A very firm nod towards the classic dish of a few decades ago, this is an easy bake to throw together and is excellent served for a special occasion. Wonderful served warm with a salad or steamed vegetables, it is also excellent served cold; I must confess, I often make this for picnics.
At the centre of the dish is a large fillet of skinned salmon that has been lightly smoked: you can use unsmoked salmon fillet, but the gentle smokiness gives a marvellous depth of flavour. Surrounding the salmon are layers of rich mushroom rice, wilted spinach with a some rocket and a few sorrel leaves, and a very light cheese sauce. A hint of lemon lifts proceedings.
The key thing is to get the component parts prepared. I don’t work with a precise recipe for coulibiacs and other en croûte bakes, but I have given rough guidelines below. I often make this with left-over rice or even risotto from a previous meal, and occasionally add chopped hard-boiled egg.
About 800g of salmon fillet will serve 8 generously.
The component parts
Mushrooms: place a few handfuls of chopped mushrooms, including a few rehydrated dried mushrooms if you have some, into a frying pan and sauté gently in a little butter for about 10 minutes with some seasoning, a finely chopped onion and 2 crushed cloves of garlic. Add the juice of a lemon and cook for a further 5 minutes or so. This lemon gives a lovely sharp flavour which works with the mushrooms and cuts through the richness of the dish nicely. Mix in some finely chopped fresh tarragon and flat-leaf parsley. Leave to cool.
Béchamel sauce: make up about 400ml of béchamel, added a little grated cheese such as Comté or Emmental, and just a touch of cayenne. Err on the side of caution with the cheese though! Make sure the sauce is cool before using.
Spinach: cook a couple of handfuls of spinach in a pan with a little grated lemon zest, some grated nutmeg and a little sea salt until just wilted down. Squeeze out the extra moisture. You can also stir in some wild rocket and/or sorrel leaves. Leave to cool.
Rice: simmer some basmati rice in fish or mushroom stock until only just cooked. Cool.
Pastry: use about 500g of all-butter puff pastry, rolled out very thinly to a rectangle large enough to encase the salmon and the other fillings.
(1) Cut the pastry in two. Roll out one piece to a thin rectangle that is a bit longer and wider than the length of the salmon. Roll out the other piece of pastry to a slightly bigger rectangle. Lay the small piece on a lightly greased baking tray.
(2) Mix the rice with the mushrooms. Stir in about half of the sauce.
(3) Spoon a thin layer of the mushrooms/rice mixture on top of the pastry that is on the baking tray, leaving a border all around. Top with the spinach and wild rocket mixture.
(4) Place the lightly seasoned salmon on top, along with a little grated lemon zest. Spoon some of the remaining cheese sauce over the salmon.
(5) Top with a final layer of the mushrooms/rice mixture.
(6) Egg-wash the exposed pastry and lay the remaining sheet of pastry on top, pinching the pastry edges to seal. Brush with egg wash and score in any way you wish.
(7) Bake for about 30 minutes at 180C (fan) and leave for 5-10 minutes or so before serving.