I was recently having a conversation with a friend about ways to cook salmon to serve on a bed of spinach when, out of the blue, kulebiak popped into my head. Kulebiak, a Polish pastry filled with fish and cabbage, was a go to solution for many a dinner party in my catering days, but it had somehow fallen off my radar, but thankfully not forgotten! I was really excited to get into the kitchen and revisit this old Polish favorite.
Kulebiak is a traditional dish rooted in the Slavic countries with variations in each region. Essentially a pastry dough filled with fish (salmon or sturgeon) or meats along with cabbage or sauerkraut. Other accompaniments that may be included are mushrooms, herbs, rice, or potatoes.
For cooks and hosts alike Kulebiak is is a main course solution that can be prepared in advance and baked off just before serving. All of kulebiak’s savory goodness will be revealed for your guests with the stroke of a fork!
Following traditions, the recipe that follows sticks to the simple paring of salmon and cabbage in puff pastry served with a lemony sour cream sauce. Be that as it is, feel free to try other combinations. The possibilities are endless for this easy entertaining solution.
Salmon and cabbage Kulebiak serves 4
As there are several steps for this recipe it would be best to read through the entire recipe before you begin preparations.
Preparing a broth for blanching the cabbage:
- 3 cups water
- 1/3 cup gin or vodka
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 1 small onion, peeled and diced
- 1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
- several sprigs of celery with leaves
- 1 sprig of fresh thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- 6 juniper berries
- 10 black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
Place all the ingredients for the broth in wide sauce pan or skillet that has a tight fitting lid. Bring to a boil and lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.
While the broth is simmering you can prepare the cabbage leaves for blanching.
Preparing the cabbage:
- 1 large head of green cabbage
- blanching broth
Slice off the stem of the head of cabbage and remove the outer leaves and discard. Begin removing the leaves being careful to keep the leaves intact. Once all the leaves are separated, using a sharp knife, remove the center rib of each leaf at the stem end and discard.
Bring the prepared broth back to a rolling boil and promptly add the cabbage leaves to the pan and cover with a lid. Cook for 4-5 minutes until the cabbage leaves are soft, pliable, and translucent. Carefully remove the leaves from the pan and spread them out on a kitchen towel to dry. Set the broth aside and when cool strain. Discard the solids, and reserve the clear broth to season the sauce.
Preparing the salmon:
- 20 oz side of salmon, skinless and boneless
- prepared blanched cabbage leaves
- ½ cup freshly chopped dill leaves
- sea salt
- freshly ground white pepper
- sheets of butter puff pastry, thawed
Slice the side of salmon into 4 equal portions approximately 5 ounces each. With a very sharp knife in hand place the palm of your other hand on top of the salmon fillet lengthwise. Horizontally slice the salmon fillet lengthwise into 1/8 inch thick strips. Stack the strips and set aside. Follow the same procedure for the remaining salmon fillets.
Working with one portion at a time, place a slice of salmon in the center of a cabbage leaf, stem to stern. Scatter the top with dill and season very lightly with salt and a twist of pepper. Wrap the cabbage leaf over the salmon to enclose it in the leaf.
Continuing, drape another cabbage leaf over the first cabbage wrapped layer. Place another slice of salmon in the center, add dill and salt and pepper, and again wrap the cabbage leaf over the salmon. Repeat the same procedure with the remaining salmon strips, stacking one layer on top of another.
Then place two cabbage leaves overlapping on your work surface and place a stacked bundle of salmon in cabbage leaves in the center. Wrap the left side cabbage leaf over the stack and tuck under the stack, Then do the same with the right cabbage leaf. Place on a tray, cover with cling film, and refrigerate.
Place a sheet of cold puff pastry dough on your work surface and cut out a rectangle or oval shape about ½ inch larger than the stacked bundles of salmon and cabbage. Cut a second piece of puff pastry dough about an ¾ of an inch larger than the bottom layer and place on a tray. Cut the remaining pieces of puff pastry and transfer the tray to the refrigerator until you are ready to assemble the kulebiak for baking.
Preheat the oven to 425f/220c. Have ready a baking tray lined with parchment.
Prepare and egg wash:
- 1 egg
- 1 tablespoon milk
Whisk the egg and milk together and set aside.
Working with one portion at a time, place the smaller piece of puff pastry on the baking tray lined with parchment and place a salmon bundle in the center. Brush the edges of the pastry with egg wash. Then center and drape the larger piece of puff over the bundle of salmon and align the top and bottom edges of the puff pastry and press to seal. You can then crimp the edges by folding the dough over itself, like you would when making empanadas, or simply crimp with a fork. Repeat the same process for the remaining portions.
Return the kulebiak to the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.
When you are ready to bake bush the surface of each kulebiak with egg wash and slice a small opening in the center top to vent steam while baking.
Promptly transfer the tray to the oven and bake about 25 minutes. The surface of the pastry should be nicely golden browned when finished.
While the kulebiak is baking you can prepare the sauce.
Preparing the sauce:
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice or more to taste
- 1 to 2 tablespoon cooled broth or to taste
- 2 tablespoons freshly chopped dill leaves
- 1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
- sea salt to taste
Combine all the ingredients and whisk until smooth. Refrigerate the sauce if not using immediately.
Remove the kulebiak from the oven. Lightly dust the tops of each with paprika and serve along with a pool of sauce to the side on each serving plate.
Now that fall has arrived and temperatures have waned soups are very much on my mind. One of the most satisfying soups I can think of is Japanese miso soup. It is simple to prepare and the warming pleasures of miso soup for breakfast, lunch, or dinner are well worth so little effort.
As I started thinking about this post a favorite Japanese film came immediately to mind; Tampopo. It is a sweet and very very funny comedy about Tampopo’s quest to make the best noodle soups for her noodle shop in her village. It says everything about achieving perfection in all things Japanese, including in the kitchen, and well worth a watch for some very lively and entertaining inspiration.
Ichiban Dashi, a clear light amber colored broth, is the foundation for many Japanese dishes like soups (including miso soups), simmered dishes, sauces, marinades, and salad dressings. Its essence is in its simplicity, using only three ingredients. Water, kombu seaweed (kelp), and Katsuo bushi (shaved dried bonita flakes). The resulting clear light broth has a subdued mellow smoky flavor with an underlying sweetness and a hint of the salty sea that belies its rich nutritional content.
Kombu is cultivated in the icy mineral rich waters of Hokkaido, Japan’s northern most prefecture. After harvesting the kombu is air and sun dried into a hard leathery textured bark like strips. Kombu contains numerous nutrients including natural glutamic acid which contributes an umami (pleasant savory) taste to the dashi broth. More about umami taste in my next post.
Katsuo/bonito is a type of Japanese tuna. The fish is boiled, the bones removed, and the flesh smeared with a fermented fish paste. The fish is then set aside to marinate and then sun dried. Once completely dry the fish is smoked until it is very dry and hard. The bonita is then thinly shaved into flakes called katsuo bushi that look very much like planed wood shavings.
Dashi preparation involves slowly simmering strips of dried kombu in water to extract the flavor and nutrients from the kombu into the broth. Just before the water comes to a boil the kombu is promptly removed from the pot to avoid any bitterness to the finished broth. Katsuo bushi/shaved dried bonito flakes are then added to the pot. Once the water returns to a boil the pan is promptly removed from the heat and set aside until the shaved bonita flakes sink to the bottom of the pot. The broth is then strained and set aside. This preparation’s success is all about timing!
This may appear to be a little complicated, but really the whole process takes no more than fifteen minutes from start to finish. There are packaged instant dashi powder sachets available, but the results using the traditional method of making dashi is far superior and more nutritious in every way.
To make Miso-shiru soup, miso is stirred into a small quantity of dashi until dissolved and then whisked into the hot dashi broth and poured into a soup bowl that may include some cubed tofu, a few sprigs of chives, and a dash of sancho pepper. That’s all there is to it!
The ingredients, as unfamiliar as they may sound, should be readily available at larger supermarkets, Asian markets, health food stores, or online as a last resort.
Ichiban Dashi (first dashi) makes 2 quarts
- 1.9 liters/2 quarts cold spring water
- 1 oz/25g dried kombu strips
- 1 oz/25g dried bonito flakes
Fill a medium size soup pot with cold spring water.
You will notice some white powder on the kombu which contains nutrients and will add flavor to the broth, so do not rinse it before placing the kombu into the pot of water.
Put the kombu into the pot of water and place on the stove over medium heat. Bring the water to a slow simmer without boiling for about 10 minutes. The kombu will soften, unfurl, and turn a deep green as the water nears the boiling point. As mentioned it is important that the kombu is removed from the pot before the water comes to a boil to avoid any bitterness in the broth. Using tongs remove the kombu and set aside to make a Niban Dashi (second dashi) with a more assertive flavored broth later.
Bring the broth back to a full boil and then add a little cold water to bring the temperature down a bit and add the bonito flakes without stirring. As soon as the water returns to a boil promptly remove the pot from the heat and set aside. Once the bonito flakes settle to the bottom of the pot, skim off any foam from the surface of the broth and discard.
Line a fine mesh strainer with cheesecloth and strain the both into a clean bowl and set aside to cool. Reserve the bonita flakes to make a Niban Dashi (second dashi) later.
The dashi can then be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 4 days or frozen for later use.
Niban Dashi (second dashi): Reusing the kombu and bonita flakes from the first dashi will produce a deeper flavored dashi that is useful for simmered dishes, sauces, and dressings.
Follow the same procedure, adding the reserved kombu and bonita flakes from the first dashi, in a fresh pot of water. Bring to a near boil, remove the kombu, and then lower the heat and simmer until the broth is reduced by a third. Then add ½ oz/14g fresh dried bonita flakes and promptly remove from the heat. Let the flakes settle to the bottom of the pot, remove foam, strain, and refrigerate or freeze.
Miso is a Japanese fermented soybean and grain paste. All have a high protein content and rich in vitamins and minerals.
Shiro miso; aka white miso is pale light color with a mild and slightly sweet flavor.
Shinshu miso; yellow miso is a yellowish brown color with a bolder flavor and more salty.
Aka miso; aka red miso is dark red brown with an assertive flavor and the most salty miso.
Miso-shiru (miso soup) basic: serves 4
- 4 cups Ichiban Dashi (first dashi)
- 3-4 tblespoons Miso of choice
- ½ block firm tofu cut into small cubes
- ¼ cup thinly sliced scallions
- Optional: shiitake mushrooms, seaweeds, assorted Japanese herb stalks, sansho pepper as a seasoning.
Heat the dashi to a near boil.
Place the miso in a small bowl and ladle some of the hot dashi into the bowl and whisk the miso into the broth until completely dissolved. Then slowly pour the miso mixture into the hot dashi and stir until well combined.
If you are using mushrooms or seaweed stir them into the soup as well.
Heat the soup for an additional 1 or 2 minutes until piping hot without boiling.
Place the cubed tofu and scallions into individual serving bowls and ladle the soup into the bowls.
Garnish with Japanese herbs if using and serve. Sancho pepper, with a light lingering peppery citrus after taste, is a nice additional seasoning at the table.
….or pesce al cartoccio. Both a French and an Italian method of cooking fish in an enclosed parchment paper pouch along with herbs, lemon juice, butter, and sea salt. It couldn’t be simpler. The fish is delicately infused with the essence of the herbs and moistened with the released juices from the fish as it steams to perfection in less than ten minutes. This, to me, is the ultimate way to cook fresh seafood. The delicate flavor of the fish is beautifully preserved and complemented with a seductive aroma of citrus and herbs that is released when the parchment pouch is sliced open at the table to everyone’s surprised delight.
Perfect for entertaining! All the preparations can be done in advance, with the baking done just before serving.
Poisson en Papillote Serves 4
Needed: 4 sheets cooking parchment 12” x 15” a large baking tray
- 4 6oz fish fillets
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup finely sliced scallions, including the green parts
- 4 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- freshly ground white pepper
- flaked sea salt (Maldon)
- ½ cup gremolata (see here)
- 4 tablespoons fresh green peppercorns (or capers)
- 4 lemon wedges
Preheat the oven to 435f/225c Place the baking tray in the oven in the center position.
Fold the parchment paper in half and cut into a half heart shape as pictured. Set aside.
For each serving, open a heart shaped parchment paper and place thin slices of butter about 1 1/4” to the right of the center fold. Scatter sliced scallions over the butter and spritz with a little lemon juice. Place a fish fillet over the butter and spritz a little lemon juice over the fillet. Season the fillet with salt and pepper. Place several thin slices of butter over fillet and scatter gremolata generously over the butter. Spritz a little more lemon juice over the gremolata and scatter green peppercorns over and around the fish.
Fold the left side of the parchment over the fillet making a half heart shape.
Beginning at the top of the folded parchment, at the cleavage point if you will, begin folding the two sheets of parchment together by making triangular pleats, pointed at the top and widening at the bottom. Double fold the first pleat and crease the pleat firmly. Then proceed making the next pleat beginning by folding a little of the last pleat into the new pleat. Continue to pleat the parchment until you reach the bottom of the pouch. Give the end of the final pleat a good twist and fold it under the pouch. The pouch should now be tightly sealed. Don’t worry too much about how it looks! The objective is to make the pouch air tight so the steam is contained when baking the fish. Practice makes perfect!
Place the finished pouch on a baking tray and continue making the remaining pouches.
When finished, the papillotes can be baked promptly or covered with cling film and refrigerated. Ideally the papillotes should be prepared not more than an hour before baking so there isn’t too much moisture seepage which will weaken the parchment. Be sure to bring refrigerated papillotes to room temperature before baking.
Transfer the prepared papillotes onto the preheated baking tray in the oven and bake for 8 to 10 minutes. You will see the pouches puffing up as the steam builds up inside the pouch. Do not over bake. The steaming will work its magic within the 8 to 10 minute window, or 1 or 2 minutes longer if the fish fillet is more than 1 inch thick.
Promptly remove the papillotes from the oven, transfer them to individual serving plates, and deliver them to the table.
This is the moment for some kitchen theatrics! Using a very sharp knife or scissors cut a large X by length and breadth into the top of the parchment. Folding back the flaps of the parchment releases a billowing cloud of aromatic steam and reveals the fish in all its succulent gorgeousness! Voila!
As pictured, I love to pair poisson en papillote with another French classic, a potato gratin! (see here)
The ethereal quality of the fish along with the rich earthiness of the gratin make for a very pleasurable eating experience.
Scallops are the pearls of marine bivalve mollusks, a species of saltwater clams that have survived in the worlds oceans for more than 200 million years thanks to nature’s grand design. Equipped with a symmetrical smooth grooved surfaced shell with a flexible hinge, a powerful adductor muscle, and multiple valves which open and close facilitating the scallop’s ability to “dance” freely and rapidly across the ocean floor avoiding its primary predator, the starfish, and going on to live for up to twenty years.
The beauty of the scallop’s shell alone has inspired artists, philosophers, poets, and soothsayers throughout the ages in epic poems, religious iconography, architectural design, and of course sculpture and painting. Sandro Botticelli’s painting of The Birth of Venus, painted in 1482, is the most universally recognized depiction of the scallop shell with Venus poised on the edge of the shell. The painting is an allegorical reference to antiquity, Venus symbolizing the birth of love and spiritual beauty as the force of life. The painting hangs in the Uffizi Gallery Museum in Florence.
It somehow seems presumptuous to even contemplate eating these magnificent creatures of nature, but that is fodder for yet another conversation.
The scallop’s adductor muscle is what we call scallops for culinary applications today. They are very tender with a silky smooth texture and a sublime flavor of sea water. They are eaten both raw and cooked. Dry Packed Scallops, meaning additive free, such as North Atlantic wild scallops or Japanese sushi or sashimi grade scallops are considered the best to seek out when shopping. China and Russia are the largest suppliers of scallops, although they are either farmed or dredge fished and usually sold as Wet Packed, meaning treated with tripolyphosphate as a preservative.
Cooking scallops is very straight forward. You have probably paid dearly for these treasures from the sea so treating them with restraint will produce the best possible results. A quick searing is all there is to it, followed by a deglazing of the pan with lemon juice, a dry white wine, or clear spirits.
The recipe that follows adheres to the tried and true wisdom of preserving the delicate flavor and silky texture of the scallops as if they were just plucked out of their shells.
Seared Scallops with Capers: serves 4
- 12 plump north Atlantic scallops (fresh or flash frozen)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- sea salt
- freshly ground white pepper
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 tablespoons capers, well rinsed
- 3 tablespoons dry vermouth (dry white wine or water)
- 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
- snow pea sprouts or watercress
- flaked sea salt (Maldon smoked sea salt pictured)
Bring the scallops to room temperature and pat dry with paper towels just before cooking. Season the tops of the scallops very sparingly with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
Select a well seasoned (or non stick) sauté pan and place over medium high heat. Add the olive oil to the pan and when the oil slides easily in the pan add the scallops seasoned side down into the pan. Cook for 1 ½ minutes. Lift a scallop to see if the scallop is lightly browned. If not raise the heat and continue to cook for another 30 seconds. Adjust the heat accordingly and turn the scallops over and seer for 1 ½ minutes. The scallops need not be browned on the underside as you want the flesh of the scallops to be rare in the center. Transfer the scallops to a platter, cover loosely with parchment and set aside while you deglaze the pan.
Remove excess oil and any debris from the pan using a paper towel. Raise the heat slightly and add the butter. When the butter begins to foam add the capers to the pan and sauté for 1 minute while continuously swirling the pan. Add the Vermouth and swirl the pan to mix the ingredients together. Continue to cook until the vermouth is reduced by half. Add the lemon juice and cook another minute while continuously swirling the pan. Taste the sauce and add salt as needed.
Turn the heat down to medium and add the scallops back to the pan. Spoon the sauce over the scallops to warm them and then promptly transfer the scallops to individual serving plates lined with a bed of snow pea sprouts. Spoon sauce over each serving, topping the scallops with the capers. Have flaked sea salt on the table for additional seasoning.