and waffles and dumplings, cakes and pastries, and a chapter for little cookies and other sweets that I imagine would be perfect on a holiday cookie tray. I really enjoyed reading about all the various fish dishes with fresh, pickled, smoked, and dried variations. I really like pickled shrimp, so I had to try the Poached and Pickled Salmon since fresh wild salmon season is in full swing.
In the end, the dish is a bit of a decomposed salad, and you can mix and match whatever items you’d like to serve with the salmon. Making the salmon itself was as easy as it gets. Fresh salmon fillets were cut into portions and placed in a heat-proof dish. Water was brought to a boil with salt, red wine vinegar, white vinegar, chopped carrots, sliced fennel, sliced onion, chopped celery, thyme springs, bay leaves, parsley stalks, and peppercorns. I'm thrilled to finally get to use my own thyme growing right outside once again. After boiling for a minute, the hot water, with vegetables and herbs, was poured over the salmon, and it was left to cool to room temperature. This steeping step was how the salmon was cooked. Once cool, the salmon was left in the liquid with the vegetables and herbs and refrigerated overnight. The next day, I made a homemade mayonnaise with dill to serve with the salmon. Fresh, new potatoes and purple long beans from Boggy Creek Farm were my cooked accompaniments to the salmon. And, I sliced some lacto-fermented cucumber pickles I had in the refrigerator as well. The chilled salmon was served with the carrot and fennel alongside the boiled potatoes and blanched beans with a dollop of dill mayonnaise and some pickle slices. Each bite of salmon and potato was swiped through the rich mayonnaise.
The flavor of the salmon was mildly pickled, and I might add more vinegar to the steeping liquid next time. But, the mayonnaise was bright and lively with the vinegar in it and the dill. Those fresh, boiled potatoes went so well with the other parts of the dish. And, it could be presented in different ways. The salmon could be flaked rather than left as a fillet, or all the parts could be combined for a less-deconstructed salad. However it’s served, it’s a great way to celebrate summer.
Poached and Pickled Salmon
Recipe reprinted from The Nordic Cookbook by Magnus Nilsson with publisher's permission (Phaidon, $49.95 US/$59.95 CAN, October 2015)
This is a real summer dish, often served with Boiled Potatoes, Dill Mayonnaise, and Quick Pickled Cucumber. The pickled vegetables are delicious and should also be served with the fish. The salmon is not pickled in the sense that herrings are pickled and won’t keep for very long but should be eaten within a week if stored in the refrigerator. In a restaurant, where you would fillet a whole salmon to make this dish, it’s a good idea to cook the salmon bones and head together with the pickling liquor. If you do so, it will produce a light and very delicious jelly when it cools down. If you decide to try this at home, then add the bones, head and any salmon scraps you have to the pickling liquor, but leave out the vegetables. Bring it slowly to a simmer, then let it sit for 5 minutes before proceeding as described below. If you like the idea of the jelly, but you have no fish bones, then add 2 leaves of gelatin per 1 litre/34 fl oz (4 1/4 cups) of finished pickling syrup.
Preparation and cooking time: 30 minutes
Pickling time: overnight
800 g/1 3/4 lb salmon fillet, cut into 4 pieces
50 g/2 oz (1/4 cup) sugar
2 tablespoons salt
100 ml/3 1/2 fl oz (1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon) red wine vinegar
100 ml/3 1/2 fl oz (1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon)
Attika (12%) vinegar or white distilled vinegar
2 carrots, cut into 5 mm/1/4 inch slices
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 small fennel bulb, sliced
1 celery stalk, chopped
1 sprig thyme
2 bay leaves
12 white peppercorns
1 handful parsley stalks
Place the salmon pieces in a pot and keep at room temperature to warm up slightly.
Pour 2 litres/3 1/2 UK pints (8 1/4 cups) water into another pot and add the sugar,salt and vinegars. (Remember that it needs to be saltier than you would think because it is supposed to season the salmon. 2 tablespoons fine salt could be a starting point point but you will have to taste your way forward.) Bring to the boil, then add the vegetables and aromatics and continue boiling for 1 minute. Pour the pickling liquor over the pieces of salmon in the other pot and leave to cool to room temperature.
Refrigerate the salmon in the pickling liquor overnight. Serve the salmon cold.
I hate mayo that is not thick enough; it should be stiff! If not, it goes very liquid from dilution as soon as it comes in contact with any type of moist food you are eating or mixing it with. Add more oil if it isn’t really thick. If you are using it in a sauce that has more liquids in it, or a salad, it could be on the verge of splitting from containing a lot of oil when you mix it with the remaining ingredients. The water content in the thing you are mixing the mayo with will make it perfect as it dilutes it a bit.
Preparation time: 20 minutes
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons white vinegar
250 ml/8 fl oz (1 cup) neutral oil
salt and white pepper, to taste
a handful of chopped dill leaves
Put the egg yolks in a bowl. Whisk in the mustard and vinegar then season with a pinch of salt and a little white pepper. Add the oil, a drop at a time, beating slowly but constantly, until no oil remains and the mayo is nice and thick. Stir in chopped dill. Season to taste.
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