I can’t believe there’s less than three weeks until Labor Day. Whoa! The last I looked it was Memorial Day and Rosaria and I headed off to Portland, Maine to avoid the season’s first onslaught of summer visitors, and to sample some of that city’s great restaurants. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I’ve been very busy this summer including both commercial and private cheffing. In between stifling hot kitchens and bucolic catered garden parties, I have been exploring the mysteries of molecular gastronomy.
In fact, I had an event the week before last where I employed a technique which is often referred to as “meat glue”. Meat glue is actually a natural occurring enzyme derived from seaweed; it is called transglutaminase and it is made by a Japanese company named Ajinomoto and sold under the name Activa TS or Activa GS. With it, one can bind almost any type of protein together. The piece du resistance for the aforementioned event was going to be a cold poached whole salmon with a mayonnaise-dill-caper sauce. I make one of these beauties a couple of times a year. Invariably someone has to station themselves close by the fish to assist in serving because of the bones inside. In the past, I’ve deboned the salmon after poaching to varying degrees of success. Now, enter meat glue, or in this case fish glue, to the rescue.
From my local fish market, Cor-J’s, I ordered the largest Alaskan wild caught king salmon they had – skinned, deboned, and filleted. When I picked up the fish, they gave me two huge king salmon fillets each weighing over five pounds. When I got it back to my kitchen, I spread two overlapping rows of plastic wrap on the cutting board and laid the two fillets next to each other head to tail, skinned sides down. I sprinkled a fine dusting of Activa TS over both fillets followed by a small amount of salt. I put one fillet on top of the other, head to tail, skinned sides out, and immediately started wrapping and rolling the plastic wrap around the assembled pieces as tightly as I could, pushing out as much air as possible while tightening (air is the enemy here).
Since I was going to poach the salmon, I took my 24-inch fish poacher which has a metal lift-out insert, and I placed the plastic wrapped salmon at the bottom of the fish poacher. Then I positioned the insert on top of the salmon and weighed it down with four bricks. The idea is to compress whatever you’re gluing as tightly as possible. I then put the fish poacher in the refrigerator overnight. The Activa TS needs about 12 hours in the refrigerator for the salmon pieces to bind together.
The next day, I removed the glued salmon from the fish poacher, unwrapped it and voilá, I had a huge, beautiful pink piece of boneless protein. I filled my fish poacher with court bouillon from the freezer and poached my salmon for 35 minutes. I then removed it from the court bouillon and let it cool to room temperature.
In the meantime, I took an English cucumber and a Japanese daikon and sliced them into paper-thin rounds. I prepared my sauce by combining 1½ cup of mayonnaise with 4 tablespoons of freshly chopped dill, and ¼ cup of drained capers. I thinned the sauce out with fresh squeezed lemon juice and red wine vinegar. Once my poached salmon had cooled to room temperature, I placed it on a salmon shaped serving platter and I generously coated it with the mayonnaise sauce. Then, starting at the tail end, I placed alternating rows of cucumbers and daikons until I reached the head of the fish. The finished presentation looked like exquisite, exotic fish scales on the salmon. Upon serving, I placed a small bowl of the sauce by the poached salmon and people helped themselves to it. Over and over again that day, I overheard surprised guests wondering what had happened to all the fish bones. Fortunately nothing (and no one) came unglued that day!