Thursday, April 5, 2012

Potato and Smoked Salmon Gratin

There is a dish at the restaurant where I work: a crispy potato rosti, covered in soft, caramelized onions, peppery baby arugula, thin slices of smoked salmon, and topped off with sour cream and capers. It's deluxe, delicious, and expensive to make at home. It's usually the recipe I turn to for my once or twice a year smoked salmon treat.

Yes, I call myself a vegetarian, but I eat fish a few times a month. Does this make me a liar, or a fake? I don't think so, but others might argue it does. While food choices are highly politically and environmentally charged, they still remain a personal, private choice.

Other people can state this argument for select vegetarianism more eloquently that I, for example Michael Pollan's NYT essay, An Animal's Place, or The Anxiety of Eating, by David E. Cooper. After being a vegetarian for ten (ten!) years, the decisions I've made are to continue eating eggs, cheese and dairy, but buy them from local, organic and ethical farms, for example Organic Medows or Montforte Cheese. Journalists might call me a 'demi-vegetarian,' a moderate and selective consumer of animal products. My friends might laugh at me for buying 7 dollar eggs, but I know that they came from an organic farm where the hens have ten times the space of battery hens, real access to the outdoors and are free from hormones, antibiotics and heavily processed feeds. Is the price difference worth it? That's a personal choice you have to make.

So what about seafood? Any cook who wants to continue eating seafood, while making environmental, ethical choices, should visit the Seafood Watch, run by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. And a great book on the topic is Bottomfeeder, by Taras Grescoe.
For me, giving up eating fresh-shucked oysters in Malpeque Bay on vacation, or stocking up on smoked trout from Akiwenzie's Fish at the market, was not something I was willing to do. Still, seafood is a once-in-a-while treat for me, and when I do buy it, I try and come up with an extra-special recipe, to do it justice.

This topic is quickly turning into an essay, but I swear I'm getting to the recipe. The inspiration was some delicious Wild Pacific Smoked Salmon, a carton of Small Flock's Delight Eggs (from grass fed, free range hens), Koslik's Horseradish Mustard and some Victory Organic Arugula. Here you go! (This is honestly the most delicious meal I've made... since Tuesday's macaroni and cheese with oyster and shitake mushrooms).

Potato and Smoked Salmon Gratin with arugula and poached eggs

1 tbsp butter
2 baking potatoes, sliced very thin with a mandolin
salt and pepper
1/2 cup caramelized onions
2 or 3 tbsp capers, drained
100 gr. smoked salmon
1 1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup sour cream
1 egg
1 tbsp Kozlick's Horseradish mustard

For serving-
1 egg for each serving, to be poached
Handful of arugula for each serving
chives for garnish (yes! there are chives in my garden already!)

Preheat the oven to 375. Grease a baking dish with butter. Make one layer of potatoes to cover the bottom. Layer on top 1/2 of each of the salmon, onions and capers. Season with salt and pepper. Make another layer of potatoes, then the rest of the salmon, onions and capers. Season with salt and pepper again. Add a final layer of potatoes. In a bowl, beat together milk, sour cream, egg and mustard. Pour over potatoes. Bake for 50-60 minutes, until potatoes are soft and top is browned. Let rest for 5-10 minutes, covered.

When ready to serve, poach an egg for each person. (Check out this article on how to poach the perfect egg). Serve a square of gratin, topped with a handful of arugula, finished with a poached egg. Garnish with chives. Voila! (Or, Bon Appetit, as Julia Child would say. I'm in the middle of reading My Life in France.)

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