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Food

A Far Cry From Overcooked Turkey

Posted November 20, 2018 7:27 p.m. EST

Salmon with browned butter and wakame seaweed, served alongside potatoes and sunchokes, in New York, Nov. 11, 2018. Yotam Ottolenghi’s beloved late mother-in-law always made four types of meat and six carbs for festive family meals. He honors her memory — but serves salmon instead. (Andrew Scrivani/The New York Times)

My mother-in-law passed away suddenly over the summer. Greta Allen, my husband Karl’s mum, was Irish through and through. Warm and unapologetically herself, she was wise and funny, and she could take a joke just as happily as she could dish it out.

“You cook your broccoli like it was brisket,” I remember mocking her once after noticing the pot simmering away for a good 45 minutes.

“Yoti,” she retorted at once, using her nickname for me with a blend of great affection and snappy humor, that way she had of putting across a serious point not so seriously. “You mind your own business, young man, and don’t you go around messing with my Christmas. Or else, I’ll have to get out my wooden spoon and chase you round the house.”

I loved Greta, and I miss her. I miss her for her dinner table — be it Christmas, or any other family gathering — with four types of meat and at least six carbs and vegetables.

Many of these were wonderfully delicious, despite my banter. My understanding of the power of lots and lots of butter to lift a mash of carrots and parsnips to heavenly realms I owe to her. In the meat department, maybe less so. Greta was able to describe a piece of cooked meat as “lovely and dry” without a wee bit of irony. Her vegetable soup, on the other hand, was everything you want a soup to be: simple, wholesome and good.

Regardless of what she placed on the table, though, what I learned from Greta was a particular way of celebrating with family and loved ones, her unique gift for just being there. The food at the center of the table — always important, no doubt, and the subject of long conversations — was almost secondary. It was about bringing us around that table, chatting, reminiscing and laughing. Laughing a lot. Laughing all the time, really.

Greta is actually probably laughing her head off right now, seeing what I have here for a family gathering: a side of salmon, seasoned with seaweed, ginger and Thai basil, served with a salad of roasted sunchokes, radishes and green onions. A far cry from her beloved overcooked turkey. There are also potatoes, which she would naturally appreciate, and lots of butter, which she would welcome even more, but the rest Greta would classify as my “funny food.”

I would happily defend my variations — the side of salmon, with its intense flavors and bold presence on the table as a festive centerpiece, or the fish cakes, a starter variation on a similar flavor theme — but I’d rather just leave it at seeing Greta, bewildered and slightly tickled at how I finally managed to mess with tradition.

Recipe: Centerpiece Salmon With Thai Basil and Browned Butter

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Total time: 1 3/4 hours

6 tablespoons/90 grams unsalted butter

1/4 cup/10 grams dried wakame seaweed, roughly broken up into 1-inch/2-centimeter pieces if large

5 garlic cloves, roughly chopped

5 limes (finely grate the zest to get 2 tablespoons, squeeze to get 1/4 cup/60 milliliters juice, and cut the rest into wedges for serving)

2 heaping tablespoons/20 grams peeled, roughly chopped ginger

Flaky or fine sea salt

1/4 cup/10 grams roughly chopped Thai basil, plus 12 whole leaves (or use a combination of normal basil and cilantro instead)

2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large salmon fillet (a side of salmon), skin on and patted dry (about 2 3/4 pounds/1.2 kilograms)

3 ounces/80 grams breakfast radishes or regular radishes, thinly sliced on a mandoline (about 2/3 cup sliced)

1 pound/500 grams sunchokes (also known as Jerusalem artichokes)

1 1/3 pounds/600 grams small-medium white or yellow potatoes

Scant 1/4 cup/15 grams thinly sliced green onions (from 3 or 4 green onions, green parts only)

1. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat for about 8 minutes, swirling from time to time until it begins to foam, turn light brown, and smell nutty and caramelized. Remove from heat, stir in wakame and leave to infuse for 10 minutes.

2. In a spice grinder, mini food processor or mortar, blitz or pound the garlic, lime zest, ginger and 1 1/2 teaspoons flaky salt (or 3/4 teaspoon fine salt) to a paste, scraping the sides down as you go. Add the chopped basil leaves, and blitz or pound until broken down into a bright green paste.

3. Strain the browned butter into a small bowl and set the now-crisp wakame aside on a plate lined with paper towels.

4. Add 1 1/2 tablespoons of the garlic paste to the bowl with the butter and stir well. Add the remaining paste to a separate small bowl, stir in 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, and set aside.

5. Place the salmon skin side down on a very large rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment, arranging it diagonally so it fits. Rub with 1 1/2 teaspoons flaky salt (or 3/4 teaspoon fine salt), then spoon the butter mixture evenly over to cover. Set aside at room temperature for about an hour. (Alternatively, you can prepare the salmon up to this point and refrigerate, covered, up to 4 hours.)

6. Toss the radishes together with 1/4 teaspoon flaky salt (or 1/8 teaspoon fine salt) and 1 tablespoon lime juice and set aside.

7. Heat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit/230 degrees Celsius and position a rack in the top third of the oven.

8. Fill a large bowl with water. Peel the sunchokes, adding them to the water as you go to prevent discoloration. Cut them into 1 1/4-inch/3-centimeter chunks, then dry very well with a kitchen towel. Toss together with 1 tablespoon oil and 1/2 teaspoon flaky salt (or 1/4 teaspoon fine salt) and spread out on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

9. Roast sunchokes for 20 to 22 minutes, tossing the vegetables and rotating the pans halfway through, until golden brown and cooked through. Set aside to cool. Reduce the temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit/180 degrees Celsius.

10. While the sunchokes are roasting, peel the potatoes, add to a medium saucepan, cover with cold, well-salted water, and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Once simmering, cook for 12 to 15 minutes (or longer, if larger), until a knife goes all the way through, but they still hold their shape. Drain and let cool for 5 minutes. Cut potatoes into 1 1/2-inch chunks. Add the cooled potatoes and sunchokes to a large bowl and set aside.

11. Bake the salmon for 15 minutes, then remove and baste well; it should be firm at the edges but still tender in the center. (Depending on the thickness and type of salmon you use, it may take as little as 10 minutes or as long as 20; adjust accordingly.) Turn the oven to the broil (grill) setting on the highest temperature and tear away any exposed parchment so it doesn’t burn.

12. Return the salmon to the oven and broil about 4 inches from the heat for 4 minutes, or until browned on top and cooked through but still a little pink inside. Let cool for 5 minutes. Carefully transfer the salmon to a very long, large platter, skin side down, using a wide fish spatula, and spoon the butter evenly over it.

13. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons lime juice to the garlic paste and stir well. Add this to the potatoes and sunchokes and gently toss together. Toss in the crispy wakame, pickled radishes, Thai basil leaves and green onions and arrange the salad next to the salmon. Serve with lime wedges alongside.

Recipe: Salmon Cakes With Thai Basil Yogurt

Yield: 4 main course or 8 appetizer servings

Total time: About 1 1/4 hours

For the salmon cakes:

1 pound/500 grams sunchokes (also known as Jerusalem artichokes)

5 tablespoons/60 milliliters olive oil

Flaky or fine sea salt

1/2 pound/250 grams white or yellow potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/4-inch/3-centimeter chunks

2 tablespoons finely chopped Thai basil, plus 12 whole leaves (or use a combination of normal basil and cilantro)

1/4 cup/10 grams wakame seaweed, roughly broken up into 1-inch/2-centimeter pieces if large

1 teaspoon peeled minced ginger

Scant 1/3 cup/25 grams finely chopped green onions (from 2 or 3 green onions, green parts only)

1/2 garlic clove (or 1 small clove), crushed

2 limes (finely grate the zest to get 2 teaspoons then cut into wedges for serving)

2 1/2 tablespoons potato starch (potato flour), or use all-purpose flour

1 egg, beaten

3/4 pound/350 grams store-bought cooked salmon (3 or 4 fillets), skin removed and roughly broken into 1 1/2-inch/4-centimeter pieces (see note)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

For the ginger and Thai basil yogurt:

8 Thai basil leaves, finely chopped (or use a combination of normal basil and cilantro)

1 1/2 teaspoons peeled minced ginger

1 lime (finely grate the zest to get 1 1/2 teaspoons and juice to get 1 1/2 tablespoons)

1/4 garlic clove, crushed

1 scant cup/200 grams plain Greek yogurt

Pinch of salt

1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit/230 degrees Celsius and position a rack in the top third of the oven.

2. Fill a large bowl with water. Peel the sunchokes, adding them to the water as you go to prevent discoloration. Cut them into 1 1/4-inch/3-centimeter chunks, then dry very well with a kitchen towel. Toss with 1 tablespoon oil and 1/2 teaspoon flaky salt (or 1/4 teaspoon fine salt) and spread out on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

3. Roast sunchokes for 20 to 22 minutes, tossing them and rotating the pans halfway through, until golden brown and cooked through. Set aside to cool, then very roughly crush them.

4. While the sunchokes are roasting, add the potatoes to a medium saucepan, cover with cold, well-salted water and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Once simmering, cook for 12 minutes, or until soft. Drain and set aside to cool for about 20 minutes.

5. Add the remaining 1/4 cup/48 milliliters olive oil to a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the basil leaves and the wakame and fry for 1 minute, stirring a little until crisp. Strain, reserving the oil, and transfer the basil and wakame to a small plate lined with paper towels.

6. Prepare the ginger and basil yogurt: Mix together all of the ingredients and set aside.

7. Roughly crush the cooled potatoes (some lumps are fine) and add to a large bowl with the cooked sunchokes, ginger, green onions, garlic, lime zest, potato starch (flour), egg, chopped basil and a good pinch of salt. Finely chop half the crisp wakame and add to the bowl. Mix everything together well, then add the salmon and gently mix to combine, trying not to break the salmon pieces too much.

8. With lightly oiled hands, form the mixture into 8 cakes, pressing them so they hold together.

9. Add half the butter and 1 tablespoon reserved oil to a large nonstick frying pan over high heat. Once hot, lower the heat to medium-high and fry half the fish cakes for 2 to 3 minutes per side, until crisp and golden brown on both sides. Remove from pan and then fry the remaining fish cakes in the same way with the remaining butter and 1 tablespoon of the remaining oil.

10. Divide the cakes between four plates and spoon some of the yogurt on each plate. Top the yogurt with the crisp wakame and Thai basil and serve with lime wedges alongside. (To serve as an appetizer, arrange cakes on a platter with the yogurt in a bowl alongside.)