S2E16 (Pressure) – Salmon

S2E16 (Team Challenge) Note: At the beginning of the episode, the top six chefs were split into two teams and asked to run dinner service at the Michelin-Star restaurant, Patina. They were tasked with executing four of the restaurant’s signature dishes (shown below) with basic instruction from the restaurant’s chefs. The Red Team of Christian, Ben, and Suzy won based on feedback from the guests (all of whom were Patina regulars) and the restaurant’s chef and owner. This sent the Blue Team’s Tracy, Adrien, and Jennifer into the pressure test.

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The episode showed and talked about so few components of each dish that it was difficult to determine the techniques and ingredients used in each one. Additionally, based on my watching of the episode, it appeared that many (if not all) of the sauces, marinades, and other prep work were already done for the chefs. While I hate passing up on a challenge, I felt that there was simply no way for me to recreate even one of the dishes with the limited instructions and my lack of access to the ingredients that I thought would be necessary. Therefore, I had to skip this challenge and move on to the pressure test from this episode. 


For the pressure test, Tracy, Jennifer and Adrien had to scale and filet a whole salmon into at least 10 portions and cook one of those portions perfectly for the judges in just 45 minutes. Before the task, Gordon Ramsay gave a helpful tutorial to the chefs demonstrating the proper way to accomplish this. I thought it was really helpful so I posted the clip below. I really wish this show had more of this and less of the interpersonal drama. But I guess that’s not what reality shows are for…

All of the contestants really struggled with this challenge, but Tracy had the most issues with both the prep and the cooking, resulting in her elimination. However, I definitely think she got the better end of the deal as the show said that they would pay for 1 year of classes at Le Cordon Bleu for her and a job with one of them when she graduated.

Since I obviously was not going to get my hands on a whole salmon, I decided to simply make a perfect pan-seared fillet of salmon with a garlic-dill butter sauce and two sides: cheddar-gruyere scalloped potatoes and roasted asparagus.

The first thing I did was work on the scalloped potatoes. I used this recipe as my guide: Scalloped Potatoes – Southern Food. This recipe was very simple and straightforward so I, of course, had to jazz it up a bit. I made several key changes and additions,  which definitely added a lot of flavor.

In a small saucepan, I melted 3 tablespoons of butter with 2-3 cloves of garlic (minced). After allowing that to cook together for a bit, I blended in 3 tablespoons of flour and cooked that mixture together for 1-2 minutes.

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I then added 1 1/2 cups of skim milk, 1 teaspoon of salt and a couple dashes each of thyme, nutmeg and black pepper. I whisked this mixture constantly until it was smooth and bubbling. Then, I removed the pan from the heat and stirred in 2/3 of a cup of shredded sharp cheddar cheese and 1/3 of a cup of shredded gruyere.

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With the cheese sauce complete, I layered 2 cups of thinly sliced potatoes in the bottom of a a casserole dish and poured half of the cheese sauce over the potatoes. I repeated this with 2 more cups of potatoes and the rest of the cheese sauce. Then, I sprinkled the top with shredded cheddar cheese, grated parmesan and paprika.

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I baked this at 350 degrees for a little less than hour (until it was cooked through and brown and crispy on the top). For plating purposes, I used a large round cup to get a perfect circle of scalloped potatoes to display with the salmon and asparagus.

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While the potatoes were in the oven, I prepped a bunch of asparagus and tossed it in some olive oil, minced garlic, diced yellow onion, salt and pepper. I baked this in the oven (at 350 degrees) until the asparagus were tender, about 10-15 minutes depending on the thickness.

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Finally, it was time for the salmon. I have never pan-seared salmon before so I completely followed this recipe and it was great: Seared Salmon Fillet Recipe. While the salmon was cooking, I made a quick and simple sauce by melting a couple tablespoons of butter with 1-2 cloves of garlic (minced) and some fresh dill.

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When everything was finished, I plated the salmon then squeezed some fresh lemon over the top and spooned the garlic-dill butter sauce over the top. Finally, I put the scalloped potatoes and asparagus on the plate and served. Overall, this dish was delicious. I could not stop eating those potatoes and the salmon was very flavorful. I still have no idea how I would have done at breaking down the salmon but I’m now confident that I can make a great salmon dish.

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S2E5 (Mystery Box) – Salmon

Employment Update: Identified several potential opportunities that I will apply to later this week

For the first mystery box challenge of the season, contestants had to create a dish using some of the following ingredients: salmon, strawberries, fennel, white asparagus, ricotta cheese, fingerling potatoes, pistachios, balsamic vinegar, fresh dill, noodles, bread, lemon, honey and puff pastry.

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Going against the typical grain of the mystery box challenge, the judges decided to announce that Ben made the worst dish of them all, having overcooked the salmon and prepared a “hideous” sauce to go with it.

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Suzy (Trio of Salmon), Christian (Pistachio Crusted Salmon), and Jennie (Savory Salmon Tart) won the judges’ praise for their dishes, with Christian being declared the ultimate winner of the challenge.

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I had never worked with fennel or white asparagus before so I knew I wanted to do a dish that featured both ingredients along with the salmon. I have also been wanting to try the “en papillotte” technique so I found a base recipe that I could tweak in order to make a great dish that used several of the mystery box ingredients. I mostly followed this recipe: Salmon and Fennel Baked in Parchment. The only thing I really changed was including 5 thin slices of shallot, 1 clove of garlic (coarsely chopped) and 2 pieces of asparagus (each cut in half lengthwise) under the salmon.

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Overall, the dish turned out great (and it was SO simple to do). It could have used more salt though and I should have sliced the fennel much thinner. I’m not a huge fan of the taste of fennel and this dish definitely did not change my mind, but it did give a nice flavor to the other components. I certainly think I would have been safe in this round but I’m not sure I would have cracked the top three.

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S1E9 (Team) – Wedding

Employment Update: Sent 4 Follow-Up E-mails, Received 1 Potential Project, Identified 4 Potential Full-Time Opportunities

This week’s challenge had two teams catering two courses for a wedding reception. The first course was a simple Caesar Salad with Goat Cheese Tartlet, and the second course was Filet Mignon and Salmon with Steamed Vegetables, Mashed Potatoes, and Fried Onions. The Red Team served both courses to the Bride’s side and the Blue Team served both to the Groom’s side. Based on both judge and guest feedback about the dishes, the Red Team was declared the winner.

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The first course was really simple, especially since I cheated and bought pre-made pastry dough. But I did make the dressing from scratch by using this recipe: Caesar Dressing Recipe. And for the tartlet, I just brushed the pastry dough with olive oil, sprinkled the herb goat cheese over top, and popped it in the oven for 10 minutes. That really was it and it was pretty good. I wasn’t crazy about the dressing but I may have not whisked it enough because it was pretty thin. The tartlet was really good though and it worked well with the salad.

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The surf and turf dish was significantly trickier though. Each component was simple enough but there were many different components that needed to end up on the plate. To make this entree, I used the following ingredients (broken down by component):

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    • 1 6-ounce Filet of Atlantic Salmon
    • Salted water for brining
    • Juice of 1/2 a Lemon
    • Tablespoon of Butter
    • Pinch of Dill Weed
    • 1 6-ounce Filet Mignon
    • 1 Cup of Balsamic Vinegar
    • Salt and Pepper to Taste
  • Steamed Vegetables
    • 2-3 Carrots, Diced
    • 1/8 of a Yellow Onion, Chopped
    • 1/4 of a Red Bell Pepper, Chopped
    • 1 Cup of Spinach (It was supposed to be zucchini but the zucchini I bought at the store was rotten on the inside so I substituted for spinach since I had it on hand)
    • 1 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
    • Pinch each of Oregano, Sage, Salt, Pepper
    • Olive Oil
  • Mashed Potatoes
    • 1 Pound of Russet Potatoes
    • 1/2 Cup of Skim Milk
    • 2 Tablespoons of Butter
    • Salt and Pepper to Taste
  • Fried Onions
    • 1/4 of a Yellow Onion
    • 1 Egg
    • 1 Tablespoon of Skim Milk
    • 2-3 Dashes of Hot Sauce
    • Bread crumbs, Salt and Pepper
    • Oil for Frying

Since there were so many components and I went back and forth between all of them, the easiest way for me to explain how I did each is to go through each component one at a time.

Surf and Turf – First, I seasoned the filet with salt and pepper and put the salmon in some salt water to brine. Then, I started a balsamic reduction to go over the beef. I used this as a guide: How to Make Balsamic Reduction. Then, I pan seared the filet to brown it on all sides and popped it in the oven for a few minutes to finish it off. Then, I made a sauce for the salmon with some melted butter, lemon and dill, and pan seared the salmon (just a couple minutes on each side).

Steamed Vegetables – This was definitely the easiest part. I sautéed the onion, garlic, carrots, red bell pepper, herbs and spices in some olive oil until the carrots were tender. Then, I added in the spinach and let it wilt.

Mashed Potatoes – I skinned and boiled the potatoes until they were cooked through. Then, I mashed them with milk, butter, salt and pepper until smooth. I didn’t measure the milk (which was stupid) and accidentally put too much in. They were still good but a little thin for my taste.

Fried Onions – To prep, I sliced up part of an onion, mixed egg, milk and hot sauce together, and stirred up the bread crumbs with some salt and pepper. Then, I just dredged the onions in the egg mixture followed by the bread crumb mixture and threw them into hot oil for a few minutes until they were crispy.

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Surf and Turf with Mashed Potatoes, Fried Onions, and Sautéed Vegetables

Overall, everything tasted great. My mashed potatoes were a little thin and the fried onions were too salty, but the steak and veggies were perfect. The steak with balsamic reduction is actually one of my favorite things I’ve made for this blog. All in all, a perfect Sunday dinner.