Asparagus Tamale with Cured Salmon

Toronto Taste, one of the city’s original culinary fund-raisers, celebrated its 25th year this weekend. The lineup for the annual event – in support of Second Harvest’s food-rescue program, which turns surplus food that would otherwise go to waste into healthy meals for people in need – includes more than 40 chefs from the city’s best restaurants, wineries and breweries.

Chris Klugman, founder of Regent Park’s Paintbox Bistro, was one of them. In addition to serving brunch and lunch, Paintbox offers work experience and career support to residents of the neighbourhood, which contains one of the country’s largest social-housing complexes.

Klugman, the Michael Stadtländer-trained chef who has cooked at King Ranch, Winston’s and the Rosewater Supper Club among other establishments, is a long-time supporter of Toronto Taste and this year made a white-asparagus tamale with cured salmon. Served as an appetizer or hors d’oeuvre, it’s a full-flavoured twist on the traditional cornmeal bundle.

You can find masa harina, a Mexican cornmeal that’s soaked in limewater before it’s dried and ground, at most supermarkets. And if you don’t have time to cure the salmon yourself – it’s a simple technique, but it must marinate in the fridge for two days – good-quality store-bought will do.

Ready time: 3 hours including cooling time, plus two days to marinate salmon
Servings: 8

Salmon:

2 teaspoons pink peppercorns, crushed

1 teaspoon ground fennel seed

1 teaspoon ground coriander

2 tablespoons kosher or sea salt

1½ tablespoons granulated sugar

½ cup chopped cilantro

1 pound (500 grams) salmon fillet, skin on

1 lime, thinly sliced

Tamales:

1 cup masa harina

½ teaspoon baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

1/3 cup olive oil

¾ cup vegetable stock or water

3 spears white asparagus, trimmed of woody ends

Mousseline sauce:

½ cup 35 per-cent cream

3 egg yolks

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Pinch cayenne

½ cup unsalted butter

Salt

To cure the salmon, combine peppercorns, fennel, coriander, salt, sugar and cilantro in a bowl. Mix thoroughly. Spread half the mixture on a piece of plastic wrap. Place the salmon fillet skin side down on the spice mixture. Press the remaining mixture onto the salmon and top with lime slices. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 to 3 days.

To make the tamales, combine masa harina, baking powder, salt, olive oil and vegetable stock in the bowl of a food processor. Blend thoroughly. Batter should be the texture of smooth peanut butter.

Cut 3 8½-by-11-inch pieces of aluminum foil and 3 8½-by-11-inch pieces of parchment paper. Place 1 piece of parchment on top of each piece of foil. Spread ½ cup batter onto each piece of parchment in a 4-by-9-inch rectangle. (The rectangles should be longer than the asparagus spears you are about to place.)

Lay 1 spear lengthwise on each portion of batter. Using the parchment as a guide, roll the batter over the asparagus to form a log. Flip the bundle, if necessary, so that the seam of the roll is facing down. Tuck in and fold up the ends of the parchment. Wrap foil around the roll, ensuring the bundle is held together tightly.

Place the tamales in a steamer or large-lidded pot with a steaming basket. (If using the latter, add water up to but not touching the basket.) Steam for 45 minutes. Chill and cut each tamale into about 9 pieces.

To make the Mousseline sauce, pour cream into a bowl and whip it into soft peaks. Set aside. In a blender, combine egg yolks, lemon juice and cayenne. Blend to combine, about 5 seconds. In a small saucepan, melt butter. Turn blender on again and pour in melted butter in a steady stream. Fold the butter mixture into the whipped cream and add salt to taste.

Using a sharp knife, slice the salmon thinly against the grain, pulling it away from the skin as you cut. Discard skin.

Drape salmon slices over each tamale and dot with Mousseline sauce. Serve one per guest as an hors d’oeuvre or 3 as a first course.