Thursday, August 05, 2010

The Birth of Ricotta-Encrusted Salmon

Today was not the first time I've been asked to teach a cooking class.  But it was the first time someone asked me to teach "the basics."  What??  My friend explained, "People are very interested in learning classic techniques so they can look in the fridge and understand what ingredients will combine to make a meal."  Now that's a head-scratcher.  Do they want me to unearth the secrets of the food pyramid?  Or tips on stocking a fridge and pantry?  Do I compile a tome of flavor rules like "thou shalt not pair pickles with ice cream" and "thou shalt pair olives with anchovies"?  I told her I'd have to give it some thought.  But first, I would make some dinner.

On the way home from work, Mr. Rose and I stopped in to see Bruce.  He had the largest salmon head I have EVER seen in his fridge when I stopped in yesterday and I would take it home with me if he still had it.  He didn't.  But there was one little fillet of salmon left in his fridge, fresh off his friend's boat in Alaska.  I considered myself lucky that the tidbit weighed in as much as 10 oz.

But then I wondered: How do I prepare this tiny fillet of salmon?  It was bright red, but just a little flicker of a tail.  It might be nice to have more protein.  I opened the fridge and like a beacon of light, a glimmer of rich, whole milk ricotta flashed before my eyes.  What else?  Less than half a handful of capers, scattered on the bottom of a plastic container.  A misshapen hunk of parmegiano reggiano.  I opened the pantry and pulled out a box of panko.   I went to the garden and pulled back a behemoth tomato plant to find that the spicy globe basil and the chives were miraculously flourishing underneath.  This was very promising.  Capers, ricotta, parmegiano reggiano, basil, chives... some acids, some fats, some aromatics...
I minced the basil and capers and mixed them with the ricotta.  Then I grated the little hunk of parmegiano reggiano, minced the chives, and mixed them with panko.  I spread the ricotta mixture onto the flesh side of the salmon and attempted, without success, to roll it up.  I settled for a fold.
Then I beat an egg.  Oh damn.  I forgot to preheat the oven.  I didn't want the egg to sit under the panko for a long time and get the panko soggy with egg.  So I waited.  I hate waiting.  A lot goes through my mind when I'm waiting.  At this point, I was thinking, "We've got some Italian flavors on this piece of salmon, which is weird.  You know what's also weird?  There's all this Italian flavor but there's no olive oil.  Speaking of olive oil, how am I going to get the panko to brown?  I wish I had one of those misters that I could put olive oil in so I could spray the panko before I put it in the oven.  Maybe I could get the olive oil to go on first.  It would soak through somehow, wouldn't it?"

Literally.  That's what went through my mind while I waited for my little Aga to hit 375 degrees.

And then, I reached for a bottle of extra virgin and give the beaten egg a splash of it.  I beat it some more.  It frothed.  The oven light went off.  Show time!

Something about lipophilicity, oleophilicity, and/or surface tension made the egg-oil combination stick really well to the salmon skin and the exposed ricotta, and it did so evenly.  It was freshman year organic chemistry right before my very eyes!  I paused for a moment to bask in that knowledge.  And then the panko mixture went on.  Feast your eyes on this beauty.
To silence the thoughts in my mind while I waited for the salmon to cook, I busied my hands by making a garden salad, checking now and then on the salmon.  Once in the oven, the salmon tail had unfurled itself.  I turned the light on and watched the whole thing take place.  No, I didn't get the folded salmon fillet I expected, but the panko browned perfectly.
And without realizing it, I had considered the food pyramid, the stock in my fridge and pantry, and flavor pairings, all while assembling this meal.  The recipe for the ricotta-encrusted salmon is below.  Stay tuned for details on cooking classes as the mechanics of my thought process become clear to me, one meal at a time.

Ricotta-Encrusted Salmon (serves 2)
10 oz. salmon fillet
1/4 c. ricotta
2 tbsp minced spicy basil
2 tbsp minced capers
2 tbsp minced chives
2 tbsp finely grated parmegiano reggiano
1/3 c. panko
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and ground pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  In a small bowl, mix the basil and capers into the ricotta until well-incorporated.  Add ground pepper to the mixture, to taste.  Rinse salmon under cold water and pat dry with paper towel.  Spread the ricotta mixture onto the flesh side of the salmon so that it covers the salmon in an even layer.  In another small bowl, mix the chives, parmegiano reggiano, and a pinch of coarsely ground pepper with the panko.  In a separate bowl, beat the olive oil into the egg until it is well-mixed and barely foamy.  Coat the ricotta-covered salmon with the egg mixture (N.B. not all of the egg mixture is used in this process).  Sprinkle the panko mixture over the ricotta-covered salmon.  All of the panko will be used.  Place the salmon on a baking sheet and bake for approximately 10 minutes, when panko is lightly browned. 


  1. This looks absolutely delicious!!! I love it when I completely whip something together and it turns out perfectly :) Way to be creative and work with what you have (maybe a little lesson you can teach in your class??)


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