It takes great talent to mess up a Nicoise Salad. I mean, it can be served many ways but basically it has the same ingredients - tuna, potatoes, capers, a lush bed of buttery greens, red onions, a pile of cornichons, a tangy mustard-y vinaigrette, some quickly-blanched haricot verts, maybe a strip or two of anchovies from a tin. And of course, the olives. The briney little suckers that make the salad, that salad.
I was going to be tricky. I was going to sub-out the tuna and replace it with delicate terrines of seafood - the kind I was tasked with making for this Charcutepalooza "binding" challenge - and create a funky take on Salad Nicoise. I was quite sure you would never miss the tuna. I made the terrines the night before. Rock shrimp (Lucy's favorite) and crab (Edie's favorite). I got all my ingredients ready in the morning. I tasted the terrines. Beautiful, light, delicate, still tasting of the sea, and slightly reminiscent of the shrimp salad sandwiches my mother made for me as a child.
Then, that thing happens where you have this idea that you should ask your husband for advice about something. Like how to set up your photo. It seems like a good idea in the moment, I mean he is competent about so many things. So you do it, you ask him, and then 10 seconds later you realize asking your husband about food photography might be the biggest mistake ever, because pretty soon, he is arranging beans and peppers into an aerodynamic, architectural, 1980's era Nouvelle Cuisine-inspired tower and waxing poetic about food photography.
He produces theatre and concerts. He is not Penny De Los Santos. Still, he made me stop and shoot his plate.
Then, it was my turn. I called my version "rustic". I denounced his blatant use of a single nugget of lettuce. I called it un-real, ridiculous. He countered by telling me my rustic interpretation was "throwing lettuce on a plate". He talked about precision and design. I talked about homey-ness, comfort and practicality.
I mocked his perfectly-placed pickles. I asked him how many people he thought four pickles was going to feed. He accused me of using more ingredients to beef up my photos. He whined about unequal treatment and standards. He lectured me about how photography is art, not a literal plate that he would bring to the table. He mocked my deconstructed salad, calling it "silly". I countered with an oration about cooking, the ins and outs of actually producing food so that real people, not tiny mice, could eat it. He used this is an opportunity to remind me how mind-numbingly literal I can be.
We bickered. We bitched. We criticized. We blasted each others creations. We accused each other of secret sabotage. We were merciless, as only a husband and wife can be, safe on ground we created together, with rules we both understood.
It was absurdly fun. More than once, we caught each other smirking. It was all safely violent, all that sparring and squaring off.
And that is why, when I took my picture, and my head was full of theories and ideas and one-upsmanship, while driven to be right and make a better plate, a prettier plate than David, with my head in this game we created, I served a table full of guests at tea and promptly forgot the potatoes, the olives, the anchovies and the hard boiled eggs. Just left them in the fridge. Forgot they existed.
It was an Idiot's Salad. And I'm pretty sure that's all David's fault. But yours will be different. You will refrain from asking your spouse about food photography. Or what's happening in Congress. You'll stay on task, and make these adorable little terrines. They are very light, perfect for tea, easily adaptable with different herbs and seasonings, and if you remember all of the heartier ingredients you left in the fridge, perfect with a Nicoise Salad.
Shrimp & Crab Mini-Terrines with Cilantro & Chives
This is a simple take on Michael Ruhlman’s “Maryland Crab, Scallop, and Saffron Terrine”. The secret here is to keep it no frills, and use shrimp so fresh that they smell of the sea the minute you pop off the lid. When I made this dish with four curious six year olds - too nosey and curious not to join in - they passed the container around and “smelled the ocean”. That’s how fresh it should be – kids should think it smells great. I use backfin crab with the rock shrimp. It's sweeter than lump, has a stronger crab taste, and it’s more affordable.
One other note – since the kids made this terrine, the herbs are cut roughly, certainly more rough than I would’ve preferred, but their big chunks of herbs made for a much more visually appealing terrine once sliced. I might try it their way next time.
¾ cup cream
1 lb. rock shrimp, chopped
½ lb. crab, back fin, in chunks
2 large egg whites
Chives, a handful, chopped
Cilantro, a handful, chopped
Juice of a medium-sized lemon
Salt (to taste)
Pepper (to taste)
Chives for garnish
Put the blades and bowl of your food processor in the freezer and chill for 15 minutes or so. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line four small terrines with plastic wrap, so they are ready when you need them. You’ll want the wrap to hang out a bit so you can fold it over and cover the top of the terrine.
When the gear is cold, assemble processor and combine shrimp and egg whites in the processor and puree until smooth. While the machine is still running, add cream to the mixture and process a little longer, just until everything is mixed well. Turn off the machine, add chunks of crab to the mixture, and season with chives, cilantro, lemon, salt and pepper. Gently mix everything together.
Push spoonfuls of your shrimp mixture into the terrines so that it touches all edges and sides and fills the mold. Pack the shrimp mixture into the terrine with the back of your spoon, so it’s even on top and fills the terrine completely. Cover with the remaining overlap of the plastic wrap and place terrines in a roasting pan. Pour hot water, from the tap or boiled on the stove, into the roasting pan until it comes half way up the sides of the terrines. Bake for about a half hour. You’ll know it’s done when you feel it get slightly spongey like a cake.
Remove terrines from the water bath and cool them a bit before putting them in the fridge. I put stones from my kid’s rock collection on top of each one to weigh it down. Let it rest just like that overnight in the fridge.
When you’re ready to serve, remove the rocks, unwrap the plastic wrap from the top and turn over the terrine. The little shrimp cakes will pop right out. Garnish with freshly cut chives. Serve with crackers and a hearty salad where you remember all the ingredients. Perfect for an afternoon tea out on the deck.
Here are the best of the Charcutepalooza Posts for July. The challenge was Blending. Love the dogs!
1. Sir Foodalot
Hot Dog Emulsion is F*ugly.
2. Healthy Green Kitchen
I made Hot Dogs and that’s something I thought I’d never say…
3. Nic Cooks
The One I Didn’t Want to Do
A really great survey of hot dogs in various countries.
4. Eat Live Travel Write
How Hot Dogs can be Dangerous to Your health
5. Sir Food A lot
Second That Emulsion (Sir Food A lot Holds Nothing Back)
6. Inspired By Wolfe
Ode on a Mortadella Sausage (with apologies to Keats)
7. Do Love Walk
July 4th and Half Smokes
8. Dabblings and Whimsey
9. Locavore in the City
A Daughter Makes Dogs with her Dad
10. Bite Me New England
Janis kisses the bung. Literally.
1. Cookbook Archeology
Gorgeous step-by-step Mortadella-making pics
2. Lighter and Local
Chicago Hot Dog
3. Taste Food
4. Leave Me The Oink
Pigs Wrapped in Brioche Blankets
5. Belm Blog
Bung & Mortadella