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December, 2008

Guest Chef Rick Moonen

By Dennis Linden

December’s Guest Chef, Rick Moonen, renowned culinary aficionado of all things that come from the sea, promises that his Fennel-Onion Gravlax with Blood Orange Crème Fraiche is well worth the four day process it will take to be a part of your holiday appetizer platter.

Chef Rick Moonen
This favorite Scandinavian hors d’oeuvre has a creamy consistency and unique combination of flavors that sets it apart from other traditional Gravlax recipes. Chef Rick’s recipe requires some advance planning (and a hint of patience!), but it is ultimately a simple dish to prepare. The results are a velvety soft salmon with a complex flavor and texture, infused with subtle hints of fennel and Pernod, that pairs nicely with the smooth citrus tang of the crème fraiche and buttery crunch of toasted brioche. The dish exemplifies the festive spirit of the holiday season.

Rick Moonen has a passion both for cooking fresh seafood and for protecting our planet’s last wild food source. Rick moved to Las Vegas from New York City to open his dream eateries after culinary success in the Big Apple. He is one of the few “celebrity chefs” in Las Vegas who actually works in his own kitchens every day, lending his expertise (and not just his name) to his venue. At his RM Seafood restaurants at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, Chef Rick uses seasonal produce from Melissa’s to deliver his inspired cuisine. At RM Upstairs, Rick serves artful seafood preparations in a setting that resembles the interior of a swank cruise ship accented with stunning wood and glass accessories. It is the perfect place to entertain guests, spend a romantic evening with someone special or just mingle with friends in the beautiful lounge. RM Main is a casual 200 seat restaurant popular for hearty chowders, jumbo lump crab cakes, bountiful shellfish platters, and innovative sushi.

Rick’s second passion is very much connected to his reputation as the quintessential seafood culinary author and chef with the release of his new book “Fish without a Doubt.” Rick believes in the importance of only using seafood that comes from abundant wild populations and is under sound management or farmed in an environmentally responsible manner.

FENNEL-ONION GRAVLAX
The wild salmon called for in his Gravlax recipe is not just a suggestion but a firm recommendation over a farm-raised option. Chef Rick explains, “We are being way too shortsighted in our handling of the environment and it’s threatening the sustainability of our fish and shellfish populations in every ocean around the world. The damage that industry, overfishing and shoreline development has caused is apparent as evidenced by the declining numbers of many species that used to flourish in our seas. The poor quality of the world’s oceans is not irreversible, but the chemical and physical threats that man has created need to be addressed now before it is too late.” Rick recommends supporting marine research organizations, such as Monterey Bay Aquarium’s “Save the Oceans” program, and using the “Seafood Watch” guide for making informed purchasing decisions.

It is refreshing to know that Chef Rick can practice his art and respect the planet’s resources without compromising taste one bite. He proves that it can be sustainable and tastes great too!

FENNEL-ONION GRAVLAX
Serves 8

2 large red onions, chopped
1 large fennel bulb, trimmed and chopped, plus ½ cup chopped fennel fronds
1 cup coarse salt
¾ cup sugar
½ cup Pernod liqueur
½ cup water
1 (3-pound) wild king salmon fillet (in one piece, skinless, pin bones removed)
¼ cup chopped fresh dill
2 tablespoons fennel seeds, toasted and coarsely ground

Preparation:
Put the onions, chopped fennel (not the fronds), salt and sugar into a food processor or blender then pulse into a coarse puree. Add the Pernod and water then blend to a smooth slush. Pour half the cure into a 2 1/2- quart baking dish or plastic container. Set the fish on top and pour in the rest of the cure. Cover with plastic wrap pressing it down on the surface or with the lid, if the container has one, and refrigerate for 3 days turning the salmon over in the cure once or twice. Remove the fish from the cure and rinse it under cool water. Pat it dry and wrap snugly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for another 24 hours. Mix the fennel fronds, dill and fennel seeds together in a small bowl. Spread over the top of the salmon, pressing down to make an even coating. Serve the Gravlax now or later. It will keep refrigerated for about a week.

Blood Orange Crème Fraîche for Gravlax
Makes about 3/4 cup

½ cup crème fraîche [store bought or homemade]
1 tablespoon grated blood orange zest
3 tablespoons fresh blood orange juice
Coarse salt

Whip the crème fraîche until stiff. Add the blood orange zest and juice and whip again until stiff. Beat in a pinch of salt and serve. Serve this simple sauce with the Fennel-Onion Gravlax, garnished with blood orange peel shavings on fingers of toasted brioche.

(Recipe from FISH WITHOUT A DOUBT by Rick Moonen & Roy Finamore, copyright @ 2008. Recipe & pictures reprinted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.)