High tea on high teas: a plated dish

I really wanted to just dabble more with savory cooking, just because I do so much with dessert, and not nearly enough with actual cooking. When I was conceptualizing this dish, I was actually running. Some of the best (or most original) ideas come to me when I’m experiencing an adrenaline high, and everything is kicking in all at once. I wanted to do a dish that uses smoked salmon, but I didn’t want it to be boring or simple. I thought about lox and tea sandwiches, and that’s when I started to think about how I could incorporate tea into my dish. In Taiwanese culture, we love to incorporate tea into our cooking, be it dessert or savory, and I wanted to figure out the best way to pair tea with salmon so it won’t be weird, unnatural, or unappealing. That bitterness of tea, in theory, can pair really well with the fattiness of salmon itself. And I figured out the best way to do that in this dish.

I have done tea smoking in the past, and with a good amount of success, so I knew that route would be perfect for the salmon. In terms of what tea I would use, I actually went with lapsang souchong. It is a red tea typically cultivated in the Fujian region of China, where my grandpa on my mother’s side is from. Besides being a direct homage to my heritage, the tea itself is really smoky, and perfect to use in savory cooking. In terms of what the actual dish is, we have a filet of sockeye salmon that was smoked in that tea, a milk bread sauce (to reference lox and tea sandwiches), homemade pickled shallot and cucumber, brown butter capers, braised lemon peel (to reference a lemon peel or wedge in iced tea), and a crispy piece of baked salmon skin.

For the lapsang souchong-smoked salmon:
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup brown rice
3 tablespoons lapsang souchong leaves
2 salmon filets, skins removed
a pinch of salt
a pinch of white pepper
a pinch of paprika
3 tablespoons brown butter

Line a wok with two layers of aluminum foil. Lay down the sugar, brown sugar, and tea leaves and heat on medium heat until the sugar begins to burn around the tea leaves. Line a grate over this wok. Brush parchment with 1 tablespoon of the brown butter. Season the salmon with salt, pepper, and paprika. Place onto the parchment, then onto the grates. Cover and allow to smoke first for 5 minutes. Line a nonstick pan with the remaining brown butter and heat up. Sear the salmon filets for 2 minutes per side.

For the crispy salmon skin:
2 salmon filets’ worth of skins
brown butter

Brush the skins with brown sugar and season with salt. Place between two silpats, weighed down with two sheet trays, and bake at 400 degrees F for 20 minutes.

For the braised lemon peel:
Peels and juice from 1 lemon

Fill a pot with lemon juice, salt, and water. Braise down the lemon peels in that liquid until they are soft, about 10 minutes. Chiffonade and reserve the liquid for thinning out your bread sauce.

For the brown butter-fried capers:
2 tablespoons capers, drained of their liquid
a pinch of salt
2 tablespoons brown butter

Sauce off the capers in the brown butter until they bloom. Drain on a paper towel and reserve the brown butter for the shallots.

For the confit shallots:
1 shallot, sliced in half lengthwise
reserved brown butter
a pinch of salt

Sauce the shallot in the brown butter on low heat until translucent. Season with salt. Mince up the shallot and reserve some for the bread sauce and the rest for plating.

For the milk bread sauce:
3 slices of milk bread
1 cup lemon braising liquid
1 clove of garlic
2 tablespoons brown butter
2 tablespoons confit shallots
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
a pinch of salt

Sauce off diced bread with the garlic in the brown butter. Season with salt. Transfer to a blender and puree in with the confit shallots, braising liquid, and finish with the butter.

For the macerated cucumber and shallot:
1 Persian cucumber
1 shallot
juice from 1 lemon
1 teaspoon dill
1 teaspoon poppyseeds
a pinch of salt

Shave the cucumber lengthwise. Shave the shallot widthwise into rings. Toss with the other ingredients and allow to sit until the cucumbers are tender enough to roll up.

To plate:
Start with the bread sauce on the bottom. Then garnish with the salmon filet, cucumber ribbons, twirled lemon peel, capers, dollops of the confit shallot, rings of the macerated shallots, and top the filet with the crispy skin.

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