On the menu:
Assiette of Brown Shrimp cocktail, Salmon Rillette, Avocado Mousse, Kinglas Salmon, Pickled Raw Beetroot and Apple and Cucumber Dressing
This is a wonderful opening for any dinner party or festive occasion.
It looks impressive, but each of the elements is actually deceptively easy to make. In fact, they are all made in advance, so it’s just an assembly job on the night.
This dish is all about complimenting and contrasting flavours and textures without upsetting the apple cart. Yet every mouthful is different with a few surprises here and there along the way.
Bitter leaves and peppery watercress add the 3 C’s: Colour, Crunch and Contrast. The herbs are kept classically simple: parsley, dill and chives. But I’ve chosen edgy lime rather than lemon for acidity and freshness.
Lastly, generous cubes of buttery Tsar or Kinglas salmon add a final touch of luxury.
The brown shrimp cocktail can be served on its own, with a salad garnish and the avocado mousse or cubes of avocado on a plate, in a glass, retro style in half an avocado or moulded into little towers.
Alternatively, this cocktail makes a fine canapé served in chicory leaves, in tiny pastry cups, on spoons or on dainty crackers.
The salmon rillette is great by itself too, with oat cakes or soda bread and the pickled beetroot, Or it can be served as a canapé like the shrimp cocktail.
If you can get hold of it, Tsar or Kinglas salmon is a sheer delight. This is literally melt in the mouth mildly cured and then lightly smoked salmon (perfect for that toothless granny on Christmas day). Slice it thickly and serve with a salad garnish, the apple and cucumber dressing or the pickled raw beetroot and a few oatcakes on the side.
You could also cut the Tsar or Kinglas salmon into cubes and mix with some of the apple and cucumber from the dressing and some finely chopped fresh herbs (parsley, chives, dill or even coriander) to create a kind of salmon tartare to plate with extra dressing and leaves as a starter, or as a canapé like the shrimp cocktail and salmon rillette.
The apple and cucumber dressing itself will perk up any salmon paté, sliced smoked salmon or gravadlax.
And the kale pesto is wonderful whenever and wherever you would normally use bog-standard basil pesto.
The ultimate cheat’s version of this dish would be to buy a good prawn cocktail, a quality fish paté or rillette, thickly sliced cured or smoked salmon, then simply cube some apple, avocado and cucumber, dress with a little shop-bought mustard and dill sauce and assemble the lot as artistically as you can muster on an over-sized plate.
Making some or all of the individual components yourself is worthwhile though, as they are delicious and versatile in their own right, either served individually, in different combinations with each other, or as canapés.
So then, if you’d like to make the full platter without cheating, here’s the low down:
Brown shrimp with whisky-cocktailsauce (serves 4 – GF LC)
You could make this with larger prawns, but I love the depth of flavor of the tiny North Sea brown shrimp I’ve grown up with. The sauce is the Dutch/Belgian equivalent of the classic Marie-Rose sauce.
225 gr North Sea brown shrimp
1 1/2 tbsp lightly whipped whipping cream (no stiff peaks, just holding together in that lazy-falling-over-kinda way. “Lobbig” in Dutch)
1 1/2 tbsp quality mayonnaise, preferably home made
1-2 tsp quality tomato ketchup (I like Mr Organic – huge tomato content, not much sugar, no nasties)
1 tbsp whisky (use sherry or brandy if you haven’t got whisky, but Whisky is classic)
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley (optional)
A dash of fresh lemon or lime juice to taste
A pinch of cayenne pepper or a drop of Tabasco
Salt and white pepper
Mix all the sauce ingredients together. Keep a few tbsp of the shrimp behind for garnish. Fold enough of the cocktail sauce through the rest of the prawns to gently bind them together. They should not be swimming.
2 avocados, peeled and stones removed (keep 1 of the stones)
1 leaf of gelatin
Juice of a lime
a tiny pinch or spirulina powder (optional for a darker colour)
1 egg white (optional)
Salt and white pepper
Blend the avocados until smooth in a blender or food processor. Cut the gelatin into little pieces and soak in a little water. Heat the lime juice in a small pan or the microwave. Squeeze the gelatin dry and add to the lime juice. Stir to dissolve and add to the avocado.
Whisk the egg white (if using) until stiff peak stage. Carefully fold through the mousse. Season to taste.
Put an avocado stone in the corner of your storage container, pour in the mousse and leave to set in the fridge for at least an hour or 2. The stone helps to prevent the mousse from discolouring
Apple and Cucumber Dressing
75 gr eating apple such as granny smith (approx. 1 small apple or 1/2 a large one), peeled, cored and finely cubed
75 gr cucumber (approx. 10 cm piece), finely cubed
Zest and juice of 1 lime
2 tbsp rapeseed oil
2 tsp Calvados or cider (optional, I used organic cider)
1 tbsp dill sprigs, finely chopped
Mix everything together and season to taste. Set aside for at least 30 mins to let the flavours infuse.
To assemble the “Assiette” (platter):
Apple and cucumber dressing
Fat cubes of Tsar or Kinglas salmon (or sliced quality cured or mildly smoked salmon)
Basil pesto or kale and cashew pesto (optional)
Plain brown shrimp
Small chicory leaves from the inner part of the chicory
Small radicchio leaves from the inner part of the radicchio (or red chicory)
Fresh herbs such as chives, dill or flat leaf parsley
If using, drizzle or dot some pesto over each (large) plate depending on how thick your pesto is.
Fill chicory leaves with a spoonful of the shrimp cocktail and radicchio leaves with a spoonful of salmon rillette, or vice versa.
Arrange on the plate and either spoon, quenelle or pipe some avocado mousse in between the filled leaves.
Tuck thin slices of pickled beetroot and cubes or slices of salmon in between, underneath and around.
Drizzle a little of the apple and cucumber dressing over and around, not too much on the cocktail and rillette themselves, as this is just to add another layer of flavour, not to interfere with the main flavours of the cocktail and the rillette.
Scatter over the reserved brown shrimp.
Tuck baby watercress leaves and herbs here and there as the mood takes you.
And remember, any leftovers make the most amazing canapés!