it’s all greek to me

food detective

Categories: Fish and Seafood, Grains and Pasta, Supper, Dinner Party, Posted on April 1, 2015 by Sandy Bergsten

My step-daughter and her chef boyfriend gave me the best cookbook for Christmas, Prune by Gabrielle Hamilton. I love the way the book appears to be a copy of her cooking manifest for her restaurant, complete with hand written notes in the margins. Personally I read cookbooks like others read novels. I have a stack of cookbooks on my bedside table. Once I’ve read through one cover-to-cover I then decide what to tackle within its pages.

Gabrielle’s Roasted Wild Salmon with Avgolemono Rice, Two Kinds of Peas, and Scallions caught my eye. It sounded like such a pretty presentation- roasted pink fish atop of a vibrant green and creamy risotto style rice. Now I’ve never made avgolemono sauce, in fact after trying copious times I couldn’t even pronounce it properly. But when I discovered my husband was going to be at a business retreat for most of the week and weekend I thought it would be the perfect challenge for me to undertake, and the ideal entrée for my spring-forward-soiree.

One of my cardinal rules is to never cook a new recipe when entertaining. Too many things can go wrong, and when things go wrong hostesses get stressed, and when hostesses are stressed no one at the table has any fun. But I convinced myself that this was different. I wasn’t going to roast the salmon, I was going to grill it (something I’ve done a million times). For me making rice is whiz in my rice cooker (don’t know how anyone can live without this miracle machine- it perfectly cooks rice and keeps it warm for hours.) Certainly I could sauté peas and scallions. As for the sauce it said it could be made the day before, that way if my first stab wasn’t great then I could easily whip up another batch. Seriously how hard could it be to make an impossibly sounding sauce out of lemon juice, broth and egg yolks? (Note to self Sandy- if you can’t pronounce something then there’s a good chance you shouldn’t make it.)

That Friday night I simmered my stock, frothed my egg yolks, added half a cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice, whisked some more, tempered the eggs with a ladle of steaming streaming broth, whisked some more, then slowly poured the tempered egg mixture into the barely simmering stock whisking some more.  After twenty minutes instead of some delightfully light and creamy sauce I was getting tennis elbow over a pot of what looked like thin gross puddle water. I decided to stop. Clearly I wasn’t doing something right. So I dumped it down the drain.

The next morning (the morning of my party) I woke and cracked four more yolks, squeezed half as many lemons as the night before, and set another box of broth to simmer. I stirred and whisked. I had to put on a hot mitt because my hand was literally starting to roast over the gas flame. Finally this sauce, which by all of my late night Internet searches asserted should take mere minutes, began to thicken slightly after thirty-five. I went on whisking and whisking so that my eggs would not curdle. Ultimately I achieved the perfect consistency of what looked like…  thick gross puddle water. I tasted it for seasoning and promptly poured it down the drain.

My guests were due to arrive in a few hours and I had no sauce for my two pea and scallion rice. I wanted to cry. But a miserable hostess is well… So I said screw it to the Greek and decided to embrace my Scandinavian side. I would take my mother’s veal chop sauce made with Madeira and cream and sub out the fortified wine with lemon juice.

Well the final result was a delight! The rice had a velvety texture that was the perfect foil for the crunchy peas and crisp scallion shoots. And with impeccably grilled salmon fillets on top- the final result was rather sublime.

Don’t tell my guests but what looked light and healthy probably had enough saturated fat to give Aristotle Onassis a heart attack. So when everyone ooed and ahhed and asked for the recipe I demurely replied that I was I was working out a few kinks and that I would be in touch.

Fast forward a couple weeks and I was still playing food detective with this damn avgolemono sauce. Then it hit me. Isn’t avgolemono just thickened chicken soup with lemon? Kinda sounds like “cream of chicken soup” to me. Now it would be wonderful to channel my maternal grandmother and unapologetically crack open a can of Campbell’s and whisk in a little fresh lemon juice but I couldn’t quite stomach publishing that post so I went back to the internet and found a suitable rendition of homemade cream of chicken soup that I augmented into a lovely chicken lemon sauce.

After many trials and tribulations here is my version of grilled salmon with creamy lemon rice, two kinds of peas, and scallions.

As promised the chicken lemon sauce can be made a couple days ahead of time.

Melt the butter in large saucepan over medium heat. Add the finely chopped onion, celery and carrots, cover and cook stirring frequently until soft, about 10 minutes.

Add the flour and cook whisking constantly for 2 minutes.

Slowly pour in the chicken broth whisking constantly. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer.

Add the sprig of parsley tied with a piece of twine. Simmer for 15 minutes, stirring frequently.

Discard the sprig of parsley. Return the pan to medium heat, add the heavy cream and simmer for about five minutes.

Whisk in two tablespoons of fresh lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper. Add more lemon juice if desired. The sauce can be two days ahead of time. Cool completely, cover and refrigerate. Re-warm gently over medium-low heat.

In a pyrex or nonreactive dish scatter 1 tsp lemon zest and 1 tsp minced parsley.

Place the salmon fillets skin side down in dish. Scatter the remaining lemon zest and minced parsley on top of the fillets. Season with salt and pepper. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 4 hours.

Meanwhile de-string the sugar snap peas and cut on the bias into 1/3’s or 1/4’s.

Clean and trim the scallions then cut on the bias into ¼ pieces all the way up through the light green part.

Defrost the frozen peas under cool water then drain completely.

The vegetables can be prepared hours ahead of time, cover each separately and refrigerate.

Up to an hour ahead of time grill the salmon skin side down for three minutes over hot coals. Flip and grill for approximately three more minutes. Carefully remove the skin and discard. Briefly flip once more. The salmon should be just cooked through. Be careful not to over cook. Place on a foil lined rimmed baking sheet. Tent loosely with foil and keep at room temperature.

Just before serving remove the foil tent and re-warm the salmon in a 350-degree oven for five minutes, until just warmed through.

In a saucepan warm 1 ½ cups  lemon chicken sauce over medium to medium-high heat. Add the scallions and defrosted peas and simmer for one minute or until the raw bite is gone but both are still bright green.

Stir in 1 ½ cups of cooked rice until warmed through.

Add the sugar snap peas, stir and simmer for one minute. Check the consistency of the rice mixture; add more warm rice or more warm sauce as needed. The rice should be creamy but not soupy. Season with salt and pepper.

Divide the rice among four pasta bowls or rimmed plates. Top each with a grilled salmon fillet and serve immediately.

Often times the best recipes are those you make your own.


April 19, 2015

made your version Avgolemono Rice this eve....DIVINE! used sugar snaps only ...(family member present non-pea advocate....) and gobbled up!! so easy, so yummy...made ahead and re-assembled....served with Ina Garten's grilled lemon chicken.....alot of 'lemon' you say? but all so subtle -- no one knew....!!! worked well together!!! THANK YOU!!! oh recipe 'lemon souffle' dessert...ALOT of you hear a ....theme?...haha! somehow....ALL fit quietly together.....xox

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