There are certain dishes a chef becomes acquainted with at some early time in their career that eventually seem to fade away from their consciousness for one reason or another; maybe the dish is just too fussy, or too out of date, or impractical in too many situations. Occasionally though, the forgotten dish will have actually been good enough in the first place to merit a second go around at some time in the chef’s later career. The dish in question will often elicit a comment such as “I can’t believe it’s been so long since I last made this”, or “Why is it that I don’t make this more often?”
As a chef instructor at a Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, I think it’s possible that I have more opportunities than most to experience this phenomenon, the reason being that I demonstrate and teach to my students many very classic dishes, some of which tend to be left behind by the steady forward march of culinary evolution.
Just the other night I experienced this first hand. When I started out in the hospitality industry, I was working for a catering company, making food for large functions and parties…food and recipes that were chosen specifically for their ability to do well sitting on a platter on a buffet table for the duration of the event. One dish that was always very popular among guests, servers, and cooks alike was the venerable whole poached salmon, served chilled, and covered with thin slices of cucumber applied in such a way as to look like the fish’s scales. Easy to prepare; no sweat to transport; a breeze to serve; visually stunning; and supremely delicious. It had it all!
Once I moved away from the world of catering and buffets, though, I never really gave the whole poached salmon much thought…until last night. A beautiful, ultra fresh (smelling of cucumbers and melons), ten pound salmon came in on the product order for my class, and it was my task to demonstrate in front of them the technique for poaching it whole and decorating it for the buffet table. Needless to say, my previous experience at the catering company came in handy, and the finished product was a thing of beauty. As my students drooled over the jade-green scaled treasure, anticipating its soft, tender, poached to juicy perfection flesh, I made them wait patiently while I whipped up a mayonnaise-based sauce to accompany the fish. Into two cups of hand-made mayonnaise I combined a quarter cup of mashed anchovy fillets, three cloves of finely minced garlic, the juice of half of a lemon, a handful of fresh chopped dill, a tablespoon of Dijon mustard, and half of a grated seedless cucumber. We stripped the salmon to the bone, and I was one very happy chef to have rediscovered how glorious this simple and classic dish really is.