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Before Fannie Merritt Farmer there was Mrs. D.A. (Mary) Lincoln.  Mrs. Lincoln was co-founder with Maria Parloa of The Boston Cooking School, and was Miss Farmer’s teacher.  After graduating, Miss Farmer taught at the school and later took over the running of it.   Mrs. Lincoln’s book (expressively titled:  Mrs. Lincoln’s Boston Cook Book.  What To Do And What Not To Do In Cooking) was published in 1883 and Miss Farmer’s best-seller The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book (1896, first edition) bears a strong similarity to it without giving credit where it was due.   But while Miss Farmer freely used Mrs. Lincoln’s book as a template for her own, her cook book (for all that it is the more well known of the two) lacks the sparkle of her mentor’s.

For those who like to read cookbooks, Mrs. Lincoln’s is worth looking into.  (It is available to read free online here in the California Digital Library of the University of California.)  Mrs. Lincoln wrote her book with both home cooks and professionals in mind.  She writes about cooking with brisk enthusiasm and her style is entertaining, even as she describes something as prosaic as the nutritional benefits of the salmon.  “Salmon,” she informs us, “Heads the list of ‘whatsoever hath scales and fins’ in nutritive qualities.”

Her description of a fresh fish has a lively clarity:  “The flesh of good fresh fish is firm and hard, and will rise at once when pressed with the finger.  If the eyes be dull and sunken, the gills pale and the flesh flabby or soft, the fish is not fresh.”

Throughout the book Mrs. Lincoln offers information that is as useful to cooks today as it was to her students over a century ago.  Many supermarket fish counters, as well as their customers, would profit from her remarks, for example, on how to store fish:  “The fish should be washed by wiping with a cloth wet in salt water.  Then wrap them in a cloth which is sprinkled with salt and put them in a cool place.  Put ice around them if necessary, but do not let them touch the ice, as fresh water and ice will soften them.  When once they lose their hard firm consistency, they are considered unfit to eat by those who know what good fish really are.”

There is a refreshing lack of flaunting her expertise in Mrs. Lincoln’s book.  She speaks her mind with assurance, but gives the impression of having taken the advice of Confucius, whom she quotes in her preface:  “To know what you do know and not to know what you do not know is true knowledge.”

Applying the sage’s advice to this recipe for Salmon ‘au poivre’…the diplomatickitchen ‘knows’ from experience that many people enjoy salmon fillets marinated, lightly coated in peppercorns and quickly cooked in olive oil and butter.

Salmon ‘au poivre’ ~ Saumon au poivre (for 8 people)

Note: To print this recipe, or any other diplomatickitchen recipe, go to the bottom of the page, at the end of the post, and click on the icon: Print & PDF. You will have the option of printing in smaller text size and without photos.

Ingredients:

  • 8 pieces of Salmon Fillet:  The photographed fillets weigh about 200g or 7 ounces each.  A whole Salmon Fillet, cut into 2-inch slices will make 6 pieces of this size (not including the flat tail piece).  Two additional pieces cut from a second fillet would be needed for 8 people.  But, in a dinner of several courses, smaller pieces would be fine and a whole fillet could be cut into 8 slices.  The pieces used for this recipe measure about 1 and 1/4-inches at their thickest point–which may be helpful in estimating the cooking time for the fillets you use.
  • 8 Tablespoons of Soy Sauce
  • 8 cloves of Garlic, minced
  • 4 Tablespoons of Sherry
  • 4 teaspoons of Sugar
  • about 5 Tablespoons of Coarse Cracked White or Black Peppercorns (also sometimes called ‘Poivre steak’)
  • 2 Tablespoons of Olive Oil and 2 Tablespoons of Butter
  • Optional Last Touch:  Strips of Oiled Banana Leaf and/or Twists of Lemon and Slices of Lime:  Ingredients and instructions are given below, after the recipe for the salmon.

Equipment:

  • 2 Zip-lock Plastic Bags or a Bowl for marinating the fillets
  • a Knife and Cutting Board, if you are cutting up a whole fillet into pieces
  • Tweezers for pulling out stray bones from the pieces of fillet
  • 2 pieces of Waxed Paper each long enough to hold the 8 fillet pieces, are convenient for peppering the salmon
  • 1 or 2 wide, heavy-bottomed Frying Pans:  For two pans divide the oil and butter and place 1 Tablespoon of each in each pan.  If using one pan, sauté half of the fillets, pour the butter and oil in which the fish cooked into a small heatproof cup (for dribbling a little over fillets right before serving), wipe out the pan, add another Tablespoon each of oil and butter and sauté the rest of the fillets.

I.  Making the Marinade:

1.  In each of 2 plastic bags, mix 4 Tablespoons of soy sauce, 4 minced garlic cloves, 2 Tablespoons of Sherry and 2 teaspoons of sugar.  Alternatively, the entire amount of marinade may be mixed in one container:  8 Tablespoons of soy sauce, 8 minced garlic cloves, 4 Tablespoons of Sherry, and 4 teaspoons of sugar.

II.  Preparing the Salmon for the Marinade:

1.  To cut pieces of fillet from a whole half fillet:  trim off the long piece of belly fat.  The whole fillet half in the photos is cut into 2-inch slices, each weighing about 200 grams of about 7 ounces.  (The flat tail piece is not used for this recipe; it may be wrapped and frozen to use later in some other way…grilled, for example, or made into a chowder.)  For 8 people, 2 more fillet pieces from a second fillet are added.  However, for a dinner of several courses, a whole half fillet could be cut into 8 smaller pieces.

2.  Run your fingers over the slices to check for stray bones and remove them with a pair of tweezers.

3.  Skin the fillet pieces…

…Remove the small brownish wedge-shaped section from each piece along with the skin if you prefer a milder fish flavour…otherwise, leave it in:

4.  Put 4 fillets in each plastic bag of marinade–or place all 8 pieces together in one container of marinade.  Marinate the fillets in the refrigerator for an hour or overnight.

III. Sautéing the Fillets:

1.  Remove the fillet pieces from the marinade and lay them out on one of the sheets of waxed paper…

…Press about 2 teaspoons of coarse pepper over each piece, and transfer them, after peppering, to the second sheet of waxed paper.  The fish is only lightly crusted with the pepper…not totally coated in it:

2.  Heat 1 Tablespoon of butter and 1 Tablespoon of olive oil in each of 2 pans over medium heat.  Place 4 fillet pieces in each pan.  Here are the cooking times over medium heat for the photographed fillets, (weighing about 200 grams, or 7 ounces, and about 1 and 1/4-inches at their thickest point):  Cook 5 minutes on the base side; then turn on to one of the cut sides and cook 1 minutes; flip to the top side  and cook 4 minutes; then turn on to the second cut side and cook 1 minute just to color it…

…These times provide a basis for adjusting the timing for slightly larger or smaller pieces of fish.  The salmon is cooked to the “done’ point (not underdone), but is still juicy and tender:

3.  Transfer the fillets to plates (onto the strips of banana leaf if you are using them) and, also, if you like, decorate each plate, as well with a Lemon Twist and a slice of lime.  Finally, spoon a tiny bit of the oil and butter in which the fish cooked over each piece….

Last Touch:  Strips of Oiled Banana Leaf and/or Twists of Lemon and Slices of Lime

Ingredients:

  • a Banana Leaf
  • a little Vegetable Oil
  • 8 Slices of Lemon
  • 8 Slices of Lime

Equipment:

  • a pair of Scissors
  • a Paper Towel

I.  For the Strips of Banana Leaf

1.  With your fingers, rip the leaf into strips along its ridges up to the spine, so that it resembles a palm frond.  Clip off as many strips as you want to decorate each plate.  (The photographed design is a simple one using 4 strips for each plate.)  Trim the ends of each strip on the diagonal.

2.  Dampen a small section of paper towel with a little vegetable oil and run the oiled bit of the towel lightly over the leaf strips.  (The oil darkens the color of the strips and also prevents them from drying out and curling up.)

4.  Place the strips in a pattern on each plate:  In the photographed arrangement, the design is centered on the plate and the salmon fillet sits on top of it:

A Note:  Strips of unoiled banana leaf may be tied around napkins to use as napkin rings…

II.  Making Lemon Twists and Lime: 

Note:  See illustrations here in the previous diplomatickitchen post describing a Twisted Orange Slice garnish.  The method is the same one used for making Lemon Twists.

1.  Cut 8 rounds of lime and set them aside.  Also slice 8 rounds of lemon.  Cut straight through the middle of each lemon round from one side just to the inner rim of the other side.

2.  Twist the two attached halves in opposite directions.

3.  Place a Lemon Twist and a slice of lime on each plate.

A Note:  Salmon ‘au poivre’ is the Main Course in the Dinner Menu:  Mixing Dinner and Business.  It is adapted from a recipe that appeared in the June 1992 issue of Gourmet Magazine and is available here on the Epicurious website.

A Second Note:  For anyone who would like to compare the similarities in content between Mrs. Lincoln’s and Miss Farmer’s books, both cookbooks are available to read free online–Mrs. Lincoln’s here in the California Digital Library, and Miss Farmer’s here at bartleby.com.  While Miss Farmer’s book closely follows Mrs. Lincoln’s, the two ladies’ writing and teaching styles make an interesting contrast.

© Elizabeth Laeuchli, the diplomatickitchen, 2011-2012

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