Jasper Johns ‘Three Flags’ 1958

July Fourth is the day I first landed in the US, New York to be precise… so each year it’s my excuse to mark the milestone with poached salmon. It was at my first Fourth of July picnic in Maine that I was introduced to the tradition of salmon, fresh peas and strawberry shortcake as the menu for that holiday. The setting for the festivities was the beautiful expanse of beach at Reid State Park, in Georgetown. It was also my introduction to Ruth, a hearty elderly woman, and her slew of children, grandchildren and extended family of friends. “Isn’t this the world’s most beautiful day” she declared as she plunked on the picnic table an entire poached salmon. She was prone, I soon discovered, to make this declaration  no matter what the weather.

It mattered not that we had to fish long dog hairs out of the salmon and the various casseroles she prepared. She raised Lhasa Apsos, and with utter nonchalance would regale us with adventures involved in providing dogs to the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Paul Newman. Her crusty, bearded husband Joe, the story goes, not knowing who Newman was kept him waiting out in the rain until Ruth assured it was okay to let him in, the man had come to buy a puppy. The tiny dining room cum kitchen of her antique filled house by the water often had at least twenty five puppies yapping and jumping about and doing their business any where they wished, making it necessary for us to watch where we stepped and where we sat. A magnificent, caged scarlet macaw that shouted obscenities, picked up from Joe, added to the mayhem. A never ending supply of John Begg Scotch helped us keep our sanity. We all adored and worshipped Ruth and accepted Joe, who traced his ancestry to royalty from the Alsace. The redolence of pipe tobacco, and gallon jugs of pink Gallo wine he imbibed starting at breakfast, followed him where ever he went. They were technically separated but a toaster oven he had forgotten about burnt down the nearby cottage where he lived. So Ruth assigned him a room in her attic but seldom took him out with her to socialize. There were no Thanksgiving dinners without Ruth presiding along with her brood; followed the next day by her ‘turkey gloop,’ which was basically all the leftovers put into a casserole and glued together with mushroom soup and baked. She was game for a party or picnic with little or no notice right up to the time she passed away, well into her eighties. Ruth was our magnet to Maine.

We still follow the numerous tips she handed down to us for cooking, for living life to its fullest, and most valuable of all her philosophy on house keeping: “My heavens, there’s no need to clean your house before a party. Just fill the house with fresh flowers and candle light and no one will know the difference.” One tip I chose to ignore was her theory that the best way to poach a salmon was in the dish washer.  It was only after she died that I attempted preparing my own salmon. During my student years in Paris I would drool at the display of poached salmons, glistening under aspic, at the luxurious food store, Fauchon. I couldn’t imagine anyone cutting into and ruining those masterful works of art.  Now each Fourth of July I create my own version of poached salmon, or what I call ‘boached’ salmon since I poach it in the oven. With some planning ahead, a bit of patience, your imagination and a lot of love, you too can create a culinary work of art.

Poached Salmon In Cucumber Aspic For The Fourth Of July

The evening before serving:

Heat oven to 450 degrees

Line a baking tray with foil. Scatter some sliced onions, bay leaf, peppercorns, few slices of lemon and a few sprigs fresh tarragon and thyme (optional). Add a 1/4 cup of white wine and a splash of Pernod (optional).

Place a salmon filet (2-3 lbs. approx.) skin side up and completely wrap with more foil.

Bake for approx. 15 minutes. Refrigerate overnight, after cooling.

Next morning prepare the aspic:

Sprinkle 1 1/2 tbs. of gelatin with a little water till dissolved.

add two cups boiling water, some lemon juice, dash of salt and 1/4 tps. sugar. Stir until blended.

Now…

Uncover foil from the top of the salmon and peel off skin.

Turn the salmon over onto a serving platter, remove remaining foil and discard spices, onions etc.. Leave any natural gelatin on top.

Slice one European cucumber and make scales over the salmon. Retun to fridge to keep chilled.

When gelatin is cooled, but not jelled, dribble over centre of cucumbers and chill.

Repeat this step layer by layer until you have a shiny coat of aspic. If the gelatin in the pot sets, reheat just a little to soften.

Serve with dill sauce.

Chop a bunch of fresh baby dill, italian parsley, chives, tarragon, some red onions, lemon juice and mix into 8 ozs. of sour cream mixed with a few tbs. of mayonnaise. Salt pepper to taste. You can experiment with whatever herbs you might have on hand.

You can decorate this any way you like. Sometimes I cover salmon with a few strips of chive and an olive for the eye and cover in aspic. I have surrounded the salmon pictured below with a salade macedoine: basically I use a 16 oz. bag of cooked frozen mixed vegetables with chopped red onions, half a chopped apple, mayonnaise and a dash of balsamic vinegar.

Salmon, step # 1, ©Sukanya Rahman

 

Poached salmon in cucumber aspic © Sukanya Rahman

Poached Salmon ©Sukanya Rahman

Poached Salmon ©Sukanya Rahman

Sukanya Rahman © first published in Art Insider 2010