Seeking Serenity through Tzatziki

Had you told me 10 years ago that I would love the city life, complete with renting an apartment and relying on public transportation, I would have laughed. Yet here I am: living in Boston proper with a 2-bedroom apartment, and commuting daily to work on the subway, and loving every bit of it. That being said, it does have some restrictions – most notably, lack of a grill. So there’s George Foreman, or I could get a small charcoal and drag it out to the parking lot every time I want a steak; but neither really suits my own culinary finesse. Enter the solution: a grill pan. Now obviously the smoky taste of a true grill won’t be achieved, but it’s the next best thing. I just bought a 13-inch Calphalon nonstick grill pan (see below) and wanted to take it for a test ride. For its debut, I decided to make Pan-Grilled Salmon with Tzatziki.
While I am an avid user of cast-iron for meats, fish works quite well in the nonstick setting. Salmon is an oily, or fatty, fish – it thus takes slightly longer to cook. To create the perfectly cooked fillet, salmon is often removed from the heat just before it is fully cooked. This prevents the fish from drying out, giving it a beautiful texture. The result will be flesh that is slightly translucent in the center, and completely opaque around the edges. Like Tuna, salmon is a safe fish to eat undercooked, or even raw (NOTE: this only applies to fresh fish – read all labels and safety instructions beforehand).* Leaving the skin on the fillets prevents the fish from drying out; it can easily be removed with a long knife or spatula once the fish is done cooking.
For this salmon, I chose to make Tzatziki: a Greek dish that consists of strained yogurt, cucumber, garlic, dill, and lemon; mint and parsley are optional add-ins (which I did not use). It is used in a number of contexts in Greek cuisine, from being served as a meze (appetizer) with dippers to serving as a sauce for gyros. Tzatziki pairs beautifully with salmon – the dill and lemon highlight the fish’s natural flavor, while the yogurt and cucumber provide an almost “spa-like” freshness. Greek yogurt is a must for achieving the right consistency of this sauce – I like Trader Joe’s brand, but Fage is another excellent variety. If you prefer to use regular yogurt, be sure to strain it for at least 2 hours (in the refrigerator) by placing the yogurt in a coffee filter over a large bowl. To learn how to make this lovely summer dish, click HERE.
The “soothing” flavors of the Tzatziki received my attention for this musical pairing, and Debussy’s Reflets dans l’eau was the perfect match. This work opens the series Images pour piano, though the three parts are often performed as individual works. This series was written just after the completion of La Mer (which was just featured on this blog). It evince many of the same harmonic qualities found in the orchestra piece, yet finds a more delicate ambience through poetic expression. Reflets dans l’eau translates to “Reflection in the Water,” and is meant to evoke a rippling effect.^ I’ve included here a recording by Jean-Yves Thibaudet (a French pianist for a French piece!) His interpretation is precisely the ambiance I hoped to capture with this dish. Enjoy!

Sources Cited:
*”Cooking Fish Fundamentals.” Rouxbe Cooking School http://rouxbe.com
**”Tzatziki.” Wikipedia.com http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tzatziki
^”Claude Debussy.” Wikipedia.com http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude_Debussy

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