Tuesday, April 27, 2010

0 Recipe #101: Blini with Caviar & Smoked Salmon

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Often called the "royal Russian breakfast," a meal of caviar served with blini is one of the consummate Russian ways of eating caviar. :) Blini -- fluffy, miniature Russian pancakes -- are traditionally made with buckwheat flour & a leavening agent like yeast (or baking powder). They are the perfect complement to caviar & smoked salmon, & are also typically served with crème fraîche, although for obvious health-related reasons (i.e., crème fraîche is 28% butterfat & has twice the amount of calories as regular, full-fat sour cream!), this recipe calls for a much healthier alternative -- lowfat sour cream or nonfat yoghurt. :) The dish still tastes rich & amazing, but does so without sending your arteries into a state of shock. :)

Blini with Caviar & Smoked Salmon

Batter Ingredients:
1 tsp. active dry yeast
1/4 c. lukewarm (110-115°F) water
2 tsp. brown sugar
2 Tbsp. skim milk
2 Tbsp. buttermilk
2 Tbsp. melted butter
1 large egg, separated into yolk & whites, at room temperature
1 pinch confectioner's sugar
1/4 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/4 c. buckwheat flour (if unavailable, just use unbleached, all purpose flour)
1/8 tsp. salt
1/2 Tbsp. olive oil (for cooking)

Filling Ingredients:
2 tsp. caviar (use a unendangered fish roe like lumpfish, hackleback, or salmon, etc.)
1/4 lb. smoked salmon, thinly-sliced with skin & blood vein (i.e., brown fleshy underside) removed, at room temperature
2-3 Tbsp. low-fat sour cream (or nonfat yoghurt)

Egg Mousse Ingredients:
2 large eggs, hard-boiled & finely chopped
2 Tbsp + 1 tsp. scallions, finely chopped (or, for a bolder, more potent flavor, substitute red onion)
1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. salt
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon zest
2 Tbsp. low-fat sour cream (or nonfat yoghurt)
1/2 tsp. fresh chives, finely chopped

Directions: In a custard dish, add yeast to lukewarm (i.e., tepid but not scalding hot) water & sugar, & give it a gentle stir with a spoon to allow mixture to dissolve. Let yeast proof for about 5 minutes. Live yeast should start to bubble & foam after a few minutes; if nothing happens after 5 minutes, the yeast is dead & you'll need to start over with fresh yeast. (Please read these instructions if you need guidance on how to properly proof yeast.)

While yeast is proofing, make the batter: In a separate bowl, mix together liquid ingredients for batter: milk, buttermilk, melted butter, & egg yolk. Put damp towel underneath mixing bowl to keep it still while you work. Gently fold in yeast mixture, and then whisk in flour & salt until batter is thin & smooth. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let mixture rise in a warm place for 1 hour. (Do not let batter rise for longer than an hour, or batter will taste fermented.)

While batter is rising, make egg mousse: Toss all ingredients into a food processor, blend until smooth, pour into a serving bowl, & set aside. Please note that egg mousse can be made a day in advance & then chilled in the fridge, covered. (If you'll be refrigerating egg mousse, be sure to bring to room temperature before serving.)

When batter has only 5 minutes left to rise, prep the egg whites: In a separate, sparkling clean mixing bowl, whip/whisk the egg whites with an electric mixer on the highest speed until still peaks form. (Egg whites should be stiff & glossy at this stage, with peak tips that stand straight when the beaters are lifted.) Be sure to wait to add a pinch of confectioner's sugar until the very end of the procedure; otherwise, it'll take twice as long for the eggs to foam. When batter has finished rising, gently fold egg whites into batter.

Spray a 12" nonstick skillet with olive oil disperser like Misto, etc.. (Or, if unavailable, use a brush.) Turn on heat to medium-high.  (Be sure to use a flat, wide pan versus a curved one, which'll provide more cooking surface area for the blini.) Working in batches of 6, drop 1 level tablespoon of batter per blini into pan, to form a 3" pancake. As soon as the blini start to bubble in a uniform fashion & the undersides turn golden brown (about 20-30 seconds), slide a spatula carefully underneath the blini & flip over (just once) & cook about 20-30 seconds more. Transfer the first batch of cooked blini onto a heatproof plate; cover to keep them warm. Repeat with remaining batter and continue until all the batter is used. (You can also make blini in advance & warm in the oven before serving, although I prefer them fresh out of the pan.)

Lightly pan-sear smoked salmon for a few seconds on each side to give it an extra fresh & smoky flavor, remove from heat, & transfer to a small plate.

To serve, top each warm blini with a small dollop of sour cream, a sliver of smoked salmon (folded onto itself), a dime-sized portion of caviar, & a pinch of chives (or dill). On each plate, place a small portion of egg mousse on the side for dipping. Serve immediately.

Chef's Notes: Be sure not to touch egg whites with your hands & also to use a dry, extremely clean mixing bowl & beaters, both of which can affect the whipping procedure.

Serve caviar with non-metallic (i.e., ceramic/porcelain, plastic, etc.) spoon. Although mother of pearl spoons are considered to be the most traditional serving utensil, I used a Chinese soup spoon, which will work well in a pinch. :)

Serving Suggestions: Pair with chilled Champagne, iced/frozen vodka, or a clean-tasting, non-alcoholic beverage like chilled white grape juice.

Yield: 15-18 blini.

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