Thursday, December 24, 1998
Before the big ball drops in the Big Apple, clever kitchen escapees can have the jump on the next spread. Even if you''re sure you''ll never eat again, this is the time to gather a few simple ingredients that will seduce the most jaundiced appetite by the time the clock strikes the terminal note for 1998.
Start with a beautiful side of just-caught, fresh salmon. (Or, give in to your lusty instincts and go for the whole fish. Be sure to save the trim for making stock, crucial in elevating your cioppino, bouillabaisse or chowder above less idealistic stews. Usually available at under $5 a pound, it''s meal-maker of a deal.)
"Then you''ll want to use two parts of kosher salt to one part brown sugar," says fishmonger and chef Phil DiGirolamo of Phil''s Fish and Eatery in Moss Landing. "But be sure and use pure cane sugar, like C&H, so that you don''t get the molasses. That way after the gravlax is cured, you won''t have any trouble rinsing the cure off the fish."
Just as the ingenious Swedes have known for centuries, making gravlax is really that simple. Rub the cure over the filet, enough to cover, and add freshly ground pepper to taste. Dill is the usual aromatic of choice, roughly chopped and layered over, although some chefs show favoritism for flavors like ginger, finely chopped and used sparingly, or cognac, doused in liberal splashes. Leaving the skin on to facilitate ease in slicing (as thinly as possible, in long diagonal strokes toward the tail when it''s all said and done), lay your catch on a rack placed over a sheet pan. Tightly cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate, weighted down with another sheet pan and whatever is handy (a six pack of Pilsner-Urquell works nicely here)--or a big bottle of Aquavit, which may be utilized for other complementary uses as you carve the first slice, in just the matter of a few short days.
All that''s left to remember in the mean time is to flip the salmon over once a day to drain off the brine, give the fish a rinse after at least three days of curing time, and stock up on capers, parsley, good mustard and brown bread. No further instructions are necessary when it comes to enjoying the ample fruits of such minimal labor.
And as Phil will tell you, you may expand your repertoire by including smoke. "Lightly, cold-smoked salmon becomes lox," he explains, "and hot smoked, it''s known as kippered." In which case you might want to introduce some bagels and cream cheese to the picture. Cold smoking is a process that keeps the fish at about 70 to 90 degrees, usually anywhere from a day to a few weeks. And hot smoking is achieved with the temperature ranging from 120 to 180 degrees for about six to 12 hours. Without all the trouble of firing up a smoker, however, gravlax may well be the cure for ringing in the new year.
Rancho Cellars hosts two wine tastings this week. On Tuesday, vino-philes have the opportunity to tune-up their tastebuds for New Year''s Eve with sparkling wines from California. Then on Wednesday, the Rancho Cellars staff pours their favorite wines from 1998. Since RC opened earlier this year, the staff estimates they have tasted more than 4,000 wines and Wednesday''s wines represent their favorites. Each event is $35. For more info: 625-5646.