(We have been trying to blog this for weeks. Raw fish is one of the hardest things in the world to photograph.) This simple and elegant treatment for salmon was inspired by a spectacular spicy beef tartare we tasted at Marché 27, just down the street from where we live. The dish featured two favourite flavours – the smoky burn of chipotle and sweet sting of red chile. We recreated it at home a week later in what we call the Saturday night test kitchen, and were inspired by this success to create a spicy Thai beef tartare.
The first attempt was a surprising disappointment. We make a brilliant yellow Thai curry paste that braises incredibly well with pork loin and coconut milk. I could taste in my mind how perfectly this curry would work in a tartare, with its structured layers of flavour: an earthy base of roasted cumin and turmeric, the bright heat of ginger, garlic and bird’s eye chiles, and a sparkling top-note of lemongrass and cilantro stems. A squeeze of lime, and we’d be in tartare nirvana.
Not so. We underestimated the importance of cooking the paste, and the raw curry had little flavour. While trying to enjoy it, we planned the second attempt. Frying the curry would release and bind the flavours, some raw onion would add needed bite. And perhaps raw beef was not the best platform for these flavours anyway?
So we set out a second time, with salmon. And let’s not use the curry we saved, let’s start with green onion. And some chives and cilantro leaves. And a little lime zest. And a squeeze of juice. Hmm. It’s all green. Do we have any green chiles? No, but a bit of wasabi might do. No, try the green habanero sauce, and grate some ginger. More lime? Something brighter. Champagne vinegar. Yes. Pepper. Salt. Done. And in ten minutes we had created what we now think (after trying it again several times) is the first original masterpiece to emerge from the test kitchen.
The only improvement we made the second time around was to add Thai basil, green chiles and a more aromatic pepper – some wild Madagascar pepper we picked up at Olive et Epices in the Jean-Talon market over the weekend. Grinding it in the mortar and pestle released an intensely fragrant aroma, resinous and woody, like hot cedar tears. Don’t overdo the lime juice or the salt. And be sure to add the lime juice and vinegar at the last minute, to avoid cooking the tartare. Serve with mashed avocado and thin slices of day-old baguette, brushed with oil and baked until golden. Makes two generous main courses, or four appetizers.
Jade Buddha Salmon Tartare
350 g salmon, finely diced
2 tbsp. chopped green onion
1 tbsp. chopped chives
1 tbsp. cilantro
1 tbsp. thai basil
2 tsp. grated ginger
zest of one lime
good squeeze of lime juice
1 tsp. champagne or rice vinegar
habanero sauce and minced green chile
salt and pepper
olive oil to coat
green szechuan pepper
cilantro or mint oil as garnish