Earlier, in August, I made verjus (verjuice) from juicy immature grapes that grew in my garden, creating three different versions of this condiment. Two of these versions came from an old recipe by Victoire, an Auvergne woman who is one of the women in When French Women Cook, the brilliant gastronomic memoir by Madeleine Kamman. Of course, Victoire’s original version used her native Armagnac instead of a pomance brandy (like Greek tsikoudia, Italian grappa or French marc), but Kamman’s instructions in the book suggested using this alternative form of alcohol to preserve the fresh sour juice pressed from immature grapes. I made both: two batches, one using Armagnac and the other using tsikoudia. Any leftover sour grape juice was frozen in ice cube bags – more like the verjus that is commercially available and subsequently adaptable to the many recipes that lists verjus.
The Armagnac-infused verjus was tested with great success with my Armagnac Verjus Chicken with Dried Fruits. How to best use my tsikoudia-infused verjus proved to be a bit more problematic. However, I reasoned that what went best with the raw liquor would probably work well with this verjus, even though the maturing process had transformed the liquid into something quite different from its constituent parts. For tsikoudia, fish and seafood came immediately to mind.
Salmon Cerviche with Verjus
The verjus replaces the traditional citrus in the marinade for this perfect appetiser for a special holiday meal or part of a party buffet. (Very apropos given the upcoming holidays!) Of course, you could substitute small scallops, tilapia, fresh tuna, or any other firm-fleshed fish for the salmon if you wish, but I wanted to create something that was reminiscent of gravlax: a cross-cultural South American-Scandinavian dish that combines the flavours of gravlax with the quicker “cold-cooking” technique of cerviche.
Makes approximately 6 to 8 portions for a starter.
- 1 fresh salmon fillet, approximately 300g
- large bunch of fresh dill
- 200ml tsikoudia verjus (or substitute commercially available verjus)
- 4 spring onions (scallions)
- 1 fresh red chilli (optional)
- an additional 60ml (1/4 cup) verjus
Slice the salmon fillet into thin slices, cut at a slight angle, just like smoked salmon slices. It is best done with a very sharp knife while the fish is very chilled, or you can ask your fishmonger to do this.
Place the slices in a shallow non-reactive casserole, big enough so that the slices only overlap slightly. Cover the fish with chopped dill.
Boil and reduce the verjus by half to concentrate the flavour. If you are using the tsikoudia-infused verjus, the alcohol will be evaporated off in this reduction process. Turn off the heat and stir in the chopped spring onions and the optional red chilli, deseeded and sliced thinly. While still warm, pour the verjus liquid over the salmon and dill. And, since the cooking down process will reduce the acidity level of the verjus, it is necessary to sprinkle on additional verjus to make sure the fish is coated completely and the acidity level is brought back to a point where it will react with the raw fish flesh – a process known as “cold-cooking”.
Cover and place in the refrigerator for 24 hours. The acid in the verjus will cause the fish to lose its translucency. When you are ready to serve, remove fish (along with the dill, spring onions and chillies) and serve cool with cucumber – thinly sliced, chopped or julienned. Plate up on individual plates or on a platter for a buffet. If you would like, top with a some creamy mustard sauce (below).
Creamy Mustard Sauce
A cheat version of Swedish hovmästarsås, the sweet mustard-dill sauce traditionally served with gravlax. If you opt to use this sauce, it is best when the flavours have time to mature, so make it around the same time that you marinate the salmon.
- 2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 1 Tablespoon sugar
- 1 Tablespoon verjus
- 60ml (1/4 cup) crème fraîche
Whisk together the mustard, sugar, verjus and crème fraîche until smooth. Place in a jar in the refrigerator and let it meld. Chopped dill can also be added if you are using this for another fish dish.
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Note to self:
Make much more of Victoire’s verjus next year! Both the Armagnac and Tsikoudia versions have exceeded my expectations. Another staple for my pantry shelf.