Just in time for Valentine's Day, here's a luxurious little treat to make and serve at home that may bring to mind your most elite restaurant thrills. It's based on the beggar's purse, a signature appetizer at the Quilted Giraffe, a groundbreaking '80s-era New York City restaurant.
The beggar's purse was a voluptuous serving of Beluga caviar and sour cream spooned onto the centre of a crepe, the ends of which were then gathered up and tied with a bow of chive. The resulting little bag with the pleats at the top looked like a purse, but there was nothing beggarly about its contents. It was rich in all ways.
Caviar has been considered a decadent treat for ages. About 200 years ago, the United States produced so much of it, saloons used to give it away for free with a glass of beer. That changed, of course. And as true sturgeon caviar (considered the very best) has become rarer, the price has become steeper.
In recent decades, American-made caviar has made a comeback. And the quality is excellent. You can find several American sturgeon caviars as well as many fish roes, such as salmon, trout, whitefish, paddlefish and bowfin. Less expensive than sturgeon caviar, they're all quite tasty, which makes them good alternatives for the budget-minded.
This recipe is a Russian-leaning variation on the Quilted Giraffe original. I've replaced the crepes with blini, the buckwheat pancakes on which the Russians serve caviar. I've also swapped in low-fat sour cream for the full-fat variety, and added smoked salmon to bulk up the protein. It's still plenty rich.
I added a little all-purpose flour to the blini; the buckwheat contributes hearty flavour to the dish, but it needs the gluten of all-purpose to hold together. The resulting pancake is a little thicker and larger than a crepe, which means the purse is a little larger than those served at the Quilted Giraffe. Accordingly, it takes two scrumptious bites, not one, to polish off one of these delightful little packages. It's not what I'd call a problem.
SMOKED SALMON AND CAVIAR BUNDLES
If the idea of bundling crepes into a purse filled with salmon and caviar seems daunting, you also can prepare these as rolled "cigars." Simply add the fillings to each crepe as directed, arranging them in a line down the centre. Starting on one side, roll the crepe and fillings up, then tie across the centre with a chive.
Start to finish: 1 1/2 hours (30 minutes active)
Makes 8 bundles
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons 1 per cent milk
1 large egg
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1/4 cup buckwheat flour
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
Hefty pinch of sugar
8 fresh chives
2 ounces smoked salmon, cut into thin strips
1 ounce black American caviar or salmon roe
1/4 cup low-fat sour cream or non-fat plain Greek yogurt
Zest of 1 lemon
In a medium bowl, whisk together the milk, egg and 2 1/2 teaspoons of the oil. Add the buckwheat and all-purpose flours, a pinch of salt, several grinds of pepper and the sugar. Beat just until combined. Cover and let rest at room temperature for 1 hour.
In a small saucepan, bring several inches of water to a boil. Add the chives and cook for 10 seconds, or until just wilted. Transfer them to a bowl of ice water to cool, then pat dry with paper towels. Set aside.
Brush a medium nonstick skillet with a bit of the remaining oil, then heat the pan over medium-high until hot. Add 1/8 cup of the batter, then quickly lift and tip the pan to spread the batter evenly in a wide, thin circle. Let cook for 45 seconds to 1 minute, or until the batter has set. Flip and cook on the second side for about 30 seconds. Transfer the crepe to a wire rack and repeat with the remaining oil and batter to create 8 crepes.
Working with one crepe at a time, in the centre of each crepe, place an eighth of the salmon, 1 teaspoon of the caviar, a heaping teaspoon of the sour cream, and a sprinkle of the lemon zest. Fold the edges up over the fillings to create a bundle, then carefully tie it closed with one of the chives. Repeat with the remaining crepes and serve right away.
Nutrition information per bundle: 100 calories; 50 calories from fat (50 per cent of total calories); 6 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 50 mg cholesterol; 6 g carbohydrate; 0 g fiber; 1 g sugar; 5 g protein; 150 mg sodium.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Sara Moulton was executive chef at Gourmet magazine for nearly 25 years, and spent a decade hosting several Food Network shows. She currently stars in public television's "Sara's Weeknight Meals" and has written three cookbooks, including "Sara Moulton's Everyday Family Dinners."