Swirl Wine Bar & Market

Monday, July 21, 2014

Real Crispy Skin Salmon, For True

I admit that I am a bit obsessed with Salmon. Grilled, seared, plank roasted, baked it in parchment, topped with chermoula; you name it, I've cooked it!  It is a weekly item on our menu, especially when I need something quick, healthy, delicious and easy to pair with either red or white wines.

But my latest obsession has been crispy skin salmon, which I was never successful at until now!  I found a recipe a few months ago, which I'm sorry to say I could not find again to reference in this post, that I've modified a bit to create the perfect salmon.  The big crunch of the skin is truly the perfect contrast to a fat piece of tender, juicy salmon.  And when I say crisp I mean like a crunchy potato chip!

I will also admit that as beautiful as the Coho and the wild salmon looks, I love the fatty North Atlantic and King Salmon.  Much richer and more flavorful, I select which ever fits into my current budget.  The new Whole Foods on Broad has a really nice fresh selection and is easy to just pick  up a piece after work.  

So here it is, just a few simple tricks to create the perfect crunch:

Trick #1:  You have to descale it.
Take your salmon fillet ( I get about a pound to split between Kerry and I and we usually eat the whole thing!) and put it on a cutting board.  Then grab your chef's knife and run along the top of the skin with a bit of pressure, scraping the scales off.  You can tell they’re gone because the skin has a netting pattern to it:
Give the salmon a quick rinse to remove the scales.

Trick #2:  Water is the enemy 
Dry the salmon very well with paper towels. Water is the enemy of a good crisp sear so soak up as much as you can. Next, season the fish skin with a good pinch of salt (no pepper on the skin, it will burn) and let the fish sit for 5 minutes. Then touch the fish skin and notice that there’s moisture there. This is because the salt pulled out moisture from the skin. You've just set the skin up to be even CRISPIER.  Give the skin a good pat with paper towel again to soak up that excess moisture, and now it’s ready to be seared.

Trick #3:  Cut the salmon into even pieces.
The more evenly the meat is distributed the better it will sear.  With a large fillet you usually get the thick piece of the body and then the thinner part of the belly.  Cut off the thin part - you'll just cook it a little less.

Trick #4:  No non stick pans!
You just don't get the same sear and if your heat is high enough it won't stick anyway.  So start with an uncoated pan, fairly close in size to the piece of fish.  Heat up your pan somewhere between medium to medium high heat (6 or 7 on a 10 scale), and let it heat up for about 3-5 minutes (3 minutes for gas stoves, 5 for electric).  Since we are using an uncoated pan, you’re going to want to have a sturdy, metal turner that can really get under the fish, not one of those flimsy plastic spatulas.

Trick #5:  You need a high smoke point oil.
Olive oil or butter won't work here.  My preference is ghee or coconut oil but the ghee really helps to brown it evenly.  You could also use grape seed oil.   Add enough to really coat the bottom of the pan.

When the oil starts to shimmer, take your piece of fish and test it by touching the very end of it to the pan. If it makes that hissing sizzling noise, that means the pan is nice and hot, and go ahead and lay the fish down in the pan, skin side down, always away from you so the oil doesn't splash. (and if the fish doesn't sizzle, your pan isn’t hot enough).  Now you can season the top meaty side with salt and pepper.

Let the salmon cook for 90% of the time on the skin side. You need about 5 minutes per 1" thickness of salmon.  With the fillets I get I usually end up doing 7 minutes on the skin side.

While the skin is cooking, take a lemon and zest about half of the skin.  Take the rest of the lemon and cut into quarters to squeeze on the fish before serving.

When it is time, flip it over and give it a about a minute or so on the other side. Remove it, put a few pats of butter on it and the lemon zest and serve immediately with the lemon quarters on the side. Fantastic!!

Ok now what wine to serve?  The reason I had to make this was to give me an excuse to open the 2012 Terre Nere Cuvee delle Vigne Niche from Macrco de Grazia.  We just received our very very small allocation and half of it has come home with me!

Etna White Cuvée delle Vigne Niche 2012
Wine Spectator Score: 92

Aromatic, with floral and spice notes. There's power to the racy acidity and smoky minerality of this finely meshed white, which is elegant overall, offering flavors of creamed apple, almond skin, apricot and preserved lemon. A vanilla-tinged, leesy overtone echoes on the finish. Drink now through 2025. 250 cases made.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Bringing the Cinque Terre to Swirl - 2013 Bisson Ciliegiolo Rose'

If you've ever been to the villages of the Cinque Terre or Portofino on the Ligurian coast, chances are you fell in love. You probably hiked a few of the trails between the villages, ate the local sea food and fresh pasta with pesto in one of those tiny osteria perched on the cliffs.  You warmed yourself in the coastal sun, taken in view the of the ocean, waves crashing on the rocks below as the terraced vineyards above soaked up the summer rays and salty sea mist.  Really, there's nothing quite like it.

You also probably had the local wines; the crisp refreshing whites, the juicy, pure rose' and the light bodied fruity reds.  And like me, you wished you could have them here at home to try to recreate that amazing feeling you had by the sea...unfortunately Ligurian wines are a bit hard to come by.  They produce such tiny amounts on those steeply terraced mountains and keep most of it for their own consumption.  So you can imagine how excited we were to get our hands on the 2013 Bisson Ciliegiolo Rose from one of the top producers in the region!

Pure red cherry fruit, juicy acidity with that subtle salinity from the sea breezes - this wine is perfect for New Orleans spicy fare, has enough body for barbecued chicken, pork sausage and most food from the grill, and is a classic pairing with Zuppa di Pesce Alla Ligure

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Hunting with Sole

Every year we take a group of Swirl guest on a wine, culinary and cultural trip in Tuscany and Umbria.  This year our visit included a truffle hunting excursion in Umbria...

Sunflowers in full bloom in Tuscany & Umbria
Driving the twisting narrow roads with seemingly endless switchbacks we go up and over the mountains that seamlessly join Tuscany and Umbria.  Even those who don't get car sick feel effect of the last 6 days on our stomachs.  Plunging down into the valleys we ride through the very rural small villages, peaceful land layered in a patchwork of color with brilliant yellow sunflowers, the silvery leaves of olive trees, golden wheat fields, and endless deep green tobacco.

View from the top of the mountain
Of course we make a few wrong turns but finally find the steep windy road that takes us up to the top of the tallest mountain yet.  Climbing higher and higher the forest changes from slender birch, ash and maple trees to thick trunks of oak and pine until finally reaching the top.  The GPS tells us we've arrived but all we see is a sleepy little hamlet of old stone dwellings and not a soul in sight.  As I try to find the phone number to get directions, a little white truck appears - our host out looking to see if we are lost.  We follow him further up the mountain road to his farm greeted by the breathtaking view of the villages below with the mountains of the Marche, Umbria and Tuscany stretched out before us.

Our host, the personable and soft spoken Matteo, brings us to one of the wood buildings on the property where we are greeted by his mother, father and two cats with their four young kittens.  Matteo and his family live here in this remote area of north west Umbria. They work the land as farmers, hunters and gatherers, living harmoniously with nature on their 30 acres of property.  It's not game or fowl that they hunt, but treasure in the form of elusive and mysterious funghi, truffles!  

We sit and spend some time talking first.  Matteo tells us that his passion and skill for truffle hunting was passed down from his father Carlos and he in turn wants to share his knowledge with others. He educates us on the fascinating world of truffles - what they are, the different types, colors, where they grown, how the animals find them, ripening, maturing and of course, the amazing dogs.

Walking to the forest to begin the hunt
Armed with our new found knowledge, we walk a short distance up the hill with kittens following close behind.  It's time to meet Sole, his dog.  As he talks about Sole, telling us stories of his training and first hunt, it's evident in his voice how much Matteo loves  his dog.  He releases him from the pen and the enthusiastic Sole bounds up the hill to greet us. Running, jumping, darting, constantly putting his nose to the ground and then the air, his energy seems endless.  Matteo softly commands and Sole obediently follows; their symbiotic relationship and mutual respect is the key to their success.

Into the woods we all traipse, Matteo leads us to one of his favorite spots. "Vai, vai Sole" Matteo says and Sole takes off, frantically searching, sniffing - you can actually hear his rapid breathing as he puffs his cheeks and puts his nose to the ground.  He hons in on a smell and frantically begins to dig.  "Piano, piano" slowly, slowly, Matteo softly calls and Sole tries to slow down but he's so excited, tearing at roots, flinging dirt behind him. Reaching down Matteo gently takes him at the neck and Sole immediately goes limp and lies beside his hole awaiting his next command. Matteo digs into the hole first using his vanghetto, a shovel like tool, and then his hands to see what Sole has found.  Out comes a black truffle about the size of a large plum with its dark knobby skin.  Matteo smiles, shows us all the treasure and then puts it into the pocket of his vest. Sole is generously rewarded with treats and affection.

Sole's first find
The ritual repeats, over and over in this spot and then another.  Matteo and Sole hunt each morning for several hours.  They are fortunate to live in an area where different types of truffles are available year round. And the reward can be great; the jewel of Italian gastronomy, white truffles, retail for over $3000/lb., the black for around $1200/lb. The black summer truffles that we found sell for around $500/lb.  Each type of truffle is available only certain months of the year.  Some days are plentiful but others might not yield a single truffle; it's a roll of the dice.

Today is a good day for Sole and Matteo.  In about an hours time Matteo has a pocketful of truffles and we head back to reception area where the delicious smells from the kitchen tell us lunch is almost ready!   Matteo shows us how to clean and store truffles as we sip on Prosecco in the courtyard.  We move into the dining area, beautifully and humbly set for our lunch. The intoxicating smell of fresh truffles permeates the air. Matteo sits with us but goes into the kitchen with each course to help his mother. Crostini with many different types of truffle sauces, carafes of local wine, fresh pasta shaved with our catch of the day, Matteo's fennel roasted pork with rosemary potatoes followed by dessert and of course espresso; we are served a simple, rustic family meal with local fresh ingredients, prepared with the utmost care.

The fruits of Sole's labor

Our fresh pasta with his catch of the day
Matteo's generousity,calm demeanor and infectious smile gives the experience an incredibly intimate feeling - his spirit, love of the land, his relationship with Sole are expressed throughout the visit.  Matteo is a young farmer dedicated to his trade and enthusiastic about sharing it with others.  We will be back...And so with full bellies and warm hearts we load back into our cars, with a new found understanding and appreciation for the now not so mysterious funghi and the people and dogs who bring them from the mountains of Italy to our tables.

If you'd like to visit with Matteo and Sole email him at bartolini.matteo@gmail.com or check out his website at Ca' Solare Agriturismo.  Please tell him Beth from New Orleans sent you :)


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