Life in a Northern Town

Sassy Salmon En Croute

There are a few things I always have in the freezer: meatballs, Tetzner's ice cream, chicken stock and puff pastry dough. Puff pastry dough is my idea of a secret weapon— you wrap anything in a buttery, flaky dough and voilà, you've elevated the ordinary to the extraordinary (the power of butter is endless). Ted made salmon en croute for our very first Christmas Eve dinner with my family twelve years ago. We wanted to come up with a show-stopping meal and since I've never been a particularly big fan of understatement, wrapping a hunk of salmon in puff pastry seemed like the ticket to Christmas Eve perfection. Ted took charge of the dinner and I remember poking my head in the kitchen and watching him, with his tie tucked in between the buttons on his shirt, cutting the dough into the shape of a fish— he's kind of a fancy guy. When he walked out of the kitchen with an enormous smile on his face and a perfectly cooked and puffed salmon en croute, I knew we had started a cherished family tradition.

Twelve years later, I've wrapped all sorts of things in puff pastry (brie en croute recipe here) and we have ribs for Christmas Eve dinner now, but nothing beats salmon en croute for a good meal and a trip down memory lane. This time I ran into a snag and tried to roll out the dough when it was too cold. It kept cracking and I wasn't able to get it large enough to wrap up the entire fish. I decided to morph my 'en croute' to 'en galette' and wrapped the salmon about halfway up. It turned out to be a fortuitous detour— the filling (now the topping) was caramelized and the puff wasn't soggy because the moisture from the spinach and mushrooms evaporated in the oven. I guess impatience can pay off (sometimes).

Sassy Salmon En Croute

1/4 cup butter
1 1/2 pounds fresh mushrooms,sliced
3 large shallots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 (10-ounce) packages frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed dry
1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, chopped
8 ounces goat cheese (I used Sassy Nanny Lake Effect)
2 tbsp fresh thyme, chopped
1 package puff pastry ( I used Pepperidge Farms), thawed in the refrigerator overnight
1 (2-to 2 1/2-pound) salmon fillet, skinned
1 large egg
2 teaspoons water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preparation
Melt the butter over medium-high heat in a large skillet. Add the mushrooms and shallots and sauté until well cooked and all the liquid has evaporated, about 10 minutes. Add the spinach, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes and thyme and sauté until all liquid is evaporated, about another 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a covered container and refrigerate until thoroughly cooled, up to one day in advance.

Lightly flour a clean work surface and set out the chilled puff pastry. Let the pastry sit just long enough to become pliable, so it won't break or crack when you unfold it and try to roll it out. Roll the puff pastry dough out to fit your salmon fillet when it's placed on the dough on the diagonal. Place the puff dough on a sheet tray lined with parchment paper. In a small bowl, combine the egg and water for the egg wash and beat with a fork until foamy.

Season the salmon fillet with salt and pepper. Place the spinach/mushroom/sun-dried tomato mixture and goat cheese on top of the salmon fillet and wrap the puff dough up around the salmon. Brush the sides of the dough with the egg wash, being careful not to let too much egg drip down the edges of the pastry, and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Place in the refrigerator and chill for at least 1 hour and up to overnight before baking.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Remove the plastic wrap, place the baking sheet on the center rack of the oven, and bake for 15 minutes.  Decrease the temperature to 350 degrees and bake an additional 15 to 20 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and puffed.  Remove from the oven and let rest, uncovered, for at least 30 minutes before cutting.