First Thursday Supper Club #2

Last Thursday was our second monthly supper club meeting.  It was a lovely evening, with members Kim, Nick, and Benny in attendance.  Kim and Nick supplied the wine, and Benny brought an amazing Ginger-Molasses Pumpkin Pie, along with some homemade hard ciders.

I made one of my go-to, easy, crowd-pleasing dinners:  Potato Chip Salmon, wild rice pilaf, and sautéed cucumbers with mint.  I’ve probably made a close variation of this meal about 10 times, and at least 5 of those times have been for guests.  Last weekend I realized that though I’d always been interested in cooking since I was a kid, the true beginning of my foodiness began with this meal in the spring of 2007.  I’d been mostly unemployed during a 5 month battle with mononucleosis, and was both bored and luckily had money from recently sold mutual funds on which to live, so I began reading cookbooks, picking up food magazines, watching cooking shows, and spending hours at farmer’s markets and specialty grocery stores.  I actually started to make things from recipes, rather than just sticking to my (still homemade) regular meal of pasta tossed with veggies and some kind of sautéed meat.  I started trying new things that I found at the markets, and a whole world of flavors (and a new opportunity to geek out about something) opened up to me.

One of the days I’d wandered down to Pike Place, I found myself in Sur La Table, drooling over all the copper cookware and watered steel knives.  I stumbled upon a cookbook there – Dave Lieberman’s Young and Hungryand have to admit I was swayed first by the young, nice Jewish boy’s baby blues.  Then I opened the book and found that his simple take on good, whole food was refreshing and easy.  I bought the book, and a week later I hosted my first dinner party (Joel, Brigette, Brad, and Geoff were my guests!) with the first recipe that jumped out at me – Potato Chip Salmon.

The concept is simple: by using relatively oily kettle-cooked potato chips as the crust, moisture is held in the fish as it cooks, preventing over-drying.  Here’s my adaptation of Dave’s recipe:

Potato-chip Crusted Salmon

  • 1 side of salmon (about 2-3 pounds)
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • One 5.5-ounce bag kettle-cooked potato chips (I use Kettle Chips brand Sea Salt flavor chips)
  • Zest of 1/2 lime, plus a little lime juice
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh dill
  • about 2 tbs Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400˚ F. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil.

Lay the side of the salmon skin side down in the center of the baking sheet. Season it lightly with salt and pepper, and squeeze on a little lime juice.

Crush the potato chips, lime zest and dill in a bowl until the chips resemble coarse crumbs. (I often just pour the whole bag of chips into a gallon ziploc bag and pound the bag on the counter with my hands until they’re all crushed, then toss them in the bowl to mix with the other ingredients.) Mix in oil until incorporated.

Coat the salmon with a thin, even layer of crumbs.

Bake for about 20-25 minutes or until the chip coating is browned. Serve the salmon right on the baking sheet. Makes about 5 servings. Multiply as needed.  This goes pretty fast, depending on your sides!  Experiment with changing up the flavors – I’ve made this with orange zest and BBQ potato chips and it tasted great!  The options are endless.

I like to serve this dish with rice – depending on the season, it could be basmati made with coconut milk, sticky pale-green bamboo rice, or wild rice pilaf, which just means that it’s a rice mix cooked in some kind of flavored broth.  For December’s First Thursday Club, I cooked the rice in a mushroom broth, made with Better Than Bouillon’s mushroom base.  Having once made this before and ruining it with too much stock base, I used a 1:4 ratio this time (1 teaspoon mushroom base to 4 cups water for 2 cups of dry rice) which seasoned it well without making it inedibly salty.  I also figured out a trick for how NOT to burn rice on the stovetop when you have an electric range!!!

Most recipes for rice involve a couple of basic steps:  add rice to water, bring to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer, fluff.  This works GREAT when you are lucky enough to have a gas range.  The burners don’t hold the heat, so you aren’t unwittingly cooking your rice at too high a temperature.  With an electric range, however, once your rice boils and you turn down the heat, it takes several minutes for the burner to cool down enough to get to a sustained simmer.  Your rice ends up boiling for far longer than you were expecting, and you are more likely to overcook it, ending up with burnt rice on the bottom of the pot and over-steamed rice on the top.  Yuck.

What I learned, after the pot boiled over a bit and I had to move the pot so the stock wouldn’t burn and stink up the house, is that if you bring the pot of rice to a boil on one burner, then move it to another burner that is set at your simmering temp, you don’t get the overboiling and the burnt bottom!  I am not afraid to make rice on the stovetop ever again!!!  Though I would like to experiment more with making rice in a pressure cooker.  I’ve not yet seen a decent diagram for that, plus my pressure cooker kinda freaks me out.  It’s like a ticking time bomb.  Just wait until I try out my pressure canner next spring (I’ve had it for two years, but have been too afraid to use it!).

Now, the sautéed cucumbers are the easiest thing in the world to make, and surprisingly tasty!  I’d originally found the recipe for them in a 2006? copy of Sunset Magazine, right when it started to become a really cool publication.  You just wash and cut an English cucumber (or Armenian – the light green curly ones) to the shape you like, toss with some chopped fresh mint, sea salt, ground black pepper, a dash of olive oil, and sautée until the cucumber is bright green and almost translucent (not mushy), no more than 2 minutes.  That’s it!  You can experiment with other herbs, like dill or cilantro, or lemongrass, and it’s a quick, refreshing side dish.

So, anyone can make this meal.  I think it’s hilarious that in less than 4 years, I taught myself how to really cook, and it all started with this selection of dishes.  Stay tuned for more recipes and possible food tragedies (eek!) when I self-cater our wedding next year!

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