Cured ocean trout on a buckwheat blini with crème fraîche and salmon roe
The success of a meal often comes down to the smallest detail. In the accompanying recipe you will note “a small amount of clarified butter” among the ingredients. It’s a quiet instruction, yet it is pivotal to the dish being the best version of itself it can possibly be. Why would it matter so much – surely a bit of oil would do the trick, or even a knob of whole butter? What is clarified butter, and what makes it so special?
Clarified butter is butter from which all milk solids have been removed. It retains the flavour of butter but is able to be heated to higher temperatures and leaves none of those nasty black spots that can occur when you melt and heat whole butter. It is easy to prepare and can keep for weeks in the fridge. To prepare it, place some butter in a heavy saucepan over low heat and melt gently. Skim all the froth from the surface. You will then see a clear yellow layer on top of a milky layer. Let it cook a little more until the milk solids at the bottom of the pan begin to brown. This lets a beautiful nutty flavour develop. Now carefully pour the clear yellow fat through a strainer into a bowl or jug, discarding the residue in the pan.
Of all the different fats I use in the kitchen, I think clarified butter is my favourite. It is greatest friends with flour-based batters and potatoes. Its depth of flavour transforms a humble pikelet, fritter or hash brown into something truly memorable.
Here, the batter of choice to showcase your clarified butter is a buckwheat blini. It takes a little more effort to make blinis and these days they are often replaced with little savoury pikelets, as it is so much easier to make a self-raising flour batter, rather than fumbling about with warm milk and yeast, then resting the mixture and whipping egg white. Yet when you make the effort, the results are exponentially better and you will have the perfect golden cushion, light and slightly sour, on which to serve your fish and crème fraîche. It seems fitting to cook the little blini in beautiful golden, clarified butter, as its history involves it being a representation of the sun. It is traditionally cooked and served during “butter week”, the festival held by pre-Christian Slavs to celebrate the coming of spring. Today let’s instead celebrate the devil in the detail.
- ⅔ cup all-purpose, or plain, flour
- ½ cup buckwheat flour
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp instant or rapid-rise yeast
- 1 cup warm milk
- 2 tbsp butter, melted
- 1 egg, separated
- a small amount of clarified butter
Quick-cured ocean trout
- 100g salt flakes
- 80g raw sugar
- 1 tbsp chopped dill
- 300g ocean trout fillet, skin off
- 6 tbsp (½ cup) crème fraîche or sour cream
- 1 small jar salmon roe
- 1 tbsp dill fronds
- In a large bowl, mix the flours, salt and instant yeast, then make a well in the centre. Pour in the milk and stir until the mixture is smooth. Cover and let rise until doubled (about one hour).
- Stir the cooled melted butter and egg yolk into the batter. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg white until stiff but not dry and then fold it into the batter. Cover and let stand for 20 minutes.
- Heat a non-stick pan over medium heat. Add a little clarified butter, then drop 50-cent-sized dollops of dough into the pan leaving space for expansion between each one. Cook for about one minute or until bubbles form and break. Turn and cook for about 30 seconds more. Remove from the pan, then cover the cooked blinis and keep warm. Repeat with remaining batter.
- Combine the salt, sugar and dill, place in a food processor and blend until fine and green.
- Thinly slice the trout straight across the grain. Cover a tray with plastic wrap and sprinkle with the salt mix. Arrange the trout slices in a single layer on top, then generously sprinkle again with salt mix. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly onto the trout, and refrigerate for two hours.
- Remove from fridge and rinse under cold water.
- To serve, chop the dill and scatter over the fish.
- Spread the crème fraîche over the warm blinis then pile with cured fish slices and add a small spoonful of salmon roe.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on March 16, 2019 as "Rendered loving care".
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