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(Photographs copyright © 2023 by Nigel Parry)

Gathering with friends and family to share a festive meal is a highlight for most of us during the holidays. Whether you are planning a sit-down dinner or a grazing smörgåsbord of hors d’oeuvres, one ingredient will most likely play a significant part, especially on eastern Long Island: Fish.

Don’t panic. Eric Ripert, the three-Michelin-starred chef of Le Bernardin and renowned expert in sea-centric cuisine, is here to help.

“I hear a lot of people saying cooking seafood is difficult or it’s intimidating,” says Ripert, who has a home in Sag Harbor. “I wanted to create a cookbook that would demystify that, with tips from the shopping experience to bringing it home and storing it in the fridge and seasoning.”

In his new tome, Seafood Simple (Random House, an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York), he succeeds in this clarification, beginning each chapter with a technique and, in that technique, a visual, step-by-step guide “that will help explain to you what to do by guiding your hand.”

The word ‘simple’ in the cookbook title should be reason enough to try preparing Ripert’s recipe for gravlax, a traditional Nordic dish made with cured salmon.

“It’s a straightforward way to prepare salmon, and you can keep it in the fridge for at least a week,” explains Ripert. While curing the fish in gin or vodka, salt, sugar and dill takes a few days, it is easy to make and “so rewarding when it’s ready to eat,” assures Ripert. “Definitely worth the wait.”

Ripert, who sources seafood locally from Montauk’s Gosman’s Fish Market to Out of the Blue Seafood market in Hampton Bays, recommends using “the freshest salmon you can get your hands on,” which will most likely be farm-raised since wild Atlantic salmon is “nearly extinct” and salmon coming from the west is, he notes, “challenging.”

A supporter of sustainable fish farming, Ripert is particularly fond of farm-raised salmon from the Faroe Islands. “They have excellent farming practices and are very sustainable in many ways, and therefore, you have a beautiful product that also helps the recovery of wild species.”

To prepare the Gravlax for plating, Ripert stresses the importance of a sharp knife with a “fairly thin blade,” allowing you to slice the salmon on the bias (or, diagonally) and create long, very thin slices, “almost treating it like prosciutto.”

While adding a slice of the cured salmon to a toast point or cracker is certainly acceptable, Ripert’s recipe steps up the holiday appetizer game by placing it atop blinis (a bite-sized Russian pancake) and serving it with creme fraîche, roe and caviar.

Chef Eric Ripert’s Seafood Simple. (Photograph copyright © 2023 by Nigel Parry)

Seafood Simple (GIFT ALERT: signed copies are available at Sag Harbor Books!) provides tips for selecting caviar (sturgeon eggs) and roes (fish eggs), imploring the reader to ask the store representative to look, smell and taste the product.

“Roes have bright flavors and should never be oily or too salty or have a muddy aftertaste,” says Ripert. “The eggs should be separated from each other and not too hard because if they are too hard, they have been pasteurized.”

Caviar, and its reputation for being an expensive delicacy, is also encouraged to be included as a topping for the occasion. “Caviar has been more democratized over the years,” explains Ripert. “At one point, it used to be from wild sturgeon in the USSR or Iran, and then the Russians basically depleted the Black Sea, and sturgeon have been endangered ever since; therefore, we cannot get wild caviar any longer in the western world.”

About 30 years ago, he continues, the Chinese became pioneers in farm-raised caviar, and many countries have now followed their example, such as Israel, France, Germany, Italy and Uruguay. This may explain why caviar has shown up on many seafood towers at restaurants this past season in the Hamptons, and even more reason to include it with this recipe. “The quality is very, very good,” assures Ripert, “and the prices are not as prohibitive any longer.”

Celebrating the Feast of the Seven Fishes on December 24? Set the gravlax out as a starter before the heavier courses, which will hopefully include some local monkfish, Ripert’s particular favorite local fish, and for good reason.

“In 1986, Le Bernardin opened with monkfish on the menu, served with cabbage and bacon jus, and that was, right away, an instant success,” recounts the chef. “The New York Times wrote about it and gave four stars to Le Bernardin immediately, which was the first time that the New York Times did that. Monkfish became a signature dish.”

As Ripert explains in the forward of Seafood Simple, his recipes are inspired by memorable times in his life: fun experiences while traveling, convivial moments with friends, and celebrations with family.

What better place to do that than in the kitchen?

Chef Eric Ripert’s gravlax, blinis and caviar

Cook Time 3 hours 30 minutes

Ingredients

For the gravlax

  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup Diamond Crystal kosher salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 – 3 lbs salmon fillet, skin on, pin bones removed, halved crosswise through the center to form 2 equal pieces
  • 1 bunch fresh dill, chopped
  • 3 tbsp vodka or gin

For the blinis

  • 3 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1 envelope active dry yeast (2 1/2 tsp)
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp fine sea salt
  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 2 tbsp canola oil or melted butter
  • additional canola oil or cooking spray for cooking
  • caviar, smoked trout roe and crème fraîche for garnish (optional)

Directions

To make the gravlax

  • In a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar, salt, and pepper.
  • Line a work surface with a large piece of plastic wrap. Set both pieces of salmon on the plastic wrap and rub three-­quarters of the salt and sugar mixture all over each piece. Cover the flesh sides with half the chopped dill, then splash with the vodka or gin.
  • Place the salmon fillets together like a sandwich, skin sides out, and rub with the remaining salt and sugar mixture and dill. Enclose the fish in the plastic wrap, set in a baking dish, and refrigerate.
  • Every 12 to 14 hours, open the package and baste with the juices that have come out. The fish is ready when the flesh is opaque, usually by the second or third day.

To make the blinis

  • Once the gravlax is cured, make the blinis: In a saucepan or in the microwave, bring the milk to 105°F. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of the warm milk, then stir in the sugar. Cover with plastic wrap and keep warm until foamy, 10 to 15 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, in a large bowl combine the flour and sea salt.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and canola oil. Add the foamy yeast mixture and the remaining 3 cups lukewarm milk. Mix well to combine.
  • Slowly add the milk mixture to the flour mixture and whisk well to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 2 to 3 hours, stirring once every hour. The batter should have the consistency of a thick milkshake.
  • To cook the blinis, heat a nonstick, cast-­iron or blini pan lightly coated with canola oil or cooking spray over medium heat. Stir the batter. Working in batches, spoon 1 to 2 tablespoons of batter into the pan, forming as many blinis as will fit without touching. 
  • When the blinis begin to rise and bubble in the center, carefully flip with an offset spatula and cook until golden brown, about 2 minutes. Transfer the blinis to a plate as they finish cooking. Repeat with the ­remaining batter, stirring before each use. Add more oil to the pan as needed.
  • Rinse the salmon to remove any remaining salt and pat dry. Holding your knife at a 45-­degree angle to the cutting board, thinly slice the salmon on a bias, leaving the skin behind. 
  • Serve the blinis with the gravlax, caviar, smoked trout roe, and, if desired, crème fraîche.

[Excerpted from SEAFOOD SIMPLE copyright © 2023 by Eric Ripert. Used by permission of Random House an imprint and division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.]

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