What’s your favorite dish?
If you were to be shot at dawn, what would you want for your last dinner?
What’s your favorite restaurant in Rome?
Food writers and restaurant critics get hit with these questions all the time, at cocktail parties and chance encounters in the produce aisle alike. On Monday night I answered some of them for a sell-out cooking class of 52 hungry foodies at Great News! Discount Cookware & Cooking School in Pacific Beach.
The class featured my favorite restaurant dishes, gathered during 30 years of eating my way around the globe and writing about it for The San Diego Union-Tribune, Cooking Light magazine, and this blog.
There was an oxtail ragout with mashed potatoes in Paris; perfect Wienerschnitzel in the Tyrolian Alps; pan-fried lobster at Jasper White’s Summer Shack in Boston; and an eight-course truffle extravaganza in Piobesi d’Alba, Italy that started with a bubbly fonduta of melted fontina cheese, eggs and butter, buried under a blanket of shaved white truffles. All these treats, and more, made it into my Union-Tribune article on the 25 best things I ate in 25 years on the job.
In the Great News! class I shared the recipes --- and samples --- of five memorable dishes from that list , including the Fried Green Tomatoes that I’m holding in the above photo. These golden brown beauties, crisp on the outside, moist and tangy within, stole the show during a fabulous dinner at Keswick Hall in Charlottesville, Virginia. Craig Hartman, chef of Fossett’s Restaurant at this stately resort (pictured here) in the rolling Virginia countryside, batters fat, juicy slices of tomato, pats them with fluffy panko (Japanese breadcrumbs), and fries them. He then treats each slice to a dollop of roasted garlic-fresh herb mayonnaise and a drizzle of “bacon vinaigrette” made with apple cider and maple syrup.
Chef Charlie Palmer’s Salmon Tartar with Citrus Cream is another upscale restaurant creation that can be duplicated in a home kitchen. Who would have thought of marinating tiny cubes of fresh salmon in German Riesling wine and a blizzard of minced herbs? Palmer, that’s who. And he does a splendid job with the concept at his Aureole Las Vegas restaurant in the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino.
The bright, fragrant herb mixture includes cilantro, chives and mint. Chopped capers and shallots add both texture and zing. And the light, fruity Riesling brings out the best in the silken fish.
Palmer's presentation is elegant and easy. Choose a pretty martini glass, spoon in a bit of the salmon tartar. Float a bit of cold Riesling on top. Garnish with the Citrus Cream and microgreens. If you're feeling ambitious, you can create the dramatic and cracklingly delicious Citrus Tuile shown here, too.
Even with the Citrus Cream and the Micro Cilantro Salad (you can substitute another microgreen if cilantro isn’t available), we’re looking at just 15 or 20 minutes to create a dish that shows up nightly in one of the country’s most acclaimed restaurants.
Here’s the recipe:
SALMON TARTAR WITH CITRUS CREAM
From Aureole Las Vegas
Serves 6-8 as appetizer
RIESLING MARINATED SALMON TARTAR
8 – 10 ounces fresh salmon fillet, cut into small dice
1 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
1 tbsp fresh chives, chopped
½ tbsp fresh mint, chopped
1 shallot, finely diced
1 tsp capers, chopped fine
Riesling wine, preferably German, to cover salmon, about 1 cup
Zest of one lime
Zest of one lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large mixing bowl combine salmon, cilantro, chives, mint, shallots and capers. Mix thoroughly. Add the zest of one lemon and one lime. Season the salmon tartar mixture with salt and pepper.
MICRO CILANTRO SALAD (Garnish)
8 oz fresh micro cilantro
Zest of one lemon
Extra virgin olive oil to bind
Salt and pepper to taste
In a small mixing bowl, combine micro cilantro and lemon zest. Season with salt and pepper. Toss lightly with a small amount of olive oil.
6 oz crème fraiche
Zest of one lemon and one lime
1/2 tbsp yuzu juice
Measure the Crème Fraiche and place in a small mixing bowl. Add lemon and lime zest and mix thoroughly. Add Yuzu Juice and whisk until crème fraiche is smooth and fluffy. (Yuzu is a sour Japanese citrus fruit. The juice can usually be found in Asian markets. A bit of lemon juice can be substituted.)
Place the salmon tartar in the bottom of a martini glass. Pour enough Riesling over the tartar to almost cover it. Place one tablespoon of citrus cream on top of tartar. Garnish the citrus cream with the micro cilantro salad. If desired, stick one elegant wedge of Palmer's Citrus Tuile into the tartar.
1 sheet of phyllo dough (store bought)
Zest of one lime and one lemon
1 tbsp sugar
1-2 egg whites, lightly beaten
Cut one sheet of store bought phyllo dough in half. With a pastry brush, spread egg white over surface of dough. Combine sugar, lemon and lime zest in a small bowl. Sprinkle phyllo dough with half of the sugar and lime zest mixture. Place other half of phyllo sheet on top. Brush the top layer with egg whites and sprinkle with the remaining sugar and lime zest mixture. Using one large ( 8” ) metal round circle cutter as a template, cut the dough into a perfect circle. If you do not have a metal cutter, invert a soup bowl on to the phyllo dough and use it as a template to cut the phyllo into a perfect circle. Place phyllo dough circle onto a silpat mat lined cookie sheet. Bake in 400 degree Fahrenheit oven until crispy and brown. Cut citrus tuile into pie shape pieces.