By Nancy Pollard
THE GOLDEN years of Gourmet magazine for me (and apparently several others, who have the Gourmet Collection cookbooks) were clearly the mid-1980s through the early 1990s. This Christmas hors d’oeuvre is from the 1987 cookbook, which reflects the previous year’s seductive photos and recipes. Jane Montant was the editor, and I think her sense of style and selection of recipes are peerless, as is the photography of Romulo Yanes.
When I first made the two Christmas Dinner horses doovers (as we call hors d’oeuvre around here), the Radish and Parsley Butter Wreaths were not a crowd favorite, even though they looked pretty. But the Smoked Salmon Christmas Trees have remained a family favorite and guest-pleaser for over 20 years. The smoked salmon Christmas appetizers are a bit fiddly to make, but they can be done in the morning, then covered with cling wrap and kept in the fridge. The night before is okay too, but make sure you wrap them doubly tight so there is no drying out.
To make the bread base for the “tree,” I use a large sandwich loaf of light whole wheat bread and usually get two trees out of each slice. Hand-slicing the loaf actually works better than having it sliced by the bakery: That way you get thinner slices. Stick with the unsalted butter; it actually tastes better than cream cheese in this instance. If your cutter is really sharp, you can spread the slice with a thin layer of butter, a layer of the smoked salmon, and then cut out the whole tree, but if your cutter is not sharp, best to follow the original instructions. Tweezers are helpful with the onion or scallion.
Smoked Salmon Christmas Trees
- ½ pound (227gr) thinly sliced smoked salmon
10 very thin slices of whole-wheat bread
3 to 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 to 2 tablespoons capers (small brined ones are best), drained
1 small white onion or scallion, halved and sliced thin crosswise
Dill sprigs for garnish
A 3½-inch Christmas tree cookie cutter (metal, not plastic)
- Arrange the salmon slices, overlapping them on a cutting board.
- Also on a cutting board, place the whole bread slices and spread a very thin layer of butter on them.
- Cut the bread slices into trees with the cookie cutter.
- Then cut the salmon into the tree shape with the cutter. While keeping the cutter in place on the salmon slice, use a small paring knife to cut away any excess salmon.
- Lift the salmon cutouts onto the buttered bread trees.
- Garnish the trees with caper “ornaments”; the thin onion or scallion slices can be “icicles.” You may want to use a pair of tweezers.
- Gourmet magazine advises that the tree hors d’oeuvre can be made and kept covered and chilled for six hours.
- To serve, transfer the smoked salmon Christmas appetizers to a platter and arrange dill sprigs as a garland.
After owning one of the best cooking stores in the US for 47 years—La Cuisine in Alexandria, Virginia—Nancy Pollard writes Kitchen Detail, a blog about food in all its aspects—recipes, film, books, travel, superior sources, and food-related issues.