Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Salmon Tartare


With 80 hour work weeks and only 4 off days per month, dating while in residency is seriously tough! Certain things make dating in residency even harder...I'm guilty of all of them...
1) Dating another resident:  
2) Specifically dating a surgery resident: 
3) Long distance with said surgery resident: 

So...when it comes to date night (which only happens once per month), I do not mess around. At baseline, I have a tendency to go a little (fine, a lot) overboard with things (I blame you, Ina Garten). Needless to say, I bring it to a new level of mashugana when it comes to the whole romantic cooking thing.

I constructed this salmon tartare recipe earlier this year when planning a special Valentine's Day dinner (or more accurately, a January 23rd close-enough-day dinner). I had very limited free time that month while on a busy Cardiology rotation, so I planned the main course weeks in advanced. I actually had the butcher deliver a rack of lamb to Emory Hospital, which I stored in the staffroom fridge. I used it to made rosemary dijon crusted rack of lamb served over saffron rice with currants, pistachios and herbs.

Since the main course was on the heavy side, I aimed to make a very simple and refreshing salmon appetizer using very basic ingredients that highlighted the freshness of the fish. (I am highly offended by tartare recipes that mask the delicate salmon flavors with mustards and other pungent sauces, so I avoided any overpowering ingredients). The outcome was a light and rich dish that looked beautiful in my floating martini glasses chilled on ice. It was a memorable night, and the bar is definitely set high for next year...


The dish was so good that I replicated it just a few days later when co-hosting a dinner party with a neighbor. You know a recipe is a hit when guests fight over the last few bits of tartar-ey goodness at the bottom of the bowl. We served the appetizer in the kitchen with champagne and crackers and took turns stirring the risotto that we served with pan seared chilean sea bass as the main course. So much fun!



Four months later, I'm still hot and heavy for this dish, and so are my guests. I made the salmon tartare for my sister and her roommates this past Sunday along with Ramp Pesto and Spring Peas and it definitely got "wows."

Before we get to the recipe, just a quick word on consuming raw fish. The biggest hazard to raw fish consumption are parasites. The term "sushi-grade" gets thrown around often, but its meaning is not well regulated. There is a lot of contradictory and vague information on the internet on this topic.

I interviewed the fishmonger at Fairway Market and Whole Foods about their "sushi-grade" fish and got very different answers.  At Fairway, I was told the "organic" salmon was safe to eat raw. But when I asked about how it was different than the non-organic salmon beside it, he could not answer. The fishmonger at Whole Foods, on the other hand, would only recommend their "deep-frozen" salmon or tuna for raw consumption. He explained that the freezing process kills off parasites, but because the fish is flash frozen at such a low temperature, it preserves the texture, color, and taste of the fish.


While it's very possible that the Fairway salmon was actually "sushi-grade," I felt uncomfortable with the explanation I was given and personally would not eat it raw. It's illogical to assume that fresh or "organic" fish would equates to lower risk for infection. It's true that certain species and types of fish (fresh vs salt water or wild vs farmed) are at varying degrees of risk for infection, but as a non-expert on the topic, I prefer taking extra precautions. So please do your research prior to buying salmon for this recipe.

Tips/Tricks to Make the Perfect Salmon Tartare:
  • Mise en place! Do your prep (peel, slice, chop) before starting! It will keep you more organized and will minimize the time the raw fish is out of the refrigerator.  
  • Cutting salmon will be easier if it's still slightly frozen
  • Taste as you go and adjust the recipe accordingly. This recipe is very delicate, so I'd recommend adding in ingredients gradually until you reach the desired result. Too much sesame oil can ruin a dish. Don't be that guy.
  • I prefer generously sized chunks of salmon, but it's definitely a personal preference. The dish will be equally as awesome with smaller pieces of salmon. 
Salmon Tartare Ingredients:
  • 1.5 pounds sushi grade salmon
  • 2.5 tablespoons fresh lime juice (juice from about 2-3 limes)
  • 1/2 teaspoon lime zest
  • 5 tablespoons of scallions, white and green parts, thinly sliced. Plus extra for garnish (about 2-3 scallions)
  • 1 serrano pepper, minced (about 1.5 teaspoons)
  • 1/2 habañero pepper, minced (about 3/4 teaspoon)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled and minced (about 1 inch of whole ginger)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
  • 2 teaspoons of toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1-2 tablespoons of sesame seeds for garnish (preferably both white and black, if available)  
Serves 5 as an appetizer


Salmon Tartare Recipe:

If the salmon is still frozen, keep the fish in its packaging and run under cold water to partially thaw till just the middle remains slightly firm. Remove from the packaging. If salmon is not frozen, place in freezer for 15-20 minutes prior to handling.

Dice Salmon into Small Chunks (roughly 1/4'' x 1/4'' x 1/2''):
Take the (mostly) thawed salmon and slice lengthwise into 1/4'' sheets using a sharp knife.  For the salmon pieces that are rectangular (i.e have a constant width along the sheet), cut them in half lengthwise to form long strips (about 1/2'' wide). If the salmon sheets are wide at one end and taper off towards the other, start by cutting the sheet crosswise at the wide-narrow transition point. The wider piece is then cut in half lengthwise to form strips, whereas the narrow piece should already be at the desired width. Last, cut each strip crosswise into 1/4'' pieces to form bite-size chunks. Place in a glass or nonreactive bowl.


    Add the lime juice, lime zest, scallions, serrano and habañero pepper, ginger, sesame oil, and olive oil to the bowl. Toss gently. Add the salt, a few grinds of black pepper, and cilantro. Again, toss gently. Season to taste. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for at least one hour.

    In the meantime, place the white sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned (about 3-5 minutes). Remove from heat and combine with the black sesame seeds.  Set aside.

    When ready to serve, assemble the tartare as individual portions or plate in a decorative platter for sharing. Sprinkle each plate with a generous pinch of sesame seeds and a few chopped scallions for garnish.



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