Everyone needs a go-to recipe; a recipe that you can prepare with ease. Whether it’s a workplace potluck, or a family recipe trash talking throw down, this is the recipe that put you on the map.
I have a recipe like that. I know it backward and forward. I didn’t need to write it down; I have a mind like a steel trap. It’s in the vault, baby.
I forgot what my go-to recipe is. I realized this when I had need for it a few days ago when my in laws were coming over for dinner. “I know! I’ll make Salmon Wellington”. It’s easy to make and I know all of the ingredients are available at any grocery store. Problem solved.
Salmon Wellington is not my go-to recipe (or maybe it is but I forgot). I make it occasionally, but it still needs a few tweaks before I can put my ‘official’ recipe stamp on it (I wouldn’t make it for a client just yet). I thought the presentation would make a good impression for my in laws. I’ve made it in the past with great success; but, I felt it was missing something. “I’ll make steaks,” then I realized not everyone likes red meat. I didn’t have time to make lamb (another go-to recipe contender) because I needed it to marinate overnight. And good heavens no more chicken! I stood in the kitchen and experienced a total brain fart. “What in the world am I going to make? Do I even know how to cook?” It was like trying to figure out that word problem in math where you have to determine at what point two trains traveling in opposite directions would meet. I decided I’d get an idea once I got to the grocery store.
The grocery store was out of lamb and rib eye steaks. After meandering around the grocery store looking for alternatives, my choice was clear. Salmon Wellington it is. I grabbed the ingredients and headed home.
I re-purposed the base of a lemon butter sauce I had left over from another dish (more on re-purposing in a later post). I fished out the tarragon and added fresh dill and lemon juice. I threw in jumbo lump crab meat. I needed to make the filling stretch for seven portions so I added shrimp and lobster I had in the freezer. I rolled out the puff pastry dough and realized it was too soft. I didn’t have time to put it back in the fridge. I’d have to make do. When you’re assembling the wellington, the bottom layer is actually the top layer. The order is puff pastry, filling, fish. Seal the seams with egg wash, and then flip. If your puff pastry is too soft it may tear, which of course mine did. To fix the tear you can either try to push the tear together and seal it with egg wash, or you can use a cookie cutter to make a fancy design using leftover puff pastry dough and adhere it with egg wash. Just now while typing this I realized that I could have made a freehand braided rope design.
Naturally, I could not find the appropriate cookie cutter (it is too early in the year for gingerbread men). So, I took a small piece of dough and sealed it with all the elegance of a pothole repair. The wellington looked like Kuato was about to appear and tell Quaid how to start the reactor to bring air back to Mars. I patted down the lumps as much as I could and placed it in the oven.
It puffed up nicely; no sign of lumps at all. It still looked a little plain. I added dill and fresh lemon slices around the pastry and a rather large piece of dill across the center to give it some pizzazz (and to detract from its overall appearance). I’ll post the recipe for Salmon Wellington as soon as I think it’s worthy :).
From this dinner, I have taken away a few lessons.
Lesson 1: Write down your go-to recipe.
I know this is stating the obvious. Writing it down is important. If for no other reason, you will have a record of the tweaks you’ve made on the road to perfection.
Lesson 2: If you give people enough wine, they’ll like anything you serve.
Great strategy – if the people with whom you are dining actually like wine. No one wanted wine. “Who wants wine? I have wine right here! I’ll just open the bottle and anyone can have it whenever they want. Pour yourself a glass. We don’t stand on ceremony here.” I knew I should have made cocktails instead.
Lesson 3: Set a pretty table to detract from the food.
I totally nailed the Bishop’s Hat.
I didn’t beat myself up about the appearance of the wellington. Perfection is rare, especially in cooking. I tell my clients that all of the time. So I let myself off the hook. Everyone loved it. My father-in-law even asked for a doggie bag. Not too shabby.
It was a beautiful evening with family and that’s all that mattered. And that is the ultimate lesson.
Katrina Martin is the owner of Culinary Cupid LLC. When she’s not quoting obscure movie references, she can be found searching for her go-to recipe.