Winter in Paris is a seemingly endless series of short grey days made greyer by the fact that the entire five-storey-high city is built out of bland hued stone. Sure she can be charming, all covered in twinkling lights and holiday cheer, but her gloomy outfit and dreary weather chill me to the bone. I'm sure it doesn't help that I spend the majority of my time locked inside my kitchen during the only part of the day when anyone could even hope to glimpse a sliver of sunshine as it cuts through the skyline.
My one true reprieve is found in the bright beautiful abundance of citrus fruits that we gain access to as the weather darkens. Fresh bergamot, yuzu and Buddha's hand may not be actual beams of light for me to bathe in, but their colourful abundance and acidic centres brighten my spirit and awaken my frost-numbed senses. My pêché mignon (or cute weakness) is to treat their peels as scratch-and-sniff stickers; inhaling their essences reminds me of the sunshine I only vaguely remember come February.
Kumquats are a small orange-shaped citrus that is meant to be eaten whole. With its sweet peel and tart pulp, it makes for an invigorating eating experience.
I prefer them cooked and love the tangy confit slices that result from this recipe. Look for kumquats that are firm and bright orange – avoid any with a greenish tint as they are most likely not ripe enough.
The crème fraîche that I typically buy from my favourite fromagerie in Paris is made with raw cream and is so thick it is almost sticky in its consistency. It is a true delicacy. I doubt it will be possible to find anything exactly like it in Canada (unless maybe you make it yourself), but whatever you do, please don't substitute sour cream.
½ cup lime juice
1 teaspoon fleur de sel
¾ cup fish sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
2 fresh bird’s eye chilies, chopped very fine (wear gloves to avoid spicy fingers)
1½ cups kumquats, sliced into thin rounds
(approximately 3-mm thick)
¾ cups water
¾ cup sugar
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
¼ teaspoon fleur de sel
Flat leaf parsley
1-kilogram filet of wild salmon, skin-on, pinbones removed
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon whole green fennel seeds
6 tablespoons sugar
6 tablespoons coarse grey sea salt
3 tablespoons mezcal
Place ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to combine until sugar and salt are dissolved. Store in refrigerator until ready to use.
It can be made up to five days in advance.
Cook all ingredients over low heat in a small pot until the kumquat rounds just begin to turn transparent. Remove from heat, cover pot with plastic wrap and allow to cool. Store in the refrigerator until ready to use. It can be made up to five days in advance.
You can easily mix any combination of the herbs listed, for a total of 3 cups of salad, however, I find for this recipe that Thai basil and cilantro are best to start with as a base for the others. Gently pick selected herbs from their stems, cover with a damp paper towel in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator.
Toast peppercorns, coriander and fennel seeds in a pan until fragrant. Cool and crush coarsely with a mortar and pestle. Combine with salt and sugar in a small bowl.
Place a large piece of plastic wrap on a rimmed baking tray. Sprinkle ¹/³ of dry mixture evenly down the middle and lay salmon filet skin side down in the salt. Sprinkle remaining dry mixture over flesh side of the fish, pressing to adhere, adding the mezcal at the end.
Wrap the plastic tightly around fish, and then wrap again with a second layer. Poke 10 holes on the skin side of the plastic wrap in order to allow the juices to escape.
Place a second baking sheet on top of the wrapped filet and weigh this down with two 250-mL canned items from your pantry (or anything else heavy you find handy and don’t mind being in the fridge for a couple days).
Refrigerate for 2 days, flipping fish over after the first day.
Remove weights and top baking tray.
Remove and discard plastic. Rinse fish under running water washing off any remaining cure and spices. Pat dry with a paper towel and store in fridge until ready to serve.
Spoon 2 to 3 tablespoons of crème fraîche into the centre of each plate. Thinly slice gravlax on a diagonal using a long, thin knife starting at the head end of the filet down to the skin at a 45 degree angle. Place 4-6 slices of fish on top of each plate of crème, allowing each individual slice to fold over itself creating both height and texture. Spoon 1 to 2 tablespoons of dressing over each plate. Lightly toss the herb salad with a bit of dressing, a bit of neutral oil (like canola) and a pinch of fleur de sel for seasoning. Gently drape dressed herbs around the fish. Using a fork, scoop 7 to 8 individual kumquat rings out of their syrup and place around each plate. Serve immediately.