If you’ve been to the French Laundry, this ubiquitous starter is one of Thomas Keller’s best-known creations. Tiny seed-flecked cones are filled with salmon tartare and minced onion with some caviar (naturally) crowning the top along with a microscopic sprig of dill. Called salmon cornets, they require a regiment of prep cooks, special holders and all the usual rigamarole of this temple of refined cuisine.
The recipe has long been available and self-flagellating home cooks can certainly make them at home with great effort. But why would you want to when the flavor profile can be captured in a waaaaay easier-to-make version that you can throw together fast and serve to happy guests?Awhile back, I saw a fast-and-easy version of the FL salmon cornets in a food magazine, but I didn’t think it was THAT fast and easy so I kept simplifying while still focusing on taste. The magazine’s version still calls for making crackers, which I’m sure are good but still time consuming and also full of butter, so not healthful. This recipe, like mine below, leaves out the caviar, which is fine by me because I don’t like it. But fish-egg lovers should be aware that caviar can be added if you must.
Helping these little treats come together in no time at all is using purchased crackers and smoked salmon. I found two ideal choices at Whole Foods but feel free to use the crackers and smoked salmon you prefer. The crackers are gluten free, low fat and quite delicious, with the black sesame seeds that are so distinctive in the FL version. In fact, I happily munch on these little guys with nothing on top of them. The brand: Mary’s Gone Crackers in either original or onion flavor.
When it comes to the smoked salmon, I’ve tired a bunch of them and the hands-down winner is Charlie Trotter’s Darjeeling Tea and Ginger Cured Smoked Salmon, which is pricey but works fantastically in this recipe. It’s not too salty, not dry and has a wonderfully complex flavor.
Here’s my version of the FL recipe:
1 package Charlie Trotter’s salmon (see above) or 4-5 ounces smoked salmon of your choice
1 finely diced shallot (medium sized)
zest of 1 lemon (I prefer Meyer lemons, but regular ones are ok)
lemon juice from the above lemon
(optional) fresh dill
small container of creme fraiche (any brand is ok; smaller the better because you won’t use it all)
box of Mary’s Gone Crackers, original or onion flavor
– Remove the salmon from the package and cut it into small pieces (I slice the pile of salmon slices from the package into narrow strips one way, then cut 90 degrees the other way)
– In a small bowl, place the salmon and add 2-3 teaspoons or more of diced shallot
– Add 2/3 of the lemon zest
– Add either around 1 T or more of sliced chives or finely cut fresh dill (I used dill recently and liked the effect)
– Add at least 2 T lemon juice or more to taste
– At this point, taste the mixture and add more lemon juice, or herbs, or shallot, depending on how it tastes to you
– NOTE: You do NOT need salt, since there’s plenty in the salmon
– You don’t need lots of creme fraiche, so put about 1/2 cup or less (actually, 1/4 cup might be enough) in a little bowl and add some lemon juice, some salt, plus the rest of the zest. Again, taste it and adjust it to your taste with more lemon juice and salt.
– Put a scoop of the salmon mixture on a cracker, add a little blob of creme fraiche mixture and garnish with some longer lengths of chive. See the photo above as a guide.
I’ve been making these for a few years and they’re always inhaled by whomever is present. The salmon and creme fraiche mixtures can be made ahead and assembled right before serving.