Back in my catering days, one of the constant challenges was to create an appealing dinner menu that would meet the following criteria: it could be prepped well in advance, transported over a piece of space-time, and finished off with aplomb at the client’s appointed hour. Sure, there were opportunities for something to go awry at any stage, but it was during that middle section—time traveling with food—- where the chances of The Undesired increased.
Yes, during what we caterers call The Schlep, strange, unforeseen things could happen.
Key elements could go missing; dishes could shift in transit; something could ooze/spill/flip/be dropped/lose temperature/overcook. The catervan driver could run into strangling traffic, miss the main turn, vanish in some Bermuda-Triangle-like anomaly. With even the most carefully laid plans, there remained that element of surprise. As my partner Bill says, “I’m livin’ in the mystery.”
The plate I’m offering here is one of those beauties you’d be proud to serve your guests at a dinner party. Most of the work, such as it is, can be done well before everyone’s arrival, leaving a couple of finishing touches to serving time.
And, lucky you, there’s no livin’ in the mystery of the schlep in the process.
Consider this menu:
Citrus Smoked Salmon with orange-balsamic glaze, served on a bed of
sauteed fresh spinach and caramelized onions, with
Crispy Parmesan-Polenta Triangles
Thick salmon steaks are perfumed with fruity olive oil and blood orange zest. Juice from the orange and lemon is reduced with balsamic vinegar to an acid-sweet syrup, ready to drizzle over right before serving. Both steps can be done hours, if not the day, before.
The same is true for the polenta.
I love a pot of creamy corn meal, but for a fancier dinner, I prefer the look and texture of the crispened triangles. Once poured into a pan and cooled, (again-best done ahead) the polenta cuts easily into interesting shapes that take only minutes to flash in a skillet.
Fresh spinach sautÃ©s in seconds, making a nice bed upon which to place the fish.
Citrus Smoked Salmon
4 Salmon Steaks
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Orange (used for zest on salmon and juice in glaze)
Cracked Black Pepper
Rinse off steaks and pat dry. Lightly coat steaks with olive oil.
Zest the orange and rub it onto both sides of the salmon.
Sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper, top with a few strips of chive.
On a smoker-grill that is at medium (300 degree) heat: place steaks and lower grill lid. Smoke for 15-20 minutes.
Â¼ cup Balsamic Vinegar
Â½ cup Orange Juice
2 teaspoons Lemon Juice
Â¼ teaspoon Salt
Put all four ingredients into a non-reactive saucepan and stir well. Put on low heat. Stirring occasionally, allow the mixture to reduce by at least half.
If you make this ahead, refrigerate, and gently rewarm at serving time.
4 cups Water
1 teaspoon Salt
1 Tablespoon Butter
1 cup Polenta (can use yellow corn meal)
Â½ cup grated Parmesan
Add salt and butter to water and bring to a boil. Pour in the polenta and reduce heat, stirring constantly. The mixture will begin to thicken. After cooking for almost 20 minutes, add the grated parmesan, continuing to stir until well-incorporated.
Pour into a 9â€x13â€ baking pan and allow to cool. Cover and refrigerate.
Before serving time:
Heat a skillet.
Cut polenta into triangles and brush with olive oil.
Cook triangles for 3 minutes on each side; they will brown and crispen.
(these will stay warm in the oven set on 200 degrees)
Firm, chilled triangles slip out of the pan with ease.
The salmon is quite good, even without the orange-balsamic reduction spooned over it.
You can use whatever variety of orange you fancy. Save a section for garnishing. When they are available, I will get blood oranges. I’m at once intrigued and freaked out by them.