Want to perk up your next soirée with a fancy-seeming, charmingly retro amuse-bouche that’s also kind of viscerally disgusting? Have I got the fish mush for you!
In all seriousness: does anything scream “50s” quite so loudly as salmon mousse? It’s like something a smiling, dead-eyed Joan Allen would serve to her beloved husband at the beginning of Pleasantville, before being awokened by a very good bath. (And the bathroom even turns out to be a salmon-y pink!)
From Martha to Gourmet, recipes abound for mousse that makes use of prepared smoked salmon—a smart way to stretch a little bit of (very expensive!) fish to feed a crowd. Nonnie, though, goes the other route, asking us to pulverize a perfectly nice piece of fresh salmon with heavy cream and egg whites, until its bright orange hue has been muted to become a delightful shade of human flesh. Serve with crackers.
But don’t let my raving endorsement convince you! Come, join me on a semi-disgusting journey to make some fancy baby food—exactly what your appetizer spread has been missing. Spoiler alert: It’s… fine.
1.5 lb fresh salmon
2 cups heavy cream
2 egg whites, stiffly beaten
1 teaspoon salt
Purée salmon in Cuisinart [or your food processor of choice. No, it will not look good]. Add cream, pepper, cayenne and process until mixed. Stir in egg whites. Place in buttered 1.5 quart mold. [I used a regular Pyrex baking dish, mostly because I wasn’t entirely sure what sort of vessel Nonnie had in mind.]
Put mold in pan of boiling water and place in pre-heated 350 oven. Bake about 18-20 minutes, or until set. Cool and chill thoroughly. Unmold before serving. [Though the mousse was stiff enough after it had been chilled, I think my baking dish had made the mousse too thin to be successfully unmolded; I ended up scooping it out and putting it into a regular bowl instead. It… did not make the stuff look any prettier.]
The verdict: You know, the mousse wasn’t bad, per se. It was rich enough, thanks to both the fatty fish and all that cream; its texture was light and airy, thanks to the egg whites; it tasted salmon-y, but not overwhelmingly fish forward. More than anything else, it was just sort of bland and blah; a teaspoon of salt doesn’t have nearly enough juice to season all that fish, and even black pepper and cayenne can only do so much.
It helped to eat the stuff spread onto some delicious homemade crackers, which added some salt and much-needed texture—yeah, I am the nutbar who made her own crackers; yes, they were totally worth it—but even so, I can’t in good conscience really recommend that you make it for yourself, mostly because salmon is expensive and you can probably come up with a better way to use it than this. If you’re looking for something to spread on a bagel with cream cheese and red onion and capers, this mousse could… kinda do the trick (especially if you’ve got a bunch left over because nobody liked it, hint hint); even there, though, it’s only passable.
In conclusion: If you’re looking for a fish spread to make (and who isn’t?!), don’t choose this one. Or if you do, consider dressing it up with lemon juice, pimentón (to ape the flavor you’d get from using smoked salmon instead of the fresh stuff), and a whole lot more salt. Or just skip it and buy lox instead.