Scarlet Feather by Maeve Binchy has been our June/July book pick for Cook the Books Club, as well as my first hosting experience there. I was pretty sure I had read this novel sometime in the past, but to be honest, once I got (re-)? reading it, the story was absolutely new to me. Maeve Binchy was the starting point however. Knowing that I wanted us at Cook the Books Club to feature one of her wonderful novels, I selected this one for the culinary connection. And it does indeed contain lots of foodie inspirations
The book concerns a pair of friends from cooking school who have the dream of opening their own catering business. An engrossing story, covering the process of getting Scarlet Feather (named for the duo - Tom Feather and Cathy Scarlet) the perfect premises, funded and established, including the connections and interesting personalities of all the various relatives, friends and, unknown to them, enemies, with lots of humor and understanding.
Binchy is well known for her delightful and humorous depiction of unique and memorable characters, both good and bad, and this novel has plenty of them. I especially loved the funny, precocious, abandoned twins who come to stay and end up living with Cathy and her family. Tom and Cathy face almost insurmountable odds both in their personal lives as well as with their business. But, are a fictional illustration of what can be overcome and be the impetus for growth in life.
Among many treats mentioned in the book was Salmon en Croute, which called to mind some wonderful meals we enjoyed in Ireland featuring salmon. A fish which also brings to mind an old Irish legend about the "Salmon of Knowledge." Perhaps eating salmon makes you wiser?
I had often thought of preparing this dish, but figured it would be tricky, a sort of fishy Beef Wellington. Not so at all. The pastry was a snap. And everything so simple to assemble and enclose in the dough.
All of the recipes I found called for some sort of greens to be layered with the salmon; either spinach, chard, watercress, basil, etc. or a combination. However, my shiso plant was going bananas at the time (still is), I think the word is bolting, and needed to be radically pruned . As I have been loving bits of it in salads, it occurred to me that shiso would be a tasty adjunct to the fish. Why should it be limited to Japanese food or the occasional salad?
And, from Delia's website, the recipe, which I adapted using shiso instead of the watercress, and making one parcel, rather than individual ones. Much simpler. My major mistake was getting smoked salmon in error, instead of fresh, which would have been much better. Still, all in all, pretty darn good.
Salmon en CrouteThis recipe is from the Delia Online Cookery School
For the Quick Flaky Pastry
110g plain flour
A pinch of salt
Cold water to mix
Stir together into a ball, cover with cling wrap and refrigerate at least an hour.
For the filling:
450g piece of salmon fillet, skinned and any bones removed, cut into 4 even sized steaks (or 4 skinless and boneless salmon fillets weighing approximately 110g each)
10g butter (a heaped teaspoon)
140g packet watercress, rocket and spinach salad (any larger stalks removed) I used shiso and 1/2 an onion, minced
1 rounded tablespoon crème fraiche
1 dessertspoon lemon juice (or minced slivers of preserved lemon)
Whole nutmeg, freshly grated
Salt and freshly milled black pepper
1 egg, beaten for brushing on pastry
Place the frying pan on a high heat then add the butter followed by the green salad leaves and wilt it for about 1 minute, stirring it around until it has collapsed then tip it into a sieve over a bowl and leave it to cool.
Then use the back of a wooden spoon to press the wilted greens against the sieve and extract any juices. Now place it on a chopping board and press with several sheets of kitchen paper to extract any wetness that remains. Spoon it into a small bowl then stir in the crème fraiche, lemon juice, some freshly grated nutmeg and some seasoning.
Then spread a quarter of the wilted greens mixture about the same size as the fillet, in the center of the pastry then place a salmon fillet on top.
Using a pastry brush dampen the corners of the pastry with cold water the fold the pastry in over one of the shortest edges of the salmon first and then do the same with the opposite side.
Now dampen the pastry along the edges that still need to be folded in, then fold them in over the salmon, overlapping and enclosing the salmon like a parcel. Carefully turn the parcel over and put it onto a parchment lined tray.
Do the same with the remaining salmon fillets then pop them in the fridge until needed.
When you are ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 220°C, Gas Mark 7. 425F
Place the parcels on the baking sheet, with a liner, then make 3 diagonal slashes in each one and brush each one with beaten egg. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake for 20 minutes on a high shelf until crisp and golden.
Let the salmon rest for 5 minutes, then cut into portions using a serrated knife. You might serve with hollandaise sauce, or a watercress sauce, new potatoes and broccoli or minted peas, or a nice salad and parsley new potatoes as I did. I'll share this with Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking event, as well as with Cook the Books Club.
The deadline for this Cook the Books round is Sunday, July 31st and I'll be rounding up all the delicious entries at the CTB site shortly after. If you missed out on this round and like books, food, and foodie books, you're welcome to join us for August/September when Debra of Eliot's Eats will be hosting with The Secret Book of Frida Kahlo (there will be a crossover meme with Food 'N Flix September pick Frida--also hosted by Debra). Hope to see you!