WHEN I was growing up in New England, we ate salmon, peas, potatoes and blueberry pie on the Fourth of July. Still a nice tradition at this time of year, particularly since excellent fresh salmon can be found whole or cut into steaks or fillets at less than $5 a pound.
This celebratory meal starts with Consomme Belleview embellished with full-bodied dry sherry. The salmon is a classic poached fish made contemporary by being boned, stuffed with a thin delicious green line of sauteed leeks and minced parsley and served cold with a caper mayonnaise. The cold vegetable platte accompanying the salmon consists of cooked potatoes cut into sticks, saturated with bouillon and finished off with a mild mustard vinaigrette and sprinkles of paper-thin scallion slices. With the potatoes are wilted cucumber sticks flavored with dill and vinaigrette plus just-cooked asparagus sticks presented in a light tart dressing of heavy cream thickened with lemon juice. Dessert is a glorious Fourth blueberry pie; a supershort crust burnished to a stunning brown, fat with berries, more tart than sweet -- the perfect vehicle for vanilla ice cream.
The Consomme Belleview, which Michael Field presented as a classic that he had modified, is a combination of clam and chicken broth simmered with minced garlic, then strained and garnished with lemon rind and parsley. The sherry is a fine whiteknight invention that gives the soup a bit of body and further smooths it. And what a joy it is to have such a refreshing first course in minutes. Even though the soup is served hot, its light tang makes it perfect for a warm summer night.
Salmon and leeks, both in full season now, combine to make a beautiful and delicious dish. The salmon is boned but remains in one piece since the back is left intact rather than cut through. This operation can be performed at the fish store or by the cook at home. I find a long, thin, fexible filleting knife a most effective tool. The fish can then be flipped open and the leek and parsley stuffing spread in a thin layer on one side. When the fish is closed back on itself, it is lightly wrapped in cheesecloth to hold it together while it is cooked. When the salmon is cool, it is sliced to reveal a pretty green line of stuffing in the center.
The salmon is poached in a cimple white court bouillon which can thenbe reduced and made into a sparkling aspic, all with very little effort, and all in advance. It iss always a wonder to clarify an aspic. In this case, the reduced court bouillon starts ot as a cloudy mess full of globules of egg whites and pieces of egg shell, but then when it passes through cheesecloth it miraculously becomes a sparkling, clear liquid that sets into a jewel-like jelly. When the chopped aspic is placed around the fish on its serving platter, the fish look as though it is afloat in a pale amber sea. If an aspic is not wanted, the court bouillon can be decanted into jars, frozen and reused for the next fish.
The salmon is served with a caper mayonnaise made mild by washing and drying the capers before they are chopped and added to the sauce. A platter of cold, individually dressed vegetables cut into sticks of various widths makes a fine accompaniment to the fish. In addition to a superb, light-textured French potato salad, there are wilted cucumber sticks, without which salmon should not be eaten, and crunchy asparagus in a mild cream dressing. For some, French bread is a natural and necessary accompaniment to the main course.
My recent experiments with bluebery pie-making revealed that most recipes call for too much sugar in the bluberries and too ordinary a crust for the pie. The berries in this recipe are definitely not cloying. I find te addition of a few drops of imported French blueberry essence helpful, especially since wild blueberries with their dashing flavor are not to be found and because cultivated blueberries can be a bit bland.
The crust here is very short indeed; that is, it contains a maximum of butter and shortening. I make this crust, as I do all crusts, in the food processor. The butter and shortening must be very cold when they are incorporated into the flour. I measure these and cut the butter into pieces in advance so they can sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour before I make the dough. The dough must also be very cold before it is rolled out, so it is a good idea to make it the day before and leave it in the refrigerator until it is needed. It also helps to work quickly, particularly if the day and the kitchen are hot.
The worst thing about berry pies is their proclivity for leaking juices out of the crust and over the rim. A jellyroll pan placed judiciously on the oven floor catches these juices and prevents the cook's having to clean out the caramelized mess that would otherwise spill onto the oven.
CONSOMME BELLEVIEW (8 servings) 3 10 3/4-ounce cans chicken broth 2 8-ounce bottles clam juice 1 teaspoon minced garlic Pinch of cayenne 2 to 4 tablespoons full-bodied dry sherry, such as Dry Sack 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind 2 tablespoons minced parsley
Combine the chicken broth, clam juice, minced garlic and cayenne in a saucepan, bring to a simmer, cover the pan and cook over very low heat for about 10 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of sherry if necessary. Strain the consomme into a bowl or tureen and garnish with the lemon rind and chopped parsley. Ladle into bouillon cups or shallow soup bowls.
POACHED STUFFED SALMON (8 serving) 4-pound piece of salmon, preferably a center cut or from the tail end For the court bouillon: 8 cups cold water 4 cups drys white wine 2 large onions, coarsely chopped 3 stalks celery with leaves, coarsely chopped 3 medium carrots, cut in chunks 2 bay leaves, crumbled 6 sprigs parsley 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme 1/2 teaspoon cracked peppercorns 1 tablespoon salt For the stuffing: 3 leeks, white parts only 3 tablespoon butter Salt and pepper to tast 1/2 cup minced parsley For the (optional) aspic: 4 cups reduced court bouillon 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice 2 envelopes gelatin softened in 1/2 cup cold water Whites and crushed shells of two eggs (reserve yolks for the mayonnaise)
Have the salmon boned but left in a single piece so that the fish remains hinged along the back.
First, make the court bouillon. Combine all ingredients in a large pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, partially covered, for an hour. Let cool and strain into a fish poacher or a roasting pan.
Next, make the stuffing. Slit the leeks down the middle and wash carefully under cold running water. Be sure no sand remains. Drain the leeks and chop them finely. Melt butter in a saute pan, add the leeks along with salt and pepper to taste and cook very slowly over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes or until the leeks are very soft. Do not allow them to color. Remove to a bowl and let them cool. Stir in the parsley.
Wash the salmon and pat it dry. Open th fish and place the stuffing in an even layer over the entire surface of one side. Close the fish and wrap it in a large piece of damp cheesecloth which has been rinsed and squeezed. leave about 6 inches of cloth at each end of the fish and tie the ends to make handles so they can be used to maneuver the fish later. Do not wrap the fish too tightly since it must have room to expand and not become too dense in texture.
Lower the salmon onto the rack of the poacher or into the roasting pan with the cooled court bouillon. Place the poacher or pan over two burners and bring the court bouillon to a boil over high heat. Watch carefully. The inute the liquid begins to boil, lower the heat to just below the simmer and start timing the cooking. Poach the salmon for 25 minutes, then turn off the heat and let it cool in the court bouillon. When the salmon is cool, remove it from the pan, place it on a board an open the cheesecloth. Peel the skin and the brown surface layer between the skin and the pink flesh, using the side of a fork. Turn the salmon over, using the cheesecloth to maneuver the fish, and remove skin and brown layer. Place the salmon on a serving platter, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Strain the court bouillon into a saucepan if you wish to make an aspic. Otherwise, strain it into jars and freeze. It can be reused to poach the next fish.
To make the aspic, boil down the court bouillon over high heat so that four cups remain. Add the lemon juice. Then with a wire whisk beat in the softened gelatin and the egg whites and crushed shells. Keep beating until the mixture comes to a rolling boil. Turn off the heat and let it stand for about 15 minutes. Place a sieve over a bowl and line the sieve with a double layer of wrung-out cheesecloth. Ladle the mixture into the sieve. The impurities in the court bouillon will be held in suspension by the egg whites and shells, and the aspic that strains through will be crystal clear. However, do not disturb or stir the mixture as it goes through the sieve. Pour the aspic into a cake pan, cool and refrigerate until it is set. Just before serving, turn the aspic out onto a board and chop it. It will look jewel-like. Surround the salmon with the aspic and garnish with lemon slices and sprigs of parsley. Serve with caper mayonnaise.
CAPER MAYONNAISE (Makes about 1 1/2 cups) 2 egg yolks 1 teaspoon dijon mustard 1 tablespoon lemon juice 1 teaspoon or more to taste red wine vinegar Salt and white pepper to taste 3/4 cup mild olive oil 3/4 cup peanut oil 2 tablespoons capers, rinsed in a sieve under cold water, dried in paper towels and minced 3 tablespoons minced parsley 1 to 2 tablspoons, or more if needed, whipping cream
Combine the egg yolks, mustard, lemon juice, vinegar, salt and pepper in a food processor bowl and process for a few minutes, or until the mixture thickens. With the motor running, slowly pour the olive oil and the peanut oil through the feed tube. Turn the mayonnaise (it will be very thick) into a bowl and stir in the capers and parsley. Then thin the mayonnaise with cream to the desired consistency.
COLD VEGETABLE PLATTER
FRENCH POTATO SALAD
(8 servings) 2 pounds medium-sized new potatoes 3/4 cup beef bouillon 1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar 4 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste 3 scallions, with half the green parts
Scrub the potatoes and boil them, in their skins, in salted water for from 15 to 20 minutes, or until they are just cooked. Slice the potatoes lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick sticks and remove the skins. Place the potatoes into a bowl and while they are still warm pour the bouillon over them. Let them sit for an hour ortwo until they have absorbed as much of the bouillon as possible. Pour off any remaining bouillon. Beat the mustard, vinegar, oil, salt and pepper together and pour over the potatoes. Toss gently, Slice the scallions as thin as possible and add to the potatoes.
WILTED CUCUMBER STICKS (8 servings) 4 cucumbers, peeled, sliced in half lengthwise and seeded 2 tablespoons salt 3 tablespoons olive oil 1 1/2 tablespoon red wine vinegar 4 tablespoons minced fresh dill
Cut the cucumbers into thin three-inch long sticks, place in a bowl and mix the salt through the cucumbers. Let the cucumbers sit for an hour or two and turn them into a colander. Rinse with cold running water, pat dry on paper towels and return to the bowl. Add the oil, vinegar and dill, mix thoroughly and refrigerate until needed.
ASPARAGUS STICKS IN CREAM DRESSING (8 servings) 1 pound asparagus, preferably thin stalks 5 tablespoons heavy cream 1 tablespoon lemon juice Salt and pepper to taste 2 tablespoons minced parsley
Peel the asparagus and halve each stalk vertically if they are thin; other wise quarter them. Cut the asparagus into three-inch pieces, setting the pieces with the heads aside. Bring some salted water to boil in a frying pan or saute pan and add the stalk portions. Cook for three minutes. Then add the reserved heads and cook for another three minutes. Drain the asparagus and cool. Just before serving combine the cream, lemon juice and salt and pepper and add to the asparagus. Garnish with minced parsley.
GLORIOUS FOURTH BLUEBERRY PIE (Makes a 10-inch pie) For the crust: 2 1/2 cups flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 8 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces 7 tablespoons cold vegetable shortening, such as Crisco 5 to 7 tablespoons ice water For the filling: 2 pint boxes blueberries 1 tablespoon lemon juice 3 drops imported blueberry essence (optional) 1/2 cup sugar 5 tablespoons flour For the egg wash:
To make the crust, combine in a food processor bowl the flour, salt, butter and shortening. Process in about 10 short bursts, or until the mixture resembles corn meal. With the motor running, add the ice water through the feed tube, starting with five tablespoons and adding more only if necessary. Process until the mixture begins to form a ball. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured board, knead once or twice to bring the mass together, and divide into two equal pieces. Form both into balls, flaten them somewhat, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight.
To make the filling, pick over the blueberries, rinse them quickly under cold water and drain thoroughly. Set aside. Combine the lemon juice and blueberry essence, if used. Set aside. Combine the sugar and flour. Set aside.
To assemble the pie, use a 10-inch pie plate, preferably ovenproof glass. Remove one ball of dough from the refrigerator and roll out on a lightly floured board to a circle 13 inches in diameter. Place this bottom crust on the pie plate, even off the edges if necessary with kitchen shears, leaving an inch and a half or so overhang, and refrigerate. Place the drained berries in a large bowl and sprinkle the lemon juice over them. Toss gently. Then add the sugar and flour mixture and toss again to distribute the dry ingredients. Remove the pie plate from the refrigerator and turn the berries into the bottom crust, forming a mound in the center. Roll out the second ball of dough on a lightly floured board to a circle 13 inches in diameter. Moisten the edge of the bottom curst with a little cold water, using your finger or a pastry brush, and place the top curst over the berries. Turn the edge of the bottom crust over the edge of the top crust and with your fingers crimp the edges to stand up around the plate. Cut vertical slashes in the top crust along the mound. Beat the egg well and brush it all over the top crust. Place a jelly roll pan on the bottom of the oven. Place the pie on a rack one third up from the bottom of the oven. Bake at 450 degrees for 20 minutes, lower the temperature to 375 degrees and bake for another 40 minutes. The crust should be very brown but not burned. Remove the pie from the oven and place it on a rack to cool for several hours. Serve at room temperature with vanilla ice cream.