Sunday, May 6, 2012

Smoked Salmon with Fresh Fennel & Radish Salad

I taught a Mothers' Day Brunch class yesterday in Lawrence. Rather than doing the same old traditional (often heavy) brunch foods, I thought a menu featuring a trio of light salads would be a nice change. Two of the salads were the vegetable-centric kinds of things I typically gravitate towards...a roasted asparagus, goat cheese and walnut salad and a green salad featuring baby potatoes and snap peas. It was a surprise to me when the third salad—Smoked Salmon with Fresh Fennel & Radishes—turned out to be my favorite.

I included the Smoked Salmon Salad in the class mostly because it was a bit different for me (I hate to be too predictable) and because Smoked Salmon is a popular item for brunch menus. I love smoked salmon in rillettes, but other than in that particular form, smoked salmon is not something I think about very often. I don't dislike it...there are just other things I like better. As a chef, I think it's important to occasionally incorporate foods into my menus and my classes that might not be my favorite—they are after all sure to be a favorite with someone.

Occasionally when I prepare something that falls into the "not my favorite thing" category, I will have the delightful experience of discovering just how wonderful that particular food can be (and why so many people love it). So it was with the salad I made for this class. There was something about the crisp sweetness of the fennel and mild heat of the radishes—simply dressed with lemon and olive oil—in combination with the slightly salty, slightly smoky salmon that tickled my taste buds in just the right way. When I made a small salad for lunch one day so I could write down the exact quantities of ingredients for my recipe handout, I couldn't believe how good it was. So good that when I finished it, I got up and made myself a second salad.

I went ahead and wrote the recipe for the salad with specific quantities of the ingredients, but these measurements should only be used as a starting point and a rough guide—this salad should be a lively, "to taste" affair. When making it, simply add a small handful of shaved fennel to the bowl for each person, followed by a few slices of radish and a little parsley for color. Finish with some salt and pepper and a generous squeeze of lemon juice.

Ruffle the sliced salmon onto the plate(s), scatter a few capers over the salmon, top with a nice fluffy pile of salad and drizzle the whole thing with a bit of olive oil. A recipe really isn't necessary.

The salad can be served on a platter as part of a buffet or a family-style spread, or it can be served on individual plates as an elegant first course. If serving it on a platter, choose a long and narrow platter and arrange the salmon in a wide swath down the length of the platter with the salad of shaved vegetables arranged in a narrow strip down the center of the salmon. If serving in individual portions, arrange the salmon in a solid round on each plate and layer the vegetables onto the center of the salmon so that some of the salmon will peek out around the edges of the salad. For either presentation, carefully layer small handfuls of salad on to the plate so that the salad will have a bit of height. No matter how you choose to plate and serve it, I think you will be very pleased with how easy it is to make...and even more pleased with how fabulous it tastes.

Smoked Salmon with Fresh Fennel & Radish Salad

8 oz. thinly sliced smoked salmon (see note)
2 T. capers, rinsed
1 large or 2 small heads fennel, trimmed, halved, cored and very thinly sliced cross-wise (using a mandolin)—about 3 cups
4 to 6 radishes, scrubbed and trimmed and sliced very thin—about 1/2 cup
1/2 cup Italian flat leaf parsley leaves—chopped coarsely if the leaves are very large
Salt & freshly ground pepper
2 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 T. Extra-virgin olive oil

Arrange the smoked salmon slices on a large platter or on 6 to 8 individual plates. Scatter the capers over the salmon.

Place the fennel, radishes and parsley in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. Add the lemon juice and toss to combine. Taste and correct the seasoning. Pile the fennel salad on top of the salmon. Drizzle the olive oil over all.  Serves 6 to 8.

Note: Use any style of cured, cold-smoked salmon that you prefer.

(Inspiration for recipe is from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food, May 2010)

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