Sunday, September 16, 2007

sunday lunch in September

Sunday lunch started at 1 o'clock in the morning. We finished the last of the closing rituals at the restaurant, then packed ingredients for our lunch at home: carrot, dried figs, fresh salmon, green onions, a couple of potatoes, lapsang souchong tea, a bottle of Sicilian red wine, a lemon. As we turned out the lights and locked the doors, the village clock struck the quarter hour, the bell ringing through the crisp air, and we walked out onto our bricked terrace under such a brilliantly clear sky covered with so many stars it looked like a dark velvet shot through with diamond dust. Between the cold of the air and the sparkle of the stars, it was enough to take our breath away.

The weather radio threatened Frost Warnings, the temperatures dipping close to 30, perhaps the last night of the growing season. We were wrapped up in extra sweaters and coats and made hot mint tea to warm us on the drive home. We watched the thermometer drop as we drove out of town. We usually see a veritable ark of wild animals on that drive, mostly flocks of deer and naughty fox, but tonight, no one was about, only, sadly, the dead raccon left in the center of the road. Once home, we found a bagful of old sheets in the barn, and raided a basket full of curtain and tablecloth remnants from inside the house, and covered the eight raised beds in the garden. We did all we could to save the wild greens, the swiss chard, the German radishes, the still-ripening tomatoes. We worked quickly, this new cold seeping deep into our bones. We watched the sky for a moment, hoping for a shooting star, but fatigue overcame, and sent us straight to bed.

We woke up late, in time for strong, dark coffee. We built a fire in the woodstove. All those tender plants in the garden survived the night. Lunch preparations began. Grating the carrot and tossing with finely sliced dried fig, a little olive oil, salt and pepper. The potato got sliced in 1/8 inch pieces, skin on, and boiled until tender. Then a dressing mixed from dijon, olive oil, white wine vinegar, and the requisite s & p to taste. Caleb set up the wok with water in the bottom, then a little rack fashioned from wood pieces. He put the tea leaves in the water, then a layer of tin foil over the rack. This is where we would cook the salmon, or steam-smoke the salmon. A good friend had just told us about this recipe, and we couldn't quite remember what she said to do, and we couldn't raise her on the phone, so we improvised. The salmon was rubbed with a little Hoisin sauce, covered with ginger and scallion, then put in the wok, and covered until done. The cooked potatoes were set to soak in a little bit of dry Vermouth and we sat in front of the fire, the coffee having been replaced by white wine for our ritual aperitif, read the paper and snacked on hard cheese and cornichons.

When the salmon was done, we hand-sliced some Tuscan salame, and did the final toss of the still-warm potatoes in the mustard sauce, filled our plates with the carrot salad, potato salad, and the filet of tea-smoked salmon. Another splash of wine in the glass. The fish was incredibly moist and slightly fragrant with the lapsang souchong. We talked about how we might refine our recipe, strengthen the smokiness of the fish. The smokiness of the tea, the sweet of the dried figs, and the tang of the mustard remained on the palate. We considered eating the same meal again for our next lunch at home.

Recipe for Gently Smoked Salmon (adapted from The New York Times)
1/2 cup kosher salt, or as needed
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup oolong tea leaves, mixed with 2 tablespoons water
4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets
Freshly ground black pepper
Hoisin sauce
green onions(scallion)
chopped ginger
Extra-virgin olive oil, to drizzle.

Line the inside of a large wok with aluminum foil so that it comes at least 2 inches up the sides of the pan. Mix together 1/2 cup salt, the sugar, and tea leaves and pour into the base of the smoker or wok. Place a small baking rack and set on top of the spice mixture. (You may want to grease this in some fashion). Season the fish all sides with salt and pepper, then rub Hoisin on flesh side and cover each portion of the salmon with the chopped ginger and fresh green onion. Place the fish skin side down on the rack. Turn the heat to high (and turn on the exhaust fan above your stove), and when it starts to smoke, cover the pan tightly with a lid, reduce the heat to medium and smoke until cooked through, 10 to 16 minutes depending on the thickness of the fish. Drizzle the fish with extra-virgin olive oil. Serves 4.

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