During our trip to Scotland, we found that smoked salmon was delightful as a dinner dish and smoked haddock was the perfect addition to a breakfast plate. But my initial introduction to smoked fish, and therefore my willingness to order it as a larger plate, was in canapes. Since they’re meant to be only a one or two bite affair, these appetizers are the perfect vehicle for coaxing people into trying new foods or combinations of food that they might balk at if asked to confront in larger quantities.
In these smoked trout puffs, I combined a black pepper Parmesan gougere, a blackberry and pinot noir vinaigrette, flaked smoked trout, and thin sliced radishes. In my initial sketches, I envisioned glazing the tops with more dressing, or folding little radish roses for decor. But when it came to the actual assembly, I found the the shiny, crackled tops of the gougeres were the most appealing presentation. Here’s how I put them together.
Black Pepper Gougeres – adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
6 TBSP butter
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup white wine
1 1/2 cups ap flour
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
3/4 tsp salt
6 oz finely grated Parmesan (preferably a black pepper coated variety)
6 large eggs
Bring the butter, water, and wine to a boil in a medium sized saucepan. Add the flour, pepper, and salt, stirring vigorously until the mixture forms a smooth ball and begins to leave a film on the pan’s surface. Let the mixture cool slightly, then stir in the grated cheese. Lightly beat the eggs in a separate bowl, then gradually add them to the flour mixture, beating constantly. (A stand mixer makes this step much simpler, but a hand mixer or just a wooden spoon will also get you there.) When your dough is smooth, glossy, and flexible enough to stretch between thumb and forefinger without breaking, it’s ready to go.
Using a piping bag fitted with a large plain tip, or a small portion scoop, place your batter in 1″ rounds on a parchment lined baking tray, leaving about an 1″ of space between the puffs. Sprinkle the tops with a pinch of pepper. Bake at 375 for 20-25 minutes, until light, golden, and dry. Remove the tray from the oven and flip the puffs over, puncturing the base of each with a small, thin knife. This will allow the hot air to vent out and keep the interior of your puffs from becoming doughy as they cool. Turn the oven off and return the tray of puffs to the oven to finish cooling.
Blackberry & Pinot Vinaigrette –
Did I remember to write down my recipe for this? No, no I did not. But here’s an approximation of my method, with some modifications based on what I would change next time I made it, and a reminder to taste as you go. Vinaigrettes are very amenable to being adjusted on the fly.
1 pound frozen blackberries
12 ounces pinot noir
1 cup neutral tasting oil (I used grapeseed oil)
salt and pepper to taste
Combine the blackberries and wine in a small saucepan and simmer over low heat for 20-30 minutes to melt the berries and cook off some (but not all) of the alcohol. Remove from heat and cool slightly, then use a blender or food processor to puree the mixture. Gradually add in the oil, mixing constantly. Add a pinch of salt and pepper. If the dressing seems too thick, you can adjust it by whisking in a bit of water. For this application, you want it to remain on the thick side so that it doesn’t run out of the puffs or soak in too quickly. If the dressing seems too acidic or wine-y, add a bit more oil. If it seems flat, add another pinch of salt and pepper. If it seems too oily, you can add a touch more wine, or a bit of red wine vinegar.
To assemble –
Slice a handful of multi-colored radishes paper thin. Flake 8 oz of smoked trout into small chunks. With a small knife, split the gougeres on one side, leaving the other side attached to act as a hinge. Spoon a 1/2 tsp of vinaigrette into each puff, then fan 3-4 thin slices of radish to hang slightly out over the front edge. Stuff the remaining space with smoked trout.
I can’t pick favorites among foods, I’m terrible at it. But these canapes have everything I want in an appetizer – zing from the radishes, bite from the wine, depth from the smoke, and addictive cheesiness in the puffs. Each of the flavors is bold on its own, but somehow they meld together to create a nuanced final product. If you aren’t up for the full project, the cheese puffs are a fun little snack on their own, no filling needed.