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Creative Pairings
Celebrated chef Geoffrey Zakarian offers new twists for favorite ingredients.
 
Geoffrey Zakarian is the owner chef of two acclaimed New York restaurants -- the cosmopolitan Town and the more informal Country. In his new cookbook Geoffrey Zakarian's Town/Country: 150 Recipes for Life Around the Table (Clarkson Potter; $37.50) he offers two winning recipes for each of his 65 favorite ingredients -- one for sophisticated "town" cuisine and one for casual "country" fare.
COUNTRY: Grilled Salmon with Smashed Cucumber–Date Salad
Serves 6


The idea here is to take salmon—an overused and sometimes abused fish—and lighten it up by creating a salad with some Middle Eastern accents (the dates), a refreshing summery element (the cucumber), and some extra added crunch (the walnuts). I think the best way to prepare fish is to lightly grill or sear it, then garnish it cleanly and simply to enhance its natural flavors. This recipe is a good example of what I call Dynamic American Cuisine, a style I was consciously trying to advance when I created this dish for Restaurant 44 at the Royalton Hotel.

Ingredient notes: English (hothouse) cucumbers are long and thin, and have few if any seeds. They are also consistently the most flavorful.

For the olive oil, use a fruity, robust variety (Spanish is good).


THE GRILLED SALMON
    1 2 1/2-pound center-cut skin-on salmon fillet, cut into 6 equal pieces
    2 tablespoons extra-virgin
    Olive oil
    1 teaspoon kosher salt
    1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

CUCUMBER-DATE SALAD
    2 English (hothouse) cucumbers, peeled and cut into 8 pieces
    3/4 cup finely sliced fennel, feathery fronds reserved for garnish
    6 Medjool dates, pitted and cut in slivers
    1/3 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
    2 tablespoons minced chives
    2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (1/2 a large lemon)
    6 tablespoons fruity olive oil (preferably from Spain)
    Medium-coarse sea salt (preferably Maldon from England)
    Freshly ground black pepper
    Fennel fronds for garnish

Prepare the salmon: Prepare a charcoal fire in an outdoor grill (alternatively, cook the salmon indoors on a grill pan); the coals should be medium-hot and the rack should be positioned about 6 inches from the fire. Place the salmon fillets on a cutting board, skin side down. Cut down the center of each fillet lengthwise along the center seam. Cut through the flesh but not the skin. Draw the salmon flesh apart at the incision, flattening the fillets, leaving them skin side down. Fold each fillet into a horseshoe shape, bending it back onto itself, so it resembles a boneless salmon steak. Brush each piece of fish lightly on both sides with extra-virgin olive oil and season with the salt and pepper. Grill the salmon just until the flesh firms and grill marks appear, about 1 minute. Rotate each fillet one quarter-turn (90 degrees) and grill just long enough to mark the fillets, completing a cross-hatch pattern, less than 1 minute. Turn the fillets over and repeat the grilling and rotating procedure until the other sides show the cross-hatch grill markings. Remove the fish from the grill and reserve. (The salmon can be grilled up to 1 hour in advance of the meal.)

Prepare the salad: Roll the cucumber pieces up in a clean linen napkin, then smash them—press down hard with the heels of your hands while ensuring the towel doesn't unroll—to release the juices. Discard the juice and transfer the crushed cucumber to a cutting board, then coarsely chop it. Combine the cucumbers, sliced fennel, dates, walnuts, and chives in a salad bowl and mix gently.

Finish cooking the salmon and dress the salad. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Arrange the salmon fillets in a baking dish, brush each one lightly with extra-virgin olive oil, and roast about 3 1/2 minutes for medium-rare.

Meanwhile, dress the cucumber salad with the lemon juice and 4 tablespoons of fruity olive oil, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss the salad lightly, then arrange equal portions on each of six plates. Top each portion of salad with a grilled salmon fillet. Drizzle a little fruity olive oil on top of each portion, garnish each plate with fennel fronds, and serve.
TOWN: Liquid Gold Chocolate Tart
Serves 8 (makes one 10-inch tart)

Some desserts are just down-home, sweet comfort food evocative of warm childhood memories. Others are pure celebration. This is most definitely of the latter category. It was inspired by a taste epiphany I had at a small inn in the south of France in 2000. For dessert, we were served lightly toasted baguette slices with just a pinch of salt, a drizzle of olive oil, and a delicious spread of smooth chocolate at room temperature—simplicity, elegance, and the essence of chocolate. This tart, by way of that inspiration, is one of our signatures at Town, where we present it in individual 6-inch servings; here I've converted it to a simpler, more convivial format—a single large pie. What could be better than a warm chocolate tart topped with oozing caramel sauce and doubled up with a luscious caramel ice cream? This is a dessert that fulfills some of our strongest taste cravings—sweet, salty, chocolate, chocolate, and chocolate . . . and did I mention chocolate? You may not think of ice cream as salty, but this particular version supplies just enough of that taste to counterbalance the unctuous sweetness of the caramel.
Ingredient notes: Ideally, the dark chocolate should be 60 percent cocoa solids; Valrhona is a recommended brand.

If you don't want to go to the trouble of making the ice cream yourself, Häagen-Dazs Dulce de Leche is a perfectly acceptable substitute.

THE SWEET TART DOUGH
    3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
    1/3 cup confectioners' sugar
    1 large egg yolk
    1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    1 tablespoon heavy cream

THE FILLING
    7 ounces dark chocolate
    1/2 cup whole milk
    1/3 cup heavy cream
    1 large egg

THE GARNISH
    Caramel Ice Cream (recipe follows)
    Caramel Sauce (recipe follows)
    Edible gold leaf (optional)

Prepare the dough, approximately 4 hours in advance. Place the butter and confectioners' sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the paddle attachment on low speed, mix until just combined, taking care not to overmix. (The mixture should not turn creamy.) Add the egg yolk and gradually mix until just combined. Add the flour all at once and combine until the flour is incorporated three fourths of the way. Turn off the mixer and add the cream. Restart the mixer on low and continue to mix the dough until it just comes together. Remove the dough from the mixer. Flatten it into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap; and chill in the refrigerator for several hours.

Prepare the tart: Preheat the oven to 375°F. Bring the dough to room temperature. Roll out the tart dough to approximately 1/8 inch. Place the dough in a 10-inch tart pan. Trim the edges and use any excess dough to patch tears. Chill the unbaked tart shell in the freezer for 15 minutes, then line it with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Weight the dough with dried beans or pie weights and bake in the oven until the edges no longer look raw, approximately 10 minutes. Remove the beans and lining paper and bake the crust until light golden, about 10 minutes more. Remove from the oven and reserve at room temperature. Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F.

Prepare the filling: Chop the chocolate and set it aside in a medium bowl. Combine the milk and cream in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Pour the milk mixture over the chocolate and allow to stand until the chocolate softens, 2 to 5 minutes. Place the egg in another mixing bowl and whisk lightly. Whisk the chocolate and cream together until smooth; continue to whisk the chocolate, and pour this mixture over the egg. Strain the chocolate mixture through a chinois or china cap (fine strainer), then pour it into the prebaked tart shell. Bake the tart until the filling is almost set, about 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the tart to set for at least 5 minutes more before unmolding and serving.

Serve the tart warm or at room temperature, topped with warm caramel sauce and accompanied by a scoop of caramel ice cream. For an extra touch, garnish the tart with edible gold leaf.

Caramel Ice Cream
Makes about 1 quart

    2 cups whole milk
    7 large egg yolks
    1 cup sugar
    1 cup heavy cream
    1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
    1 teaspoon kosher salt

Prepare the ice cream, 1 day in advance Bring the milk to a simmer in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Meanwhile, place the egg yolks and 1/2 cup of the sugar in a large bowl and whisk until thoroughly combined. When the milk reaches a simmer, gradually whisk it into the egg yolks, adding no more than 1/4 cup at a time. Pour the mixture back into the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until it thickens enough to coat the spoon, about 5 minutes. Pour the ice cream base through a fine sieve into a bowl set over ice and stir to cool.

Combine the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons of water in another heavy saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, without stirring, until the sugar caramelizes and reaches a deep amber color, about 5 minutes. Remove the caramel from the heat and whisk in the heavy cream a couple of tablespoons at a time. Allow the caramel to cool for 30 minutes, then whisk it into the ice cream base. Add the vanilla and salt and mix thoroughly. Chill overnight and process in an ice cream machine according to manufacturer's instructions.

Caramel Sauce
Makes about 1/2 cup

    1/2 cup sugar
    1/2 cup heavy cream
    1/2 vanilla bean, split and scraped

Combine the sugar and 2 tablespoons of water in a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is a deep caramel color, about 5 minutes. Remove the caramel from the heat and gradually whisk in the cream. Add the vanilla bean and simmer the sauce over medium-high heat until it reduces by about one-quarter, approximately 2 minutes. Carefully remove the vanilla bean and serve warm.
Photo credit: Quentin Bacon
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