For some reason, wrapping food in puff pastry has become a sign of classy, luxurious, up-market dining. Whilst anything wrapped in puff pastry is clearly luxurious and decadent, I would not go as far as saying it makes a dish classy. There is a bizarre mystique surrounding this pastry, most likely because it is such a nightmare to make, but in a society where we can walk into almost any supermarket and buy it premade (who actually has time to make puff pastry from scratch…) the grand dinners you see at restaurants can easily be recreated at home.
The term “en croute” means in pastry and as such, can really be applied to any food that is cooked in a pastry shell. Boeuf en croute – otherwise known as Beef Wellington – another classic ‘posh’ dish that is incredibly simple to make. Originally, hot water crust or shortcrust pastry would have been used to wrap up meats for cooking as it helps keep in moisture and flavour. The pastry could be burnt but then discarded after cooking leaving a delicious meal. This style of cooking has been around for as long as pastry has, with recipes for meat and fish wrapped in pastry dating back to the time of the Tudors.
Different meats and fish lend themselves well to different pastries as you can only cook the food in the oven for as long as it takes the pastry to go golden brown. Fillet steak and salmon lend themselves well to puff pastry as they are cooked in a short time – you will still need to rest any meat that gets cooked this way to ensure that it isn’t dry. Larger pieces of meat have to be seared for longer in a pan to precook them as, if it takes 40 minutes in the oven to cook the meat well, you will end up with your meal en carbone.
Most salmon en croute recipes involve layers of salmon, some sort of creamy dairy element and spinach. The recipe below adheres to this idea but includes an extra element: a basic pesto style sauce folded into the cream cheese. This herby flavour gives the dish lightness which is necessary for something surrounded by a large quantity of pastry. As always, you want to avoid a soggy bottom on your pastry. To try and prevent this, the spinach is wrung out to ensure that it contains as little moisture as possible. The cream cheese is thick and spreadable and while it can be exchanged for sour cream or crème fraiche, these have a far higher moisture content so could soak through the pastry. If you have to use either of these, I would advise hanging them in a cheese cloth for an hour before cooking to try and strain out some of the liquid.
This recipe is delicious served with leeks or some other vegetable and a small amount of potato. You don’t want to overload the plate with carbs but when the pastry is rolled out thin enough to cover four fillets, there isn’t much per person.
Salmon en Croute
Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes
Price per serving: about £2.80
4 fillets of salmon
1 packet (500g) puff pastry
8g fresh basil
2 cloves garlic
180g cream cheese
450g fresh spinach
1 medium onion
1 beaten egg
Thinly slice the onions and sauté in a pan with a little oil until the onion turn soft (about 5 mins).
Add the spinach and gently stir until wilted. You may have to do this in a few batches.
Once the spinach is just wilted, place it into a sieve and press down to squeeze out all the liquid in order to prevent the pastry going soggy. Set aside to cool.
Skin the salmon. To do this, place the fish skin side down on a cutting board. Use a very sharp knife to cut inwards from a corner between the skin and the flesh about a centimetre. Pin the flap of skin to the board with your non-dominant hand. Slide the knife along the skin at a 45° angle to separate the skin from the fish. (Online videos can really help with this if you are still struggling).
Turn the oven to gas mark 7 (210°C) to preheat.
Place the garlic and basil into a blender and blend until a rough paste is formed. Add the olive oil and blend until it forms a paste. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Fold the pesto into the cream cheese.
The salmon fillets will be placed next to each other to create one large block of fish – one giant salmon en croute – so roll out the puff pastry to three times the combined length of the salmon and about two inches above and below it.
Spread a large spoonful of spinach mix in the centre of the pastry and add the salmon fillets with the original skin side up.
Smear the cream cheese mixture over the salmon and top with a little more of the spinach.
Brush the outer wings of pastry with the beaten egg and fold them tightly into the centre.
Seal the edges and fold them up.
Flip the parcel into a lined baking tray so you have a smooth surface on the top.
Bake for 10 minutes and then turn the oven down to gas mark 6 (200°C) and continue to cook for another 30 minutes.
Remove the salmon from the oven and cover with foil. Leave to rest for five to ten minutes before serving.
I hope you enjoyed the recipe. If you love dishes like this, be sure to check out my Beef Wellington recipe or, if you are looking for something a little bit on the sweeter side, why not treat yourself to a delicious tart, you could try chocolate (with or without salted caramel) or even treat yourself to a delicious apple pie.
Have a good one and I will be back next week with a Christmassy biscuit recipe.