By Cat, May 2014 (Photo, right, from Wikimedia Commons)
This is another recipe that dates back to my ‘French’ period – mid 70’s to mid ’80s. I wanted to learn to read French so I could understand a French menu; and I learned to cook many French entrees and desserts. Early on in that time, I bought a copy of Simca’s Cuisine, by Simone Beck (1). Simca is one of the authors of Mastering The Art of French Cooking. Her book is designed in menus for special occasions, and one of them, for a winter buffet party, featured this Pâté de Saumon en Brioche recipe, which quickly became my most requested dish at parties.
The dish is an adaptation of a Russian dish called coulibiac, a type of pie made with salmon or pike and hard-boiled eggs, in brioche or other rich pastry.
- Includes: 1. Pâté de Saumon, en Croûte; 2. Decorating the fish shape
- See also: 1. Brioche, 3 Versions; 2. Nuts: Soaking & Sprouting, etc
I shaped the loaf like a fish, wrapped it with the brioche, then decorated the pastry before baking, using the tip of a spoon to mark the scales and gills, a knife’s dull edge to draw the ridges on the tail and fins, and a slice of pimiento-stuffed green olive for an eye.
I wish I’d taken a photo of it, to display here, but alas, that will have to wait until I make it again. I don’t have those big parties anymore, because my Montana house is quite small, but perhaps one of these days, I’ll just make it for two. In the meantime, my sketch, above, will have to do.
Pâté de Saumon, en Croûte (Salmon & Rice Loaf, in Brioche)
I’ve adapted this recipe – with few changes – from Simca’s recipe (Simca’s Cuisine, by Simone Beck (1)). Serves 8 as a main course for a sit-down dinner, or serves many at a party.
This sounds like a fairly tedious recipe, but it is so worth the effort.
I buy only fresh, wild salmon (or one that is frozen right after being caught, for use in the off-season), and Organic white rice (not the quick-cooking kind like Uncle Ben’s). Brown rice doesn’t work well in this dish, and these days, it is contaminated with arsenic – even Organic brown rice (from being grown in the same soil where cotton was once grown, and the extensive fertilization required by cotton, typically chemical fertilizers, polluted the soil).
Saffron is an expensive spice but you only need a pinch, so do indulge.
Make the brioche dough a day in advance, then refrigerate it. The salmon and rice loaf should be made the day it is to be served, but can be prepared 1 – 2 hours in advance, and kept warm, wrapped in foil, in the turned off oven.
Ingredients & Equipment
- 1 recipe Brioche, prepared and refrigerated the day before
- Salmon & Rice Loaf
- ¼ cup uncooked white rice
- pinch saffron
- 2 lb fresh wild salmon steaks (or ¾ lb canned wild salmon, free of skin, bones and cartilage)
- 1 -2 Tbsp olive oil
- ½ cup mined shallots or scallions
- 2 Tbsp real butter
- ¾ cup whole milk
- 1 ½ Tbsp tapioca
- 1 egg yolk
- 3 Tbsp fresh cream (not fat-free cream)
- 3 Tbsp almond meal* or almond flour (commercial, or make your own; see See Nuts: Soaking & Sprouting, etc. for instructions)
- Herbs/spices, to taste: Freshly ground cumin seed, paprika, cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp fresh dill, chopped (or ½ tsp dried)
- Unrefined sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- ½ cup vodka
- 1 extra-large egg, or 2 small eggs, hard-boiled and sliced
- 1 egg, beaten (to brush on pastry)
- Leaves of Boston or Bibb lettuce
- Fresh watercress (or parsley, if you cannot find watercress)
- Whipped Butter Sauce (Le buerre mousseux de Francçoise)
- ½ pound sweet butter (1 cup)
- ⅓ cup fish stock or clam juice
- ⅓ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
- Unrefined sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1 Tbsp mixed fresh parsley and tarragon, chopped (or ½ Tbsp mixed dried parsley and tarragon)
- bowls (to mix brioche, and to mix the pâté)
- saucepans (to cook rice, and to cook the tapioca in milk)
- food mill
- small, heavy-bottomed or cast iron skillet
- baking sheet
- rolling pin
- pastry cloth and sock (optional)
- hand-held electric mixer, or balloon whip (egg whisk)
- serving platter
* Almond meal is also known as almond flour, though the flour is usually ground more finely. Bob’s Red Mill is a popular brand.
- Pastry: Prepare brioche the day before and refrigerate. You can divide it in half before or after the refrigeration.
- Paté (Salmon & Rice Loaf): Boil rice, using 1 quart water, with the following changes to method: Add saffron to the boiling water when you add the rice. After draining the cooked rice in a colander, refresh it under cold running water, dry thoroughly on towels, and set aside.
- Poach salmon (or in a pinch you can use canned salmon). Reserve two nice pieces to decorate the filling, and puree the remainder; or puree all (using food mill or other device). If you reserve two pieces, paint them generously with olive oil and set aside.
- Mince shallots/scallions then cook gently in butter until tender and translucent.
- Bring milk just to a boil, remove form heat and add tapioca, stirring until paste is smooth.
- Lightly beat egg yolk with cream, then combine with pureed salmon, shallots/scallions and tapioca paste. Add almond meal, and season the mix highly to taste with cumin, paprika, cayenne, dill, salt and pepper. Stir in vodka.
- Assembly: Divide brioche pastry in half (if you didn’t do that before refrigerating), then return one piece to the fridge. Roll out the other piece and shape into a neat rectangle, 7″ by 11″ (You will adjust it for the fish shape, if desired, when you arrange the filling). Place on baking sheet and refrigerate to firm once again.
- Remove the baking sheet with its rolled pastry from the fridge.
- Layer the filling: Spread half of the rice evenly onto the firm pastry, leaving a 1″ border of pastry all around. If you want to make the fish shape, taper the rice toward the nose, for about 2″; and taper just a bit, about 2″ from the other end, then fan out again for the tail. You can fine-tune the shape when you add the other piece of pastry over the top.
- Spread half of the salmon filling evenly on top of the rice, and cover with all of the egg slices. Add optional reserved pieces of salmon. Cover with remaining salmon filling and finally the remaining rice. Make each layer very neat.
- Fold up the borders of pastry, squarely against the filling, and brush the outer sides with part of the beaten egg.
- Roll out the other piece of pastry to 9″ by 13″ rectangle (larger than first piece). Carefully lay it evenly on the filling, then tuck the sides under the whole thing. If you are making the fish shape, you will need to trim away some of the pastry around the nose, and also where the body ends and the tail begins. But leave enough to tuck under, brushing with egg to help it stick. Reserve the trimmings to make the dorsal and gill fins, brushing with egg to make them stick to the main pastry.
- Make vents for steam to escape: Make two holes in the top of the pastry, pushing your finger down through most of the filling. Roll a small cylinder of baking parchment to place in each hole, to keep the vent open. If making fish shape, see below for details.
- Brush entire paté with more beaten egg, then return to fridge until pastry is firm again.
- Bake: Preheat oven to 375°F while the paté is chilling.
- Place paté (on its baking sheet) in preheated oven and bake for 35 – 40 minutes, until it is nicely browned.
- Remove from oven and set baking sheet on cooling rack. Let paté cool a bit, to lukewarm.
- Prepare Whipped Butter Sauce: While paté is cooling, prepare sauce.
- Work butter in bowl with a fork until malleable. Very gradually, beat in the fish stock or clam juice, then the lemon juice.
- Whip with electric beater (or egg whisk) until butter has the consistency of whipped cream (7 – 10 minutes). Taste and adjust seasoning with salt & pepper, but don’t add herbs until just before serving.
- Sauce is best served right away, but will keep for up to 1 hour at room temperature. You may need to refresh the texture by whipping with a whisk.
- Arrange for serving: Arrange lettuce leaves on serving platter.
- If making a fish shape (see below), carefully transfer it atop the lettuce leaves – you may want help with this, to keep it from falling apart. If the fins break off, just arrange them where they should be.
- Otherwise, transfer rectangular paté atop the lettuce leaves, then cut into serving portions.
- Arrange bouquets of watercress (or parsley) all around the pate.
- To serve: cut crosswise in slices.
- Serve the sauce in a sauceboat.
Decorating the fish shape
(Sketch by Cat)
Gills: About 4″ from the nose tip, cut a slight curve, starting midway between top and bottom of head, almost to bottom of head. Separate the pastry a bit along this curve, and insert one of the parchment cylinders at the top of the curve to keep the vent open.
Mouth: Using dull edge of knife blade, draw a mouth (but without cutting through the pastry), with a slight smile, as a line from tip of nose to about ¾” from the gill.
Tail: Squeeze the fish a bit at the indentation between body and tail so that it is more noticeable. Puncture the other vent hole in the body of the fish about 1″ before that indentation, and insert the other parchment cylinder in the hole. With the dull edge of the knife blade, draw fin lines in the tail, from the indent to the tip of the tail, so that the lines fan outward toward the tip of the tail, but avoid cutting all the way through the pastry.
Scales: Using the curved edge of a rounded spoon, mark scales on the body of the fish in rows from top of the back to the belly, pushing the tip into the pastry to create a U-shape for each scale. The scales should alternate, like bricks.
Fins: These are optional; they tend to break off when you transfer the fish-shaped paté to the serving platter.
- Dorsal fin: Cut a triangle from one of the cut-away scraps of pastry for the dorsal fin; you want it to be fairly thick along one edge, where you will attach it to the body. Using dull edge of knife blade, draw fin lines in the triangle, outward from thick edge to top of fin. Brush the thick edge of the triangle with egg; also brush the spot at the top of the back where you want to place the dorsal fin with egg, then press the fin to the body, with the wide end of the triangle toward the tail and the point toward the head.
- Gill fin: Cut a small rectangle, about ¾” wide and 1 ½” long, and pleat a bit at one narrow end. Draw fin lines from pleated end to tip. Brush underside of gill fin’s pleated end, and brush body of the fish just behind the gill, near belly, with egg, and press fin in place, so that it mostly rests against the fish.
Eyes: Cut a pimiento-stuffed green olive in half; position one of the halves on the head where the eye will be and press it into the pastry. Eat the other half, or slice more of the olives in half and use them to garnish the platter.
- Simca’s Cuisine by Simone Beck, in collaboration with Patricia Simon.