Saumon, masculine noun (le saumon, un saumon, des saumons) = salmon (pronounced so-mon, stress equal on both syllables, with little emphasis on the n, the s is not heard in the plural).
Saumon fumé = smoked salmon; saumon sauvage = wild salmon; saumon d’élevage = farmed salmon; saumon bio = organic salmon.
Salmon used to be a rarity when I was a child, and even then, what you found was usually tinned not fresh. But according to FAO statistics, between 1980 and 2002 quantities of farmed salmon quadrupled, making it plentiful and quite cheap today. Salmon is now the most frequently eaten fish in France. Among the countries importing fresh salmon, the United States comes first, with almost 323 million dollars of imports, but amazingly France is second, importing just over 238 million dollars’ worth. When you consider the difference in population of the two countries, this means that the French consume vast quantities. The United Kingdom doesn’t even figure on the list, it must be lumped in with “other countries” at the end! This article in French on the subject is really interesting if your French is good enough, but even if you are not sure it is, reading it would help you progress and there are lots of tables of figures which need no translation!
My recipe for today is for tartare de saumon. Now tartare in French denotes something which is served raw, usually meat or fish, as in steack tartare (raw ground beef) for instance. If you like sushi, you’ll like this. Raw fish is delicious, light and healthy, that is if you are careful to buy the very best, freshest fish you can find. I personally prefer to buy wild or organic, especially when I’m not going to cook it.
- Fresh salmon (use it the day you buy it, you will need 60gr (2oz) per person)
- Cucumber (60gr per person)
- Tomato (60gr per person)
- Philadelphia cream cheese (the plain variety, 75gr per person)
- Some liquid cream or greek yoghurt
- Salt, pepper, Tabasco
- A bunch of fresh dill
- Wash the salmon and pat it dry. Remove the skin and any discoloured bits. Run your fingers over the fish to feel for bones and remove them. Be careful that no scales remain on the fish you are going to use.
- Cut the salmon by hand, with a sharp knife, into small cubes (about 1/2cm or 1/4″). Put them into a bowl. Do not season the fish. Place in the fridge.
- Wash the cucumber and cut it into the same sized cubes without removing the skin. It makes for more colour in the finished dish. Put the cucumber into a sieve, add a small tbs salt (coarse salt if you have it), stir it around with your hand and set aside.
- Boil a kettle, put the tomatoes into a bowl, pour boiling water over them, stick them several times with a knife and remove from the boiling water after a minute or so. Peel the tomatoes, cut in quarters and de-seed, chop the remaining flesh into cubes and pat dry. Do not season the tomato.
- Put the cream cheese into a bowl, add cream or greek yoghurt to thin the consistency down. It should not be too thick. I have used Philadelphia because I know you can get it easily. But you can also use crême fraîche or whipped cream instead of the cream cheese/cream mixture.
- Add pepper, Tabasco and at least two heaped tbs chopped fresh dill per person to the cream mixture. No salt if you are using Philadelphia, it is already salty enough and the cucumber will add saltiness too. Mix well. There should be a lot of dill.
- Rinse the cucumber, drain and pat firmly dry. This salting process tenderizes the cucumber, makes it less bitter and more flavourful, and increases its digestibility, particularly with the skin left on.
- Mix the cucumber with half of the cream mixture, folding it in with a spoon, reserving two little cubes per portion as a garnish.
- Mix the salmon with the other half of the cream mixture in the same way.
None of the above is difficult, it’s just fiddly. Now comes the fun part. You need ring molds in order to present your dish in professional style. Ring molds are an essential part of any kitchen’s equipment, they are so useful. They come in various sizes, both in diameter and in depth and can be used for starters, main courses, desserts, for cooking small cakes, you name it, you will use them often. The ones I prefer are made by Ateco, you will find them on amazon.com. 3″ and 4″ are the most useful.
- Place a ring mold on a serving plate. Spoon cucumber mixture to just under half way up. Press down firmly with the spoon.
- Add a thin layer of tomato, making sure it reaches right to the edges of the ring; it is the edge that will be seen in the finished dish.
- Finish up with a layer of salmon and cream, overfill the ring slightly and press down firmly with the spoon.
- Make sure your ring is well centred on the plate. Grasp it firmly on both sides and raise it gently to remove it from the plate. You are left with a beautiful little pale green and salmon pink circle.
Garnish the top with two little cubes of cucumber and a plume of dill. And stand back and admire your handiwork! Don’t add too much else to the plate, it will detract from the simple beauty of your creation.