“You breathe in experience, and you breathe out what you make.”
– Doug Aitken
This quote has been swirling around my brain today. Does this mean creating shouldn’t be a struggle – that making art is as natural as aspiration? That sounds so effortless. I wish. Or does it suggest that limited experiences, like inadequate oxygen molecules in toxic air, results in an insipid and shallow creative exhale?
In yoga, there’s a Sanskrit word, pranayama, which translates as “breath control” or “control of life force.” Pranayama is a set of breathing techniques where the breath is intentionally altered to produce specific results. In practice, when we focus on our breath, it becomes fuller, richer, more rounded. A deep, expansive inhale yields an equally full exhale.
Applied to the quote above, it would imply, indeed, that the best art requires a cache of rich experiences. Or does our internal creative process provide an avenue to transform any experience, even the drone of suburban monotony, into something wonderful?
Speaking of turning something mundane into something wonderful…this creamy, flavorful lemon, dill and caper sauce paired with fennel salad elevates humble poached salmon into something both healthy and crave worthy – fancy enough for company.
Poached salmon with fennel salad and creamy caper sauce
Starting the poaching process in cold water ensures the fish remains incredibly moist.
- 2 fennel bulbs, cored and thinly sliced
- 1 shallot, thinly sliced
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
- Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 2 cups water
- 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 shallot, sliced
- 1 stalk celery, sliced
- 2 sprigs dill
- 1 bay leaf
- 5 peppercorns
- large pinch salt
- 4 8-oz. skinless salmon fillets
- ½ cup Greek yogurt
- 2 Tablespoons capers, drained and roughly chopped
- 1 Tablespoon dill, chopped
- 1 Tablespoon lemon juice
- teaspoon lemon zest
- Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- In a small bowl, combine fennel salad ingredients and set aside to marinate.
- In a large saucepan, combine water, lemon juice, shallots, celery, dill, bay, peppercorns and salt. Add salmon to poaching liquid and additional water, until poaching liquid just covers salmon (about 2 more cups).
- Cover, turn heat to medium and cook salmon until internal temperature reaches 115°F, about 18 minutes. Carefully transfer salmon to a plate and chill until cold.
- To make yogurt sauce, combine all ingredients and chill. If too thick, add a bit of water or milk.
- Serve salmon over fennel Salad liberally drizzled with yogurt sauce.
These last two weeks, my lovely neighbor has been providing me with a bevy of tangerines from her bountiful tree. I’ve been content to peel and devour most of them “as is,” the exception being their inclusion in this luscious roasted lamb shoulder. A slow braise results in a meltingly tender roast and bright, Mediterranean flavors ensure it’s mouthwateringly tasty. The flavor profile came from this 2013 Bon Apetit recipe, but frankly, I fell in love with the flavor pairing of orange (or in this case tangerine) peel and tomatoes during my culinary school stint…and my cooking method is much simpler, too.
This dish is definitely making a reappearance at my next gathering (Easter, perhaps?) – The brightly colored stuffing makes for a lovely presentation – plus a long braise ensures minimal fuss time for me.
Stuffed Mediterranean Lamb Roast
A stuffing of bright Mediterranean flavors and a tomato-y red wine sauce make this meltingly tender roast extra special.
- 1 3-lb. boneless lamb shoulder
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- ⅓ cup pitted Kalamata olives, chopped
- 2 Tablespoons minced fresh sage, plus 8-10 leaves for sauce
- 1 ½ Tablespoons minced fresh rosemary, plus additional for garnish
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 tangerines, unpeeled and thinly sliced, seeds removed
- ½ bottle pinot noir
- 28 oz. can tomato puree
- Polenta (optional)
- Cut lamb horizontally without cutting all the way through so you can open it like a book. Set aside. In a small bowl, combine garlic, olives, minced sage, rosemary and salt. With lamb open, spread 2/3 of olive mixture on left side of lamb. Cover olive mixture with thinly sliced tangerines (you should have 4-6 slices left over) and cover tangerines with remaining 1/3 of olive mixture. Starting from the left side, roll up lamb, tucking in stuffing as needed. Secure roast well with kitchen twine tied at 1” intervals.
- Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Meanwhile, over a high heat, heat 2 Tablespoons oil until smoking in an ovenproof pot or Dutch oven. Add lamb and brown well on all sides, a few minutes per side. Set lamb aside. Reduce heat to medium and deglaze pot by adding pinot noir to pan and scraping up any browned bits. Add tomato puree and heat until bubbling. Add remaining 4-6 tangerine slices and sage leaves. Return lamb to pot, ensuring liquid reaches halfway up side of roast, cover and place in oven. Roast 3 hours, turning roast over halfway through cooking time.
- Transfer lamb to cutting board and let rest for 20 minutes. With lid off, return pot to stovetop. Remove any accumulated fat from cooking liquid, if needed. Boil vigorously until sauce is thickened and reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Strain sauce through a sieve, pressing on solids. Season sauce with salt. To serve, slice roast crosswise, serve with sauce over polenta (optional) and sprinkled with remaining rosemary.