Champagne’s Best Friend

Champagne’s Best Friend

I’m just going to say it: I don’t like New Year’s Eve. True, I did meet my husband at a New Year’s Eve party back in 1998, but that great evening was the exception in a string of truly unfortunate December 31sts. The expectations are always too high, the weather is always too cold, and it’s impossible to find a cab.

I also have a NYE wine pet peeve: drinking too much champagne without food. As a drink on its own, a glass or two of champagne can of course be delicious. But after that, diminishing marginal returns set in. On their own, the wine’s high acidity and bubbles can be rough on the palate — but paired with food, they’re refreshing and restorative. This is particularly true if you’re drinking champagne with salty, fatty and/or fishy foods, which really need the cleansing bite of a sip of champagne. Let me go on the record here by saying that dry champagne with desserts and chocolate makes no sense to me: the sugar in the food will make the champagne taste tart and thin in comparison. No, champagne really comes into its own when paired with savory things. The solution to this New Year’s Eve dilemma then is to set out something salty and snacky before the countdown begins. Potato chips would do the trick nicely, but if you’re looking for something fancier, then I’d recommend this easy salmon spread. It’s champagne’s best friend, you can make it ahead, and any leftovers will be delicious on bagels the next morning.

As for champagne to pair it with, you can see some of my holiday sparkling recommendations here. And if you’re looking for the full multi-media STBNY experience, check out this video tasting of the Georges Gardet NV Blanc de Noirs ($39) I did on Food52. (It’s my first foray into video, so please be kind. Or not. Let me know what you think!)

The recipe comes from Patricia Wells’ The Food Lovers Guide to Paris, although I’ve modified some of the proportions and added a few of my own touches.

One other thing: this dish is luxurious, but no single ingredient is horribly expensive. True, it does call for Cognac, but you can pick up one of those tiny bottles of Hennessy at the liquor store — absolutely no need to splurge on fine brandy here. And please just use whatever decent white wine you happen to have lying around to poach the fish. As always, my editorializing is in parentheses.

Salmon spread

1/2 lb skinned fresh salmon filet

1 c. dry white wine

1 tablespoon olive oil

3 tablespoons Cognac

salt and black pepper to taste

1/2 lb smoked salmon

9 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 teaspoons fresh thyme

toast for spreading (go Nordic — those little rye bread squares, toasted, or else Wasa crispbread are both good)

1. Cut the fresh salmon into bite-sized pieces. In a small saucepan, combine the fresh salmon and wine and bring slowly to a boil over medium heat. Remove from the heat and drain the salmon, discarding the wine.

2. In another small saucepan heat the olive oil and add the fresh salmon. Cook gently over medium heat for about 3 minutes. Do not let it brown. Add the Cognac, salt, and pepper. Remove from the heat and set aside.

3. Cut the smoked salmon into bite-sized pieces. (You’ll ultimately put this in a food processor so don’t be too fussy about the size here.) In (yet another) small saucepan over medium heat, sauté the smoked salmon in 5 tablespoons of butter until it is heated through, 3-5 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool. Then blend in a food processor, adding the remaining butter.

4. Working by hand, combine the fresh salmon and smoked salmon mixtures with a fork in a small bowl until well-blended. Check for seasoning. Transfer to a serving dish. (I used 4 4-ounce little ramekins and still had a little left over. For aesthetic reasons I’d recommend using a few small dishes, if you have. There’s something about a huge mound of this pink stuff that puts me off — I think it looks much prettier and more sophisticated in tiny vessels.) Carefully smooth the top. Refrigerate at least 12 hours before serving.

5. To serve, remove from the fridge about 30 minutes beforehand. Sprinkle with thyme leaves on top and serve with toast.

As they say in Trading Places, Merry New Year!

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