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upload_-1-2(Lightly dressed) Herring

1 Russian style herring, headless, gutted (Scandinavian-style herring is too sweet)

1 tsp minced dill

1/2 tbsp minced scallion

1 tsp unfiltered sunflower oil

1/2 tbsp red wine vinegar

Flatten the herring on a cutting board.  Cut out the spine and discard.  Using a very sharp knife, slice away the rib bones, then the belly strips. Slice the resulting filets into 1-inch wide pieces.  Arrange on a platter, sprinkle with vinegar and oil, then with the herbs.

 

upload_-1-3Beet Salad (one of many)

Russian people traditionally boil beets for salads.  Since coming to the US, I discovered roasting beets on sea salt, which is much better for their color and flavor.

4 medium beets, trimmed

4 tbsp sea salt, plus more to season

1 large clove garlic, pressed

1/2 tbsp lemon juice

1 tbsp sour cream

freshly ground pepper

  1. Preheat the oven to 400F.  Wrap each beet in a piece of aluminum foil with 1 tbsp sea salt.  Place in an oven-proof dish and roast for 1 hour.  Let cool
  2. Peel the beets and discard the caked salt.
  3. Dice the beets into small long pieces.  Add the remaining ingredients and mix.  Adjust the salt and pepper to taste.  Chill before serving.
  4. Serve sprinkled with dill.

 

Mushroom Julienne

Classic julienne is vegetarian, although people frequently combine it with meat or fish to turn it into an entree.  I had to accompany my father to his office one day, and he took me to eat lunch at this dark Moscow tavern, where I was served mushroom julienne with sturgeon en cocotte.  It remains to this day one of the most delicious things I ever had.  Anyway, here is a recipe for your basic julienne, which is served as a warm appetizer.

1 lbs baby bella mushrooms, cleaned and dried, stems trimmed, diced

1 cup cream béchamel sauce (see end of this post for recipe)

2 shallots, finely chopped

1 tbsp butter

1/2 tsp fennel seeds

1/3 cup shredded Gruyère cheese

1/2 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese

salt and pepper to taste

  1. Preheat the oven on broil.
  2. Melt butter in a deep skillet and add the shallots.  Saute until soft and slightly golden, about 15 minutes.
  3. Add the mushrooms and cook, stirring frequently, until the mushrooms have reabsorbed their liquid.
  4. Add the warm cream béchamel sauce, adjust the salt and pepper (keeping in mind that Parmesan will impart additional salt) and season with fennel seeds.
  5. Transfer the mushrooms with the sauce to ramekins or a gratin dish, sprinkle generously with Gruyère and Parmesan cheeses and broil until the cheese and completely melted and brown blisters have appeared on the surface.

 

Cream Béchamel

Classic béchamel is made with milk, but I often make mine with cream to reduce the possibility of curdling and to make a richer sauce.

See Q&A at the end of the recipe for more information

1 tbsp butter

1 tbsp flour

2 cups heavy cream, heated

2-3 parsley stalks

1 bay leaf

salt to taste

pinch of ground white pepper

pinch of grated nutmeg

  1. Add the parsley stalks and the bay leaf to heavy cream and heat it until it’s very hot, but not boiling.  Let steep, covered, for about 10 minutes.
  2. Melt butter in a heavy-bottomed non-stick sauce pot and sift the flour over it.
  3. Cook the flour, stirring frequently and not letting it burn.  The roux should have the consistency of thick cookie batter.  If you see some fat separating, or if the roux is too thin, that means there isn’t enough flour to absorb the oil.  Add a bit more, about 1/2 tsp at a time, until you get the right consistency.  Keep cooking the roux until it turns golden, about 7-8 minutes.
  4. Discard the parsley stalks and the bay leaf from the cream.  Add about 3/4 of the cream to the roux in a thin stream, whisking vigorously. (OBLIGATORY SAFETY  NOTE: ALWAYS ADD LIQUID TO ROUX, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND. NEVER EVER DROP ROUX INTO LIQUID.)
  5. Reduce heat to its lowest setting, add a pinch of salt to the sauce, cover the pot and let the sauce cook at a bare simmer, covered, for about 25 minutes.  The sauce should thicken considerably over that time.  If too thick, whisk in additional cream at the end of the cooking time.
  6. Take off heat.  Adjust the salt and stir in the white pepper and the nutmeg.  Keep warm until ready to us.

Q&A:

Q: Why does the cream need to be heated?

A: This is actually a matter of debate, even among chefs.  Some people believe that cold milk or cream should be used, that the “thermal shock” results in a better sauce.  I’ve tried it both ways, and in my experience, hot cream or milk works better and gives you a smoother, more velvety sauce.  I also add some parsley stalks and bay leaf to the cream for better flavor.  The early European version of béchamel (the sauce is originally from Turkey) was a lot more complex and involved sautéing and then steeping vegetables in milk to increase its savoriness.

Q: Can I make béchamel a day ahead?

A: In a word, no.  I have found that when chilled, homemade béchamel thickens almost to the consistency of a custard, and when you try to thin it out, whether cold or heated, it turns clumpy.  So I’m sorry, you have to make it shortly before you use it.

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