Next up in our 12 Tastes of Christmas series: an innovative and stunningly beautiful holiday appetizer from one of the best food photographers in the biz, Helene Dujardin. I’ve been reading Helene’s blog Tartelette for ages, so it was a thrill to have her create something for our series…and since she’s so creative, Helene threw in a gorgeous table design to inspire us for the holidays! Oh, and be sure to check out the other incredible work in her portfolio…it will leave you drooling. Take it away, Helene!
As far back as I can remember, there was always an appetizer with smoked salmon on my mother’s and grandmother’s Christmas tables. They organized Christmas as a unit: Christmas Eve at my grandparents and Christmas Day at my parents. With a very big family spread among all corners of France, it was easier to hold siege this way. (Don’t laugh – one was easily held hostage by the good cheer and food passed around and shared with everyone.) Family members have come and gone, but one thing we can count on is that there is always some form of smoked salmon passed around our holiday table even though I’m now miles from my family most holidays. I always have a smile on when I tackle this part of the menu…makes me feel connected to them in some way.
My mom usually purchases really good quality smoked salmon and serves it with blinis (little Russian pancakes), crème fraiche, capers, lemon, etc. I like this version just fine, but last year I decided to create my own riff on the family tradition. I made my own gravlax (so easy! trust me!), and used it on top of freshly-popped prawn chips (available popped or unpopped at Asian stores) with radishes, some crème fraiche, pomegranate seeds and chives.
Beware: these go fast. The buttery quality of the salmon is enhanced by a little tang from the pomegranate. The beauty of this dish is that you need to prepare the salmon a couple of days before you serve it, leaving plenty of time to work on other holiday activities…like a beautiful tablescape, perhaps?
This tablescape is one I created for our Thanksgiving table, and I plan on doing a variation of it for Christmas, too. It just so happens that I have a deep aversion to oranges and yellows which are typically everywhere at Thanksgiving, and it got me thinking, “who said I had to use yellows, reds, greens and oranges at either holiday?” I spent plenty of time browsing my favorite site for tabletop inspiration to gather ideas.
Although I had my studio’s prop room at my disposal, I guarantee that anyone can create the same look with a tiny budget. A basic white tablecloth topped by a long piece of burlap used as the table runner. (I got 2 yards at the fabric store.) The centerpiece is one long piece of wood (found at any home improvement store) that we left its natural color. The vases are a mismatched collection of small milk bottles, recycled iced tea bottles, etc.. The flowers are anything seasonal that are not (you guessed it) yellow or orange. Tiny Forelle pears and nuts gathered here and there provided a seasonal touch, and I’m envisioning pomanders or pomegranates for Christmas!
And there you have it! A healthy and delicious appetizer served around a festive holiday table.
Homemade Gravlax And Prawn Crackers Appetizer:
*For the gravlax, adapted from The Minimalist.
Time: 10 minutes, plus 24 to 36 hours’ refrigeration
- 1 cup salt
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 bunch dill, stems and all, chopped
- 2 tablespoons cracked juniper berries
- 1 2- to 3-pound fillet of salmon, pin bones removed.
Mix together the salt, sugar, dill and juniper berries. Place the salmon, skin side down, on a large sheet of plastic wrap. Cover the flesh side of the salmon with the salt mixture, making sure to coat it completely. (There will be lots of salt mix; just pile it on.)
Wrap the fish well. If the temperature is below 70 degrees, and it is not too inconvenient, let it rest outside the refrigerator for about 6 hours, then refrigerate for 18 to 24 hours more. Otherwise, refrigerate immediately for about 36 hours.
Unwrap the salmon, and rinse off the cure. Dry, then slice on the bias (see illustration). Serve plain or with lemon wedges, creme fraiche, sour cream or a light vinaigrette.
For the rest of the ingredients:
- freshly fried prawn crackers/chips or already made ones – just make sure they are fresh! (available at most Asian grocery store)
- 12 thin slices of radish
- 1/3 cup creme fraiche or sour cream mixed in with some salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons chopped chives
- 1/4 cup pomegranate seeds
Make the gravlax according to the recipe directions. Fry the prawn chips according to package instructions or use already fried ones (available at Asian grocery stores) Layer slices of radishes, slices of salmon, top with dollops of sour cream, some chives and pomegranate seeds.
Use as little or as much as you want…just be prepared. The combination is seriously addicting!!